You'll actually be waiting more, not less, for the 18 bus outside of rush hour.
The STM is trumpeting huge, noticeable improvements to bus and metro service that finally came into effect on Monday. The additions come in two parts:
More metro trains, less wait time
The STM is adding 145 new departures every week to all but the yellow line. The goal is to reduce waiting times and get more people using the metro.
The change is most visible outside of rush hour. That means the very early morning, during the day, late evenings, at night and on the weekend. On weekdays outside of rush hour, the waiting times will all be reduced by at least a minute and a half - a rather noticeable change.
Going out today, I decided to time the intervals between metro trains. Sure enough, for orange line trains going through downtown at 6:45pm, the trains were just under six minutes apart on average, which the STM says is an improvement on the previous eight minutes.
Though the wait times during rush hour (when almost all trains are already in service) won't come down much, this move might serve to eventually lighten that load a bit. An extended rush hour means that fewer travellers will organize their schedules around rush hour to take advantage of the short waits.
I can't be the only one who prefers to travel during peak hours because of how much faster it is. Extending rush hour will spread this tendency out a bit and hopefully make it spike a bit less as the whistle blows at 5pm.
More bus service means less bus service?
The other part to this service improvement is the more interesting one: the STM has announced additional buses being added to three popular lines: 18 Beaubien, 24 Sherbrooke and 121 Sauvé/Côte-Vertu. It's also making the 54 Charland/Chabanel a rush-hour-plus-between-rush-hours service, which is becoming more and more popular (but to me only seems frustrating because the service stops by 7pm).
Today I went to the Beaubien metro bus stop for the 18 bus and observed as buses passed to pick up passengers headed east for the evening rush hour. Most of the buses had their seats filled, but none were so packed that nobody else could get on. They were running on intervals of about 3-4 minutes during rush hour's peak (5:30pm), and 6-7 minutes just after rush hour (6:30pm).
Here's the problem: The schedule itself hasn't improved. If anything, service is being reduced on these three lines.
Curious to get some numbers on the improvements to these three lines, I checked out the Planibus schedules on the STM's website, and compared the times to the older schedules that had just expired. In some cases, there were improvements to wait times and extended rush hours. In other cases, however, wait times were increased rather than decreased.
It's difficult to tell the changes during the "six minutes or less" rush hour where the number of departures can't be counted on the schedule. But since the STM implied that the changes were to "extend rush hours," let's assume the number of departures during those times hasn't changed.
For the rest of the time, here's what I found:
- +1: Westbound on weekdays, departures between 11:32 and 12:07 go from 5 to 6
- +1: Westbound on Saturdays, departures between 13:08 and 13:56 go from 6 to 7
- -2: Westbound on Sundays, departures between 11:08 and 12:47 go from 12 to 10
- -1: Eastbound on Sundays, departures between 18:48 and 20:01 go from 7 to 6
TOTAL: 1 fewer departure outside of rush hour.
- +2: Westbound on weekdays, morning rush hour is extended from 7:00-8:53 to 6:53-9:35. Between 9:00 and 9:30, interval drops from 8-9 minutes to 6 or less.
- +2: Westbound on weekdays, afternoon rush hour is extended earlier to add 16:02-16:43. Interval drops during this time from 7-9 minutes to 6 or less.
- +1: Eastbound on weekdays, morning rush hour is extended to add 8:24-8:40. Intervals reduced from 8 minutes to 6 or less.
- +1: Eastbound on weekdays, departures between 15:15 and 16:00 go from 5 to 6. Intervals reduced from 11 minutes to 9.
- -5: Westbound on Saturdays between 12:15 and 17:15, intervals are increased from 15 minutes to 20 minutes
- -3: Eastbound on Saturdays between 12:15 and 15:00, intervals are increased from 15 minutes to 20 minutes
- -2: Westbound on Sundays between 12:30 and 15:15, intervals are increased from 15 minutes to 20 minutes
- -2: Eastbound on Sundays between 13:37 and 15:42, the number of departures drops from 10 to 8. Intervals increased from 12 minutes to 15
- -1: Eastbound on Sundays between 15:42 and 17:23, the number of departures drops from 9 to 8. Intervals increased from 11 minutes to 12
TOTAL: 7 fewer departures that I can count.
This is a huge missed opportunity for the 24. The Sherbrooke bus is notorious for having horrible service outside of rush hour. On weekdays after 6pm (Westbound) and 7:30pm (Eastbound), intervals climb dramatically to 20 minutes. After 7:30pm (Westbound) and 10:30pm (Eastbound), it climbs again to 30 minutes. That's unacceptable for a bus that travels through downtown and through two metro stations.
People who were looking forward to shorter evening wait times for the 24 will be sadly disappointed. As will anyone trying to take this bus on the weekend, who are guaranteed to get even worse service than they had before.
Note: The previous schedule for the 121 was broken on the STM's website, and so previous figures for eastbound departures are from a 2-year-old schedule.
- +1: Westbound on weekdays, 14:27-14:46 is added to the afternoon rush hour with at least one new departure.
- -1: Westbound on weekdays, the number of departures between 19:00 and 20:24 drops from 8 to 7.
- -1: Eastbound on weekdays, interval between 10:00-11:00 is increased from 10 to 14 minutes
- +1: Eastbound on weekdays between 11:00-12:30, intervals are reduced from 10 to 9 minutes
- +2: Eastbound on weekdays, evening rush hour adds 17:30-18:30. Intervals drop from 6-8 minutes to 6 or less.
- +1: Eastbound on weekdays between 19:00-20:00, intervals are reduced from 11-12 minutes to 10 minutes
- Westbound on Saturdays, the schedule is unchanged.
- -1: Eastbound on Saturdays between 6:30-9:30, the number of departures drops from 10 to 9. Intervals increase from 18 to 20 minutes.
- +2: Eastbound on Saturdays between 12:30-14:00, the number of departures increases from 10 to 12. Intervals decrease from 9 minutes to 7-8.
- +1: Eastbound on Saturdays between 15:00-16:15, intervals are reduced from 7 minutes to 6.
- +1: Eastbound on Saturdays between 18:30-19:30, the number of departures increases from 4 to 5. Intervals decrease from 15 minutes to 12.
- -1: Westbound on Sundays between 11:00-11:45, the number of departures drops from 7 to 6.
- -1: Westbound on Sundays between 13:15-14:00, intervals are increased from 6 minutes to 7.
- -1: Eastbound on Sundays between 11:30-13:00, intervals are increased from 12 to 14 minutes.
- -1: Eastbound on Sundays between 19:00-21:00, the number of departures drops from 7 to 6.
TOTAL: Two extra departures. Good news for weekday travellers, but Sunday service takes a beating.
At least in the case of the 54, the STM was speaking the truth. The rush-hour schedule is unchanged. Departures are added between the rush hours (12 new departures eastbound, and 11 westbound), with an interval of 27 minutes between buses in either direction. Final departures of the day are at 6pm (Eastbound) and 6:15pm (Westbound).
I've sent a request to the STM for comment, but after 48 hours there has been no response.
UPDATE (Jan. 16): I finally spoke to someone at the STM's media relations. Apparently the service reductions are normal seasonal adjustments that happen every January as demand goes down. Look for an article with details on Saturday.