Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney on Montreal seniors getting free public transit as of July 23, 2022, new child medicine and free flu shots coming to Canada and recent testimony at the Emergencies Act Inquiry. Plus comments on the two mass shootings in the US last week.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

Some Montreal transit fares will be going up as of October 1st.

After a few months of record low ridership on the Metro and bus travel in Montreal essentially being free, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is now gradually returning to front-end boarding (requiring payment) on all bus routes. Transit users will, in some cases, be paying a bit more to ride on the STM’s network this fall.

The biggest price hike will be the monthly pass, going from $86.50 to $88.50. The ten ticket combo, the three day pass and the weekly pass will each go up by 50 cents, or $29.00 to $29.50, $19.50 to $20.00 and $26.75 to $27.25 respectively.

The Unlimited Evening Pass (6pm to 5am) will remain at $5.50 and the Unlimited Week-End Pass (Friday 4pm to Monday 5am) will go from $14.00 to $14.25. For the first time, though, both will cover not only the Island of Montreal, but the entire Montreal Metropolitan Region (including Laval and the South Shore).

The price of a single ticket ($3.50), two tickets bought together ($6.50) and the Trudeau Airport Shuttle ($10) will remain the same.

Quebec Premier François Legault is in Montreal today. Speaking alongside Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Quebec’s National Director for Public Health Horacio Arruda, Public Health Regional Director Mylène Drouin and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, he announced that Montreal-area schools won’t re-open until the fall.

Primary schools across Quebec, excluding the Greater Montreal Area, re-opened on Monday, with Montreal expected to follow on May 25th provided COVID-19 numbers were dropping on par with World Health Organization criteria for deconfinement. With over 20 000 people infected, they aren’t and Montreal has become Canada’s epicenter for the virus, so it will be late August and September before any schools re-open here.

Pushing re-opening back a few weeks only to close them when the school year ends mid-June would have made no sense according to Legault. Daycares that don’t run on the same school year may re-open June 1, provided Coronavirus containment conditions are met.

Non-essential retail businesses not located in malls or in malls with a separate street entrance in Montreal could possibly re-open on May 25th as planned. That date may, of course, be pushed back.

When they do re-open, though, there will inevitably be more people using public transit. Legault announced that Quebec will assist Montreal in providing masks for commuters, which Plante welcomed.

The Premier and his colleagues have been recommending people wear face coverings whenever they leave their home for a few days now, and in particular when they ride public transit. While they won’t rule out making masks mandatory on transit at some point in the future, we’re not there yet.

Last week we learned that Montreal’s transit authority, the STM, wants its security guards to have more “police-like powers” (whatever that means) despite recent incidents like the assault on a commuter at Villa Maria metro. The STM claims that this won’t involve arming the officers who patrol the Montreal Metro and STM buses with more than the nightsticks they already, have but it will come with additional training.

The people currently working security for the STM definitely do need to be re-trained, though not in the way I suspect the STM wants to do it. The first lesson in my school, after mandatory classes against racial profiling, would be called something like You’re a Security Guard, Not a Fare Collector!

That’s sadly not the mentality the STM has. You only need to look at the statements STM officials made while pitching the upgrade for their cops to see how they really don’t get what kind of organization they are running.

With countless references to “customers” and “customer experience” you’d think they were at the helm of a for-profit business instead of a public service. Doctors have patients, public transit organizations have commuters or passengers, hell, transit users would even work, but not customers.

The latest PR nightmare for the STM involves a woman who missed the last metro, where she could have paid to ride, because the out-of-town bus she was on arrived late. She couldn’t find any stores that were open to make change, so she boarded a night bus, explained her situation to the driver and asked if she could ride without paying. He said yes.

Two stops later, STM cops gave her a $222 fine and kicked her off the bus in the middle of nowhere with no way to get home. They kicked a woman travelling alone at night off the night bus in the middle of nowhere because she didn’t have the change handy to buy a ticket despite the fact that she had asked permission to ride for free given the circumstances.

How does that make anyone safer? It doesn’t. Actually, it’s the opposite. If the STM “security” (or Rambo ticket takers) hadn’t boarded that particular night bus, one woman’s ride home would have been a helluva lot safer.

Just as Juliano Gray, the victim of the assault at Villa Maria Metro, would have been safer if STM officers had not held him on the ground with his head dangerously close to the tracks. These are two recent incidents where the biggest threat to commuter safety turned out to be those charged, at least officially, with protecting it.

In the immediate aftermath of what happened at Villa, even before Gray came forward, STM spokesperson Philippe Dery was trying to defend the officers’ actions in an email exchange with CTV Montreal and failing miserably. Then, according to CTV he added: “In addition, the person did not have a ticket in his possession and refused to cooperate with our inspectors.”

His Hail Mary defense of brutality caught on video was to tell everyone that the victim probably didn’t pay for a ticket. Not only is it not justification for assault, it’s something that very few care about outside of the STM bubble.

There are real, honest to goodness, problems in the metro and on the bus. Harassment, creepy behaviour and worse. These are issues transit security should deal with. Fare jumping doesn’t even merit a blip on the radar, but it seems to be security threat number one for the STM.

Sure, this public service has a fee, one that most of us pay. While I believe public transit should be free, I know that not everyone is on board with that yet, but at the very least we can get on board with the idea that fare collection should not be the primary concern of those charged with protecting passengers and that we are passengers, not customers.

A safe commute is knowing that the person next to you won’t do you any harm, not that they paid for a ticket or pass. The STM brass needs to realize that fact and instill it in their security guards before trying to give them more power.

Quebec City versus Ottawa. Quebec’s provincial government versus Canada’s federal one. It’s the sometimes amicable rivalry, sometimes bitter fight that has dominated our politics for the past fifty years or so.

Now, with the election of a Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government for the first time ever, it looks like things are going to change. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have already called out new Premier François Legault a couple of times, there’s only so much he can do without risking federal over-reach, which is never a good ideal in Quebec. Plus he will soon be busy fighting to keep his own job.

It looks like the next great intergovernmental battle, at least for the next three or four years, will be the National Assembly versus Montreal City Hall. Legault versus Plante. Here’s why:

From Side-Pander to Not Necessary

Back in the day, from the late 1960s to a few weeks ago, power always shifted between Liberal (PLQ) and Parti Québécois (PQ) governments. Both parties understood that Montreal votes were important enough for them to pander to us a bit during during election campaigns but not as important as votes off-island and across the rest of Quebec, which most of their policies were crafted to deliver.

Now, the governing party has almost no representation in Quebec’s largest city. They won only two seats here, Bourget and Pointe-aux-Trembles, both on the island’s eastern extremities. Flip them to any other party and the CAQ still has a strong majority.

The Island of Montreal and surrounding area as seen on the 2018 Quebec Election map

Legault has a mandate, but he didn’t get it from Montreal. He doesn’t even have to pretend to care about what Montrealers care about, he doesn’t need us to hold power. We’ve gone from a side-pander to not needed to win.

That doesn’t mean their policies won’t affect us. In fact, the most overtly reactionary will pretty much only affect us.

Montreal needs to stand up to the CAQ and, at least on a few issues, it looks like we already are or are prepared to.

Banning Religious Symbols

Legault has promised to strictly enforce Bill C-62 which bans those providing or using government services (teaching in a school or riding the metro, for example) from doing so while wearing religious symbols. He plans to use the Notwithstanding Clause if the courts stop him.

The PLQ,  who won the most seats in Montreal, are unlikely to fight against the implementation of a law they wrote and passed (sure, they probably thought they would get some votes on the right before the courts struck it down, but Legault won’t let the Canadian Charter stop him).  Québec Solidaire (QS), who came in second here, may help fight this, but they only have ten seats in a Majority Government.

Painting by Samantha Gold

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, on the other hand, has said she has no problem with civil servants wearing religious symbols, including police officers. She opposed Bill 62 as a candidate and while she said she will wait and see what the CAQ plan looks like, opposing it would just make sense.

The Greater Montreal area and the Island of Montreal are the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Quebec. It’s also where most immigrants live. Here, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish man wearing a kippah is not a strange sight, it’s part of daily life. They are members of our community with the same right to provide or avail themselves of government services as the rest of us.

Of course it’s like that. Montreal is a metropolis. Cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are essential parts of being and staying a world-class city, as important as a large population and a decent public transit system.

Close to two million people live on the Island of Montreal and over four million in the Greater Montreal area. The CAQ wants us to look as white and Christian as, say, Trois-Rivières with a population under 150 000. While he claims to be a Quebec nationalist, Legault’s attitude towards Quebec’s officially designated metropolis is not only bigoted, it’s also quite, um, provincial.

If Plante does ultimately end up refusing to implement the new Quebec Government’s plan when it comes to Montreal employees and people receiving services from the city, I don’t know what Legault could do to make her. Things could get interesting.

Implementing Cannabis Legalization

When it comes to legal weed, Plante isn’t taking a wait and see approach. In Montreal, you can smoke your legal cannabis anywhere you can smoke tobacco or vape, but you can’t spark a joint near schools, on a terasse, in hospitals, on a bus, or basically anywhere you can’t smoke a cigarette.

Legault, on the other hand, is considering a province-wide ban on smoking pot in public, such as on sidewalks or in parks. Basically he’s treating it like booze, while conveniently forgetting that there are public places called bars where you can legally consume alcohol and if you bring a sandwich to a park along with a bottle of wine, it’s a picnic.

Five Montreal boroughs, all held by the opposition party Ensemble Montréal (formerly Équipe Denis Coderre), are planning similar bylaws. While it’s a really out-of-touch idea, I understand how a borough can make such a regulation, just as I understand how a city can make an opposing regulation.

What I don’t get is how a provincial government can pass what should be a municipal zoning regulation to supersede existing zoning regulations. Pot smokers aren’t criminals anymore, just people facing fines if they light up in the wrong place.

If Plante tells the Montreal Police (SPVM) not to enforce provincial ban on smoking cannabis in public, except in the boroughs where it was banned, and they listen, would Legault send in the SQ to enforce it? Could that even work?

Public Transit

And then there’s the Pink Line. A Plante campaign promise that would see a new metro line run from Montreal North through Rosemont, the Plateau, Downtown and NDG, all the way to Lachine.

As bold as that is and as pie in the sky as it may sound, Plante already got the Federal Government to sign off on investing money in it. While QS fully incorporated it into their transit proposal, Plante decided to have a photo-op during the campaign with Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard who had only said he would consider it.

It’s clear her transit plan caused her to have an unofficial ABC (Anyone But CAQ) approach during the campaign. And with good reason: Legault had said his administration would oppose the new metro line.

Plan for the proposed Montreal Metro Pink Line

So, faced with the worst possible election outcome for the future of the project, Plante adopted a go big or go home approach and announced yesterday that she was moving ahead with the Pink Line and creating a project office to study the potential impact on urban development, mobility and socio-economic needs.  This office will compliment studies the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is already doing and have a budget of $1 Million.

Basically, if project office determines that the Pink Line is feasible and shows how it can be done right, and two thirds of the money is already there, Legault, who will probably be sitting on a pile of legal cannabis sale revenues and tax money by then, will be boxed into a corner. It’s a bold strategy and one that may pay off.

Whether it does or not, prepare for a fight. Maybe a slow-moving, incredibly polite and bureaucratic one, but a fight nonetheless. A political fight on three, maybe more, fronts. Montreal versus Quebec has just begun.

The Plante Administration really isn’t wasting much time implementing their election promises. The pit bull ban is gone, so is the Formula E, and now cars won’t have a mountain shortcut to get from one side of Montreal to the other as part of a pilot project this spring and summer.

The city will close Camillien Houde to cars between Beaver Lake and Smith House (the big lookout) while allowing buses and bikes to pass. This stems from a promise to do something about bike safety on the mountain in the wake of the death of cyclist Clément Ouimet last summer.

Their strategy seems to be get as much done as possible early and let Montrealers grow to like the changes over the next few years. Since this is the first time Projet Montreal, or any left-of-centre political outsiders for that matter, find themselves in power here, it makes sense.

But is this particular plan a good idea? One that we will come to appreciate in four years’ time? Yes, but only if it goes further.

Winding Highway in the Middle of the City

Not everyone is happy with this pilot project, as expected. Even some Plante supporters aren’t for the plan. Some feel this was too hasty and decided without enough consultation while others wonder why they didn’t just make a separate bike path. Most criticism, though, centers around additional traffic on other routes.

Living in Montreal my whole life but not being a driver, I have traveled that stretch by car and taxi many times. It always felt like I was in a racing video game, even with cautious, responsible drivers behind the wheel.

The lack of stops turns it into a highway by default. And at that, it’s a highway that winds and curves its way up and down a mountain. It was a bad idea to begin with, albeit a convenient one.

Yes, this will mean more cars on other roads, but the safety concerns for both cyclists and drivers outweigh the inconvenience. Also, public transit users will still be able to take advantage of this shortcut as buses will still go through.

This is a needed move. My only concern, though, is that it doesn’t go far enough.

The Shortcut is Gone, But the Risk Remains

Blocking off a chunk of Camillien Houde will mean fewer cars, but not no cars. Now, all those who drive up the mountain will be doing so to visit a part of the mountain such as Smith House and then return.

Well, almost all. There will inevitably be those unaware of the change who will make their way up expecting to end up on the other side only to find out they have to turn back.

If this seems like just a minor problem, it won’t be. The only thing worse than drivers barreling down a winding pseudo-highway is frustrated drivers trying to make up lost time barreling down a winding pseudo-highway.

A Proposal

The #11 Bus at Parc and Mount Royal about to travel over the mountain

There is an easy fix, though, and it’s one I hope the Plante administration considers:

  1. Stop all car traffic at Parc and Mount-Royal on the eastern end and Beaver Lake in the west.
  2. Create two lanes, one in each direction, for city buses and emergency vehicles, two separate lanes for cyclists and, if possible, a space for pedestrians.
  3. Add more buses on the route and create stops: one at the Camillien Houde lookout midway up from the east, one at Smith House and one at Beaver Lake for now and maybe more later. All stops should be wheelchair accessible.

If people want to visit the mountain and are unable to do so on foot or by bike (or just don’t want to), they can do so by bus. There’s already a parking  lot at Beaver Lake. For this plan to really work, the city would need to make another one near Parc and Mount-Royal. You can drive to the mountain, but not over it.

If this seems like a permanent change, then good. A pilot project can only go so far and risks alienating people without fully showing the payoff.

Eliminating the mountain shortcut will draw the same ire if you cut cars at Smith House or at Parc and Mount-Royal, so why not go all the way and fully eliminate a pseudo-highway that was a bad idea to begin with.

* Featured image of the Camillien Houde lookout via WikiMedia Commons

On Friday morning, transit users stood at stops along the 80 du Parc South route wearing surgical masks and other face coverings to protest recently passed amendments to C-62. One Montreal bus driver honked his horn and covered his face in solidarity and now faces disciplinary actions from the STM (Société de transport de Montréal, the Montreal transit commission) as a result.

On Wednesday, the National Assembly voted for changes to the so-called “religious neutrality of the state” law which now require all those receiving provincial or municipal government services such as riding on public transit to do so with their faces uncovered. Basically, no niqabs on the bus.

The union representing Montreal transit workers say they don’t want their members to be stuck enforcing this law. They will be defending the driver at his hearing.

Meanwhile the STM says it is still “evaluating” the new rules but didn’t take that long to evaluate whether or not to try and punish the driver. He may get a reprimand or be suspended depending on factors like his work history.

The STM feels he made them look bad. If optics is what they’re concerned with, then they really aren’t looking at the full picture.

Going after a driver for showing solidarity with both a targeted minority and those transit users protesting the law targeting them looks real bad, especially when you consider that this driver will be among those tasked with enforcing that law. Bus drivers didn’t sign up to enforce the xenophobic will of the state.

Not taking a stand against C-62, something those you serve, Montrealers, don’t want, also looks real bad. The STM should have taken a cue from its union and made a statement against this unfair and bigoted legislation, at the very least from the angle that it puts them in a position that goes well beyond their mandate.

Of course, this is the same organization that censured Jacques the Singing Bus Driver of 165 fame and the guy who used to announce the stops on the 80 with a bit of location info (“St-Viateur, la rue des bagels”). While passengers seemed to enjoy a driver having a good time at work, STM killjoys shut them down.

I still don’t agree with those decisions, but at least I understand the mentality behind them. This time, though, the STM’s stance is indefensible.

If the police can wear camo pants for years because of a salary negotiation, then one bus driver has every right to honk his horn and cover his mouth for a moment to take a symbolic stand against state bigotry that may soon directly affect his job.

If more bus drivers (maybe the union as a whole) staged protests like this, which, by the way, don’t disrupt transit service one bit, it would send a powerful message. If the STM backed them, the organization would be on the right side of history.

The women who wear niqabs or burqas are the real potential victims of C-62, but it looks like the first casualty may be a Montreal bus driver showing solidarity.

For over a decade, the primary focus of the Montreal Transit System (STM)’s security efforts has been to catch and fine fare dodgers. Yesterday, one of their main tactics was ruled to be a human rights violation.

You may have seen them. Groups of security guards trying their best to come across as a paramilitary unit standing in Metro stations.

They’re not doing that to stop harrassment of women passengers, assault or other real crimes that happen in the metro. Sure, they can do something if any of those situations occur, but the STM’s track record on those issues isn’t that great. Ask yourself: do you feel safer knowing that the person next to you on the Metro platform isn’t some violent creep or that they paid $3.25 to get to where they are standing?

The main reason the guards are there isn’t for passenger security. It isn’t even for the STM’s financial security. They’re not trying to catch fare jumpers in the act. They want to catch them when they leave the train and fine them for not having a proof of payment (some form of active buspass in an Opus card or a ticket).

This isn’t to prevent fare jumping, it’s to capitalize off of it. STM Security is no longer primarily a security force, they’ve become a revenue-generating collection agency. Is it any wonder these so-called security stops occur frequently in Metro stations that serve poorer neighbourhoods?

They board busses, too, checking everyone’s receipt (I guess we can call it that, they do). It’s supposed to be random, but I’ve experienced it twice on the same bus route, the 129 heading east from the Cote-St-Catherine area. I’ve never experienced it on the 24 just having passed through Westmount.

Recently, the STM implemented the “honour system” as a pilot project on the 121 route which travels along Côte-Vertu. All the bus doors open (these are long accordion buses) and you can get on without pinging your pass or ticket. While this is a good idea, how long do you think it will be before this honour system route becomes the main recipient of STM “Security” inspections (if it isn’t already)?

Violation of Human Rights

For me, and probably for many other transit users who did pay, proving your payment to “security” is annoying, especially if there is a risk of missing a connecting bus or metro because of the delay. It’s also a little bit intimidating. For those who did pay, but neglected to keep their ticket/receipt because they simply didn’t know the system, they could end up paying $100 or more.

For Municipal Court Judge Randall Richmond, it’s also a human rights violation as it doesn’t allow for the presumption of innocence. The judge ruled yesterday that the STM’s practice violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The STM’s lawyers had argued that this was similar to preventative arrests of drunk drivers, which is considered a justifiable violation of the Charter “in a free and democratic society”. Judge Richmond didn’t agree that drunk driving and fare jumping were equivalent offenses. Because they’re fucking not!

The STM is appealing the decision. Because, of course. This is the same organization that thinks skipping out on a three dollar fare or paying it but forgetting to keep that little piece of paper they give you is the same as risking the lives of people on the road. This is the same organization that thinks revenue generation is security.

A New Vision for the STM?

The STM has made some advances recently. I did enjoy my ride on the new Azur train and even experienced air conditioning on a bus. I understand that they need money to function, but their approach to getting that money is all wrong, in fact, their view of what they are is all wrong.

A public transit system is a public service. It can and should offer its riders nice things. It is not a for-profit business and should not be treated as such.

If public money is paying for the STM, the return on investment for us should not be in the form of more revenues going into public coffers. It should be in the form of better busses and metros, accessible to all, meeting the needs of the population, ideally free of charge for the rider, though that last part may take a while.

For the moment, I’d be happy with an approach to security that was focused on all passengers feeling and being safe, regardless of whether or not they paid. What we’ve got for now is only designed to make us feel on edge.

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?

2014 was a year of big ups and big downs, each one meriting discussion, but that’s not what’s going to happen here. Instead, I’m going to focus on the little things.

By little, I mean petty annoyances that don’t even qualify as first world problems. They’re the sort of things that bug me at the time (or perhaps multiple times), but not to the point where I would even consider firing off a tweet.

So before we get to the one small victory, here are four things that mildly annoyed me in 2014:

CIBC Bank Machines Not Displaying the Balance as an Option

When I withdraw money from a machine owned by the bank I do business with, the CIBC, it gives me three choices. I can either continue banking, which I generally don’t want to do, exit with no receipt, which means it doesn’t tell me my balance or exit with receipt, which means I’m helping to kill a tree for almost nothing.

Sure, I could very easily continue banking to get the balance, use my memory of what’s in my account or click on the app on my smartphone, but why should I have to? Other banks offer “display balance” as an alternative to printing a receipt, why can’t mine? The programming can’t be that hard to do, and I bet thousands of people have a small piece of paper printed up that they throw away just because displaying the balance isn’t an option.

YouTube Removing the Rick Roll Star Wars Trailer

It looked something like this
It looked something like this

A day before the Star Wars Episode VII trailer was supposed to be released online, I saw in my Facebook feed that someone had already filmed it in the theatre and uploaded it, so naturally I clicked. It looked legit: shaky camera, movie screen, Disney and LucasFilm logos, then Mr. Rick Astley graced us with his presence singing Never Gonna Give You Up.

It was honestly one of the best Rick Rolls I had ever seen. Unfortunately, a few minutes after I had shared it, it was gone.

Why, YouTube, why? I get removing fake trailers pretending to be real, but this one clearly gave up the pretense with the first few bars of the song.

I know Disney’s lawyers aren’t known for their tolerance, but the company does understand satire and its newly acquired fanbase (they’re releasing an unaltered original trilogy on BluRay). This is clearly satire that plays to that fanbase. Removing it just makes no sense.

No Northbound Bus Stop on Girouard and Upper Lachine

First off, I am well aware that people in NDG have way more significant public tansit woes than I did for most of this year. Those could very easily make up a post on this site and have on many more established media outlets.

My issue pales in comparison to overcrowded 105 busses that don’t even stop to pick people up halfway through the route, but this post isn’t about the important stuff. I’m not going to go to Marvin Rotrand with this issue, but I will spill it here.

Why is there no northbound bus stop on Girouard, corner Upper Lachine? There is a southbound one. If I’m taking the 17 or 371 down, I can get off where I need to, but in reverse, say coming from a friend’s house in St-Henri, no dice (unless I play dumb and nice and ask the driver if he can please stop).

The busses pass that corner but don’t stop, instead they turn right towards Decarie, stop at Decarie and deMaisonneuve, then head up to Shebrooke, turn left and take…you guessed it…Girouard! Why do they do this? They’re NOT Vendome busses no matter how hard they try to be.

Maybe it’s difficult to continue up Girouard, you may say. Well, the 420 NDG Express does it. It passes right by the corner of Upper Lachine without stopping until it gets to Sherbrooke beyond Girouard Park.

This is no longer my issue as I now live downtown, but it was a repeated small annoyance for most of 2014.

Cats and Dogs Who Speak Human Languages…Poorly

I’m talking, of course, about certain memes. Animal memes where cats and dogs have miraculously acquired the ability to communicate in English (or another human language) yet have, for one reason or another, stopped before learning proper grammar.

This is akin to a human discovering they are able to fly without mechanical aid and then only using this skill to occasionally fly to the dep down the street. If a cat or dog was able to master human speech, it would be a miracle animal and wouldn’t stop at basic words, it would become more eloquent than you or I in no time flat.

Now, if these memes are meant to represent what the animal is trying to communicate translated into English rather than a world-shaking ability, fine, but the same still applies. Doge can be excused, he’s just mocking hipsters, so can any cat that uses the phrase “I sits” instead of “I am sitting” or “I will sit” as jargon. Grumpy cat’s grammar is fine and so is this cat’s:


But the rest? C’mon.

The Victory: That I Can Write This Post

I guess it’s a small victory that I am sitting here writing this post, venting about minutiae on the internet isn’t something I pioneered. But in a way, it’s a huge personal victory.

I’m sitting here, alive, in the warmth with a roof over my head, enjoying some leftover liquid cheer from Christmas and typing away about small stuff that annoyed me this year. People may even read this, in fact, some will. Maybe they’ll even identify with some of the points I made and like it on Facebook or re-tweet (if you haven’t done either of those things, please do both).

In that way, I’m lucky, and if you have the time to read and enjoy this, so are you.

Happy New Year!

The new Montreal Metro cars are here, well, not quite here, they’re at the Bombardier factory in La Pocatière. While we’ll have to wait until Spring 2014 to see the 468 new cars, costing $1.9 billion, in action, Bombardier gave the media a look at some of the new features on Monday.

Bombardier is boasting that these cars, which they’re calling Azur, offer more room for more passengers, more things to hold onto and bigger windows. Also, the seats pull back and none of them touch the floor, which makes cleaning easier.

While most of these changes seem like moderate progress along the path started with the last change made to the interiors of some cars, there are some very interesting alterations and additions:

azur exterior
A new metro car with the accordion connector on display at Berri-UQAM metro in 2012 (image STM)

Walk between the cars

One of the most interesting features of the new design is the ability to safely walk between metro cars. The new cars are connected by what looks like the same accordion design that connects sections of reticulated buses.

Allowing people to travel from one end of the train to the other while it is in motion is both practical, say when you jump on at one end but know your exit is closer to the other, and, dare I say, potentially quite fun. It is also safer, according to a Bombardier rep on an interesting interactive presentation from Radio-Canada, because it minimizes the possibility of people falling between the cars.

Four TVs in every car

Metro cars, or at least most of them, already have screens announcing the next stop and displaying the connecting buses and train lines. They used to have ads, maybe they still do, I’ve been tuning out all but the most relevant info for several years.

Don’t think that will be an option with the new cars. Bombardier are promising that each car will have four screens, similar to those currently in use in major stations like Berri-UQAM, Lionel Groulx and Vendome.

That means station info, news, weather, the time and other bits of practical info. It also means ads, video ads mixed into the stream of info, a stream that is probably going to be much harder to ignore.

new montreal metro car interior
New metro car interior (image STM)

Four cameras in every car

There will be four cameras, covering almost all of each metro car. This, according to Bombardier, is for safety reasons.

Their explanation is that if someone makes an emergency call to the conductor, he or she, along with the security central will be able to see the situation and send an emergency team right away. Currently, the conductor needs to wait for the next stop, then walk over and determine if someone needs to be called in.

I agree that calling emergency personnel right away is better than waiting, but I wonder why, even without the cameras, someone isn’t dispatched the moment an emergency call comes in. If the report is false, then can’t the person be charged with making a false report just like when someone calls 9-1-1 as a joke?

I also wonder if the feed from these cameras will only be looked at in the case of an emergency or if they will be monitored the whole time the metro is in operation. Might be farewell to sneaking some sips of a beer with your friends on an otherwise empty metro car or doing a bit of impromptu metro theatre.

Cooler cars

These cars will be cooler, according to Bombardier. That is, they won’t be sweat boxes like the current ones are sometimes.

The current breaking system produces energy that heats up the insides of the cars. The new breaking system will convert that energy into electricity instead.

Add that to a better ventilation system, probably due in part to the whole train being connected on the inside, and we’re supposed to get a much cooler riding experience. It’s not air conditioning, but at least it’s a start.

Those are my two cents. What do you think about the new design?

We need to prioritize public transit expansion in our city. We need to transition off of our over-reliance on automobiles, cut down considerably on local pollution, gridlock and the endless cycles of roadway destruction. Train, subways, buses and trams are all part of a veritable transit cocktail we’ll need to build over the course of the coming generations to make public transit the principle fashion by which we get around the city.

The status quo is very expensive and the cost is going to rise. If the city gets out ahead of this issue and plans for a massive transition we can start reaping the benefits sooner, and we’ll be better off the earlier we start.

That said, let’s consider three new fantasy mass transit systems I’ve recently come across. I love finding these – so much to think about.


Métro extension and LRT proposal by Dashspeed

This one’s novel because it presents a modest Métro expansion plan along with the development of an integrated LRT system.
Métro expansions would include a five and three-station extension on either side of the Orange Line (west and east respectively) without closing the loop and six stations to the Blue Line towards Anjou. These are very likely developments given population growth in Saint-Laurent, Petite-Patrie, Rosemont, Saint-Leonard and Anjou.

What’s fascinating here is the idea that the airport ought to be served by a new Métro line which in this case would follow part of the once-proposed western extension of the Blue Line and link it up with Bonaventure and Peel stations (and Gare Centrale by extension) with an apparent stop somewhere very close to the Mountain. Based on the map I wonder if the idea isn’t to dig out a Métro tunnel alongside the existing Mount Royal Tunnel. What an impressive job that would be!

I like this proposed Red Line development, but I like the proposed LRT network even more. It’s an effective way of providing a higher capacity alternative to a bus while spending less on infrastructure. Examples: the Magenta Line connects Bonaventure and Windsor station with Griffintown, Goose Village, Pointe-St-Charles and Nun’s Island, the Grey Line crosses the Champlain Bridge and serves all the South Shore communities from Brossard to Longueuil, there attaching to the Yellow Line.

A Violet Line connects Papineau station, crosses the bridge and on to Saint-Hubert Airport, a Blue Line LRT runs from a proposed intermodal station at the Université de Montréal through Cote-des-Neiges, Saint-Laurent and Laval onto Mirabel Airport. Dashspeed also includes some ‘redundancy’ lines, such as the tram running along The Main from Jean-Talon to Place-d’Armes on the Métro Orange Line and along Decarie and Marcel-Laurin.

I also like how the tram lines anticipate future on-island densification, and that the West Island requires a comprehensive tram network if we have any hope of cutting back on their car dependency. I think buses have outlived their utility, and reserved-lane LRTs could serve the area much better. Also, interesting idea to have both LRTs and a Métro Line connecting directly to Trudeau.


Métro expansion by JohnQMetro

This plan is pretty bold and would, if implemented, greatly increase the area we consider to be urban Montréal. A lot of this based on other plans touted about for years, such as extending both ends of the Blue and Green Lines, having part of the Yellow Line twinned with the Green Line in the downtown, using the Métro to connect to Trudeau Airport and closing the Orange Line to form a loop.

What’s novel here is the orientation of the map, more aligned with true north than we’re used to. Doing so makes the case for eastern and northern development a bit easier – I think we too easily forget there are 500,000 people on the other side of the river and another half-million living in the ring of northern suburbs.

These areas need to be better connected to the CBD, in a more direct fashion. The Red Line in this example would connect Griffintown, Pointe St-Charles, Goose Village and Nun’s Island to the CBD in addition to the Plateau and McGill Ghetto. A true North-South Line is a very novel proposal indeed, and would seek to link to separate but nonetheless iconic neighbourhoods. We could call it the Hipster Line.

Other neat ideas here: a Parc Avenue focused Métro Line linking the city with Brossard and Saint Laurent. Also, many more two-line access stations and a Métro linked directly to the Montreal General Hospital and Rockcliffe Apartments over Cote-des-Neiges road.

It also occurred to me looking at this design that spacing out stops farther away from the city is a neat solution to the problem of population density in transitional residential zones.
One of the many arguments against Métro expansion is that many think it would require stops as frequent as we currently have, which in turn would make the commute very long indeed. By stretching the average distance between stations, Métro trains could conceivably reach higher speeds. As population density increases, new stops can be placed in between.

montreal metro idea

Métro expansion and surface tram proposal by Richard Sunichura

Our final entry is like the former, heavily influenced by contemporary planning and proposals, including a Pie-IX Line going up into Montréal Nord and RdP, closing the Orange Line loop, and adding a few stations to the ends of the existing lines.

I find this plan a bit underwhelming and think too many stations have been added to the Orange Line in Laval. I’m also not crazy about having a y-shaped Métro Line even if part of it is attached to the airport. This plan also utilizes trams, but does so as if to build bridges between Métro lines almost as if to bypass them.

Final point on this one, utilizing the Mount Royal Tunnel for a Métro Line is one thing, but this makes it seem as if a Métro Line would be built under the CN track and AMT’s Deux-Montagnes Line all the way to Pierrefonds. I’m not sure what the logic is here.

In any event, I’m glad people are still making these. If we truly want our city to grow we’re going to have to start thinking big about public transit in Montréal.

Think about it – this isn’t hippy-dippy bullshit, it’s basic economics and the cost of a personal car is high and getting higher. Providing an efficient and comprehensive alternative throughout the metropolitan region by extension transfers a considerable amount of disposable income back into the pockets of the citizenry.

A thought for the New Year perhaps. Change is coming in November.

An expanded version of this post originally appeared on TaylorNoakes.com

Dear clients, your attention please,” the announcement (in French) rang out with a sense of self-importance and urgency across the platform, “we are currently testing the announcement system.” Fair enough, I guess, though a little amusing in how it was so anti-climactic. Then it hit me: the voice had just called us clients.

We weren’t in a store. We were waiting for a train in a Montreal metro station, part of a public transportaion network spanning the island. The operative word being public. Yes, I did pay my fare to ride, as did everyone else on the platform (in theory), but that doesn’t make me a customer.

Call me passenger, traveller, transit system user, citizen even, just please don’t call me a client. I’m not. Just like the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) isn’t a business, or at least it shouldn’t see itself as one.

It’s a public utility that does need to charge a fee to function. It also should balance its books, but it should not be run like a for profit corporation.

Unfortunately that’s not how the brass sees it. Just look at how they’re policing the network: with real city cops. Now while the Montreal Police are, presumably, dealing with actual crime in the transit system (as they should), every time I see them, they’re doing something else, namely checking for proof of payment. They stand in lines four or five deep, stopping people entering and leaving the metro. I’ve even seen them board buses to check for that little ticket stub that you’re supposed to keep (whatever happened to faith in the driver, but I digress).

The logic put forth by those behind this scheme, or at least by those tasked with enforcing it, is that (as one cop told a friend of mine) the system loses money to fare jumpers. But how much money are they wasting dedicating resources and paying salaries to prevent those lost revenues? Surely more than they lose. Well, not if you factor in the hefty fines the cops give out to those they catch.

This isn’t about stopping passengers who are trying to avoid paying $3, it’s about generating large amounts of revenue through punishments. It’s not about saving money, it’s about making it from the public and using an actual police force to do it, intimidation tactics and all.

Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine a private business, say a clothing store, using actual cops to protect its business interests. Not fair, right? What makes that business worthy of public, armed security and the flower shop down the street not?

But wait, proponents of the armed cop ticket checkers on the transit system may argue, it is fair because the metro and bus network isn’t some ordinary private business, it’s a public utility and therefore, a public police force is a justifiable organization to use as security.

I’m confused. If they’re arging that it’s a public utility, which it is, then they may be able to justify the use of cops, but they can’t in any way, shape or form, justify using those cops to generate profits from travellers as though they were customers. Nor can they call members of the public who use this public utility clients or customers, as apparently they have started doing.

I realize they’re not the only utility that behaves like this. Hydro, for example, has been treating everyone as customers for years, but that’s a much larger nut to crack and one that people living in a modern urban setting really can’t avoid (well, there is off-grid, but that’s tricky). Public transit isn’t in the same boat.

Some people have cars, some people have bikes, some people have money for taxis and many have use of their feet. There are options. Public transit is an option that should be encouraged and promoted. Many agree with that notion, but not all of them, or more specifically not most of those in power to change things, realize that the way to promote a public utility isn’t through an ad campaign, it’s through making the service accessible to as many as possible and not making people feel like they are entering a profit-driven police state every time they head underground to get around.

Higher transit fares discourage people from riding. Getting rid of the six ticket pack (check it out, it just happened) doesn’t help either. Neither does not accepting monthly or weekly passes or even the two ticket discount when entering the Montreal metro system from off-island. Yes, I know that it involves a deal with one of the two other transit systems, but I think it’s worth it to either negotiate a better deal or else bite the bullet and pay the small expense that makes it possible for people to not have to pay different rates depending on where they enter the metro. Think about it, unified pricing helped strengthen the New York subway and the subway helped build the city.

At the very least, the STM should realize it doesn’t have a monopoly and start acting like a true public utility that works for the benefit of the public. It needs to realize that the citizens who use the service may be many things, but are in no way mere exploitable clients. Then, the statement in the following song would ring true…