With all the bad news coming down the wire in the past week I was looking for something positive to report on. Thursday night I found it. Out of the blue, on the Orange Line, I finally got to ride on the new Montreal Metro train, the almost mythical Azur.

Sure, quite a few friends have already rode it since it first appeared in February and I even saw it pass twice going in the opposite direction. However, with only one train in operation so far, and not on the Green Line, which I use for most of my underground travelling these days, I guess you could say I came late to the party and this is a late review.

With a provincial government hell-bent on austerity and a municipal administration which is building on a legacy of corruption with completely unappealing corruption like the granite tree stumps, I didn’t hold out much hope for a project from an organization funded by Quebec and controlled, for the most part, by Montreal. Especially since the organization in question, the STM, is known for hiking fares while not improving service, even in ways they promised to (cough, accordion  busses on the 105 route, cough).

I was pleasantly surprised. While this new train wasn’t perfect, it was most definitely money well spent, and I did enjoy my first ride on it.

The Best Parts

Here are some of the highlights:

  • One Big Car: The whole train is made accordion-bus style. It’s one big car. This obviously creates a less confined feeling, but I also can see this coming in handy when I catch a metro at the last minute by hopping in the first car available knowing that my connecting bus is closer to the other side of the train. Now, instead of having to race across the platform, it’s possible to leisurely make my way to the desired exit while the train is in motion. Also, no reason to illegally and quite dangerously cross between cars when the train is moving (something I had never tried but cringed when I saw others doing it).
  • Feels Like Air Conditioning: While I’m pretty sure the train isn’t actually air conditioned, it sure felt like it was. Most likely due to the fact that with one large car, there is much better air circulation.

Montreal Metro Azur 6

  • Retractable seats: The seats in the new Azur train can fold back when not in use, or at least the ones I saw can. Not only does this create more actual space and add to the general feel of more space, but it can be useful for people in wheelchairs like on busses. That would, of course, work better if the whole metro system was more accessible.
  • Station ID and Ads Separate: There are still ads on this new train, of course, even some video ads, but the next station shows up on a different screen in a different location like in some new busses. Keeping the info separate from the ads is always a good thing in my book.
  • Smoother Ride: Maybe it’s just because it’s new, but the ride on this train honestly felt much smoother than any other metro I had been on.

What Needs to be Fixed

Montreal Metro Azur 3There are some areas, however, where improvement is needed:

  • Slippery Floors: I didn’t notice this one myself, being non-disabled, but Samantha Gold, a colleague here at FTB pointed it out that she found “the floor of the new cars extremely slippery. Dangerous for disabled folk like myself.”
  • No Audio Station ID: One thing I found conspicuously absent was the recorded voice announcing the next stop. Maybe it was just turned off for this particular ride or maybe it was something they were still implementing, but its absence made no sense and I can imagine it would be considerably more difficult for blind people who have gotten used to it.

So overall, for me anyways, more good than bad and the bad can be fixed. Regardless, it was nice to write about something good, or at least something not wasteful, that our municipal and provincial governments have done for a change.

What do you think of the new metros?

Today, I was waiting for a train in Berri-QUAM metro when all passengers were forced to evacuate because of an “accident” and couldn’t return for over 30 minutes. The whole operation took less than four minutes and panic increased when all stairways and platforms were invaded by the SPVM officers and STM inspectors carrying flashlights.

It all started at 1:03pm when the intercom announced that service on the Green Line would be interrupted between Lionel-Groulx and Viau for 30 minutes. Two minutes later another announcement extended the interruption to the Orange Line.

As people were busy making phone calls and texting about the delay, a voice on the intercom informed everyone that they had to leave the station immediately and head to the nearest exit. In less than four minutes, the Berri-UQAM metro station was empty.

Once on the surface (next the entrances), everybody noticed the Police cruisers, the STM intervention officers and the yellow Urgence Sante cars. For those who were curious and started to ask questions the answer was simply “a fire” with no other information given.

urgence sante outside berri uqam

The ordeal was partially ended around 1:42pm when the Yellow and the Orange lines were open, but the Green Line remained closed. No official word on what happened.

The world was supposed to end in 2012. It didn’t. In fact, if 2013 in the news is any indication, it didn’t even change all that much.

There were a few pleasant surprises, a few unpleasant ones, some things didn’t change at all, for better or worse, and there was distraction and that’s where I’ll begin…


Biggest distraction of the year? Without a doubt, this guy:

rob ford tired

Not only did Rob Ford dominate the headlines in Canada, distracting from the Senate scandal among other things, he managed to take top billing in the US for a while, overpowering problems with the Obamacare rollout, and even made headline news in Africa. His biggest accomplishment, though, seems to be that his crack use and personal problems have distracted everyone from the fact that he really has terrible policies and kinda sucks as mayor.

The biggest distraction this side of the 401 has got to be the Charter of Quebec Values, or the Charter of Secularism or whatever Marois and company are calling it now. It’s garnered the ire of everyone from the Jewish General Hospital, QPIRG Concordia and even Anonymous and it’s the proof that, despite how they may try to promote it, the PQ has lost any progressive cred they may have had.

With even Harley Davidson coming out against it, it’s clear that some people are seeing through what it essentially a cynical ploy designed to galvanize the right-wing separatist portion of the PQ’s base. Marois’ endgame is clear: re-establishing politics as usual in Quebec, which brings us to…

More of the same

You’d think in a year that saw a record-breaking three different mayors of Montreal, there would be some change. Well, unfortunately, Montrealers, or a small portion of them, voted in Denis Coderre, a candidate that ran with a good chunk of Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum’s former Union Montreal teammates. So far, he’s stuffed the executive committee with his own people despite not having a majority and has declared war on erotic massage parlours, something he didn’t mention at all during the campaign.

Denis Coderre

2013 also saw more police repression with the SPVM enforcing bylaw P6 in a very unapologetic and hardcore way. It’s also been the year of police political profiling, fortunately some activists like Katie Nelson are now fighting it in the courts and the court of public opinion. ortunately, protesting Stephen Harper still seems to be kosher in Montreal.

It’s also nice to see that the Idle No More movement continues to grow, despite it not being as big in Quebec. Local activists here did have a facepalm-inducing run-in with the cops when they tried to put up a tipi in Montreal. F

There’s also supposed to be another multi-million dollar building going up on the lower Main, an area that doesn’t need it. But, believe it or not, it’s not all more of the same locally, there were…

A few pleasant surprises

We’re getting new metro cars! And we’re not talking about a few tweaks, this is actually a new design! Who would have thought such a thing was possible?


Also, Projet Montreal did end up doing quite well in the municipal election. They held on to two boroughs, nearly added a third, became the official opposition and held Coderre to a minority on council. Melanie Joly also had an impact on our municipal scene and will be someone to watch in the years to come.

Most of the pleasant surprises this year happened in Ottawa (David DesBaillets goes through some of them) and internationally (Niall Clapham Ricardo takes a look at socialism on the rise). For me, the biggest standouts are how Canada just decriminalized prostitution, the courage of Edward Snowden and the fact that the US somehow managed to bungle its way out of a war that nobody wanted or needed in Syria, but most (including me) thought was inevitable.

So that’s just a brief look at how I saw 2013. I do hope that in 2014, we can do away with the distractions and the status quo. That would be a pleasant surprise, but not an impossible one.

* Top image by Jay Manafest

You always need to be wary of press releases and newsers on Fridays. A couple Fridays back Premier Marois announced ‘a significant expansion’ of the Métro. Typically Fridays are when governments or corporations release bad news (because we’ll forget about it over the weekend), although in this case I think it was calculated to drive up positive sentiment towards the government by giving us a weekend to consider the possibilities of a major investment in public infrastructure.

Madame Marois has been, as you doubtlessly already know, taking quite a bit of flack for her proposed Québec Values Charter, to which all four Montreal mayoral candidates quickly denounced both the charter and the ministers responsible for it. And so, with an election looming on the horizon, Ms. Marois has decided to try and win hearts and minds with a Blue Line extension, east, to the Galleries d’Anjou or thereabouts.

Estimated cost: $2 billion.

But here’s the catch: it won’t be open until ‘sometime in the 2020s’ and all that’s been set aside for the moment is $40 million for a planning office with a two year mandate. So all the hullaballoo for nothing; we’re not going to see any action for quite some time, and I have my suspicions Ms. Marois’ government won’t see 2014.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely cynical. It’s just that we’ve gone through these motions before, as recently as 2009 in fact. On September 16th of that year ex-Premier Charest and ex-Mayor Tremblay announced a (comparatively) massive Métro expansion involving extensions of the Blue Line east to Anjou, in addition to extensions of the Yellow Line through Longueuil and closing the Orange Line loop across Laval and down through Cartierville.

And nothing came of that project either. Worse, costs were estimated about half what we’re being told it will cost per kilometre, about $300 million.

The last Métro extension, three stations into Laval completed in 2007, cost three-quarters of a billion dollars and was both severely delayed and grossly over budget.

The last Métro line to be completed (incidentally, the Blue Line) was so over-budget it actually resulted in a provincial moratorium on Métro expansion, one that lasted from 1988 until 2004. The Blue Line was originally designed to connect with the Mount Royal Tunnel, which passes directly underneath Edouard-Montpetit station, so it could provide access to downtown Montreal, but this was cancelled due to high cost. As you might imagine, the original design of the Blue Line extended all the way to – you guessed it – Anjou.

Edouard Monpetit Metro - original design
Edouard Monpetit Metro – original design

I’m not anti-expansion per se, but I think we need to be a lot smarter about it. I want the next mayor of Montreal to put a wholly new Métro financing and development system into place, one that is self-sustaining and has a single mission: to continuously expand the Métro into the higher density boroughs until much of the island, Laval and South Shore are fully inter-connected.

We need something like a crown corporation at the city level that would be responsible for building new tunnels and stations on an accelerated schedule and would employ engineers, architects, technicians and construction workers directly, so as to eliminate subcontracting out to private firms. Doing so has so far only resulted in graft, nepotism and fraud.

It would cost less if the city simply did the work itself. Unlike the private sphere, the public’s interest is to reduce, not inflate, costs.

We need to ask ourselves what we want our Métro to look like in twenty, thirty and forty years and determine where is best to expand. Much of the work has already been done for us so we don’t need to be too creative, the question is figuring out how to get it all done as quickly as possible, how to streamline the operation etc. At $300 million per kilometre we’re already within the ‘cost prohibitive’ range; if costs continue to spiral out of control (or if we continue to use an antiquated and inefficient development funding method) we simply won’t be able to expand the Métro at all.

And not being able to expand to meet current needs will preclude future urban densification, a stated goal of just about all the current mayoral candidates.

The Métro map I want to look at in twenty years time features a Blue Line connected to the city through the Mount Royal Tunnel, extending east to Anjou and west from Snowdon to an inter-modal station in Montreal-West, an addition of about five stations on each end. The future map has a much longer Yellow Line, extended by four or five stations to CEGEP Edouard-Montpetit, with another extension of this line up through the Latin Quarter towards Parc and Pine, before going back down to McGill Station.

This north-western extension of the Yellow Line from Berri-UQAM would alleviate congestion on the Green and Orange Line segments that pass through the downtown core. The Orange Line loop would be closed with inter-modal stations at Bois-Franc to alleviate congestion on the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter-rail line.

I can also imagine the need for between two and three wholly new Métro lines. Based on population density alone, I’d argue we need a Métro line to run from Cote-Vertu east through Bordeaux and Ahuntsic, intersecting with Sauvé station on the Orange Line and continuing through Montréal-Nord with a terminus at CEGEP Marie-Victorin.

The AMT’s new ‘Train de l’Est’ will pass through here, but the cost of a monthly AMT pass may be too expensive for some of the poorer residents of the area. Moreover, it will likely be crowded with passengers coming in from farther east, so I think a ‘northern ridge’ Métro line would be a logical next step. It would provide Métro access to about 400 000 people. Another new line would likely need to be built in the East End, running from the Back River to the Green Line, along either Pie-IX or Lacordaire/Dickson.

Ultimately, we can’t continue building our Métro in a piecemeal fashion and the city has expanded beyond the range of the existing system. By developing the Métro within the existing high-density urban and semi-urban environments, we can further seek to increase on-island property values inasmuch as increase residential density.

* Top image from DashSpeed’s Fantasy Metro Expansion