The count stands at three. Only three times since it opened in 1966 has the Montreal metro run throughout the night:
- March 4, 1971, during the “storm of the century”
- Jan. 1, 2000, to help New Year Decade Century Millennium partiers get home
- March 1, 2009, during the Nuit Blanche
There are reasons beyond financial ones for the metro to stop running during the night. Overnight is when the tracks are cleaned, when maintenance is performed, when money is transferred. Subways that are open 24 hours (like in New York) have extra tracks that can be used when one is closed, but Montreal doesn’t have that luxury (unless it wants to run the metro only one way).
But, as in the examples above, exceptions can be made once in a while. The STM decided to make one this year, and organized itself to keep all 68 metro stations open throughout the night, and have trains running on all four lines.
The service was supplemented by regular night buses as well as special Nuit Blanche free shuttles, which the STM has been providing for years now to get people between events. As you can see, these were very popular and mostly filled to capacity.
Downtown, it looked as busy as it would in the middle of the day, though with much younger passengers who were into more of a partying mood (in one case, smoking pot on the train, prompting me to wonder where the fire extinguisher was).
Farther away (and later into the night) the activity dropped off. The blue line, which doesn’t go downtown or near any of the Nuit Blanche events, was particularly devoid of traffic, though even there you could find passengers.
One thing about having the metro open late at night: No bathrooms. Normally it’s not the end of the world, you can just duck into an adjacent shopping mall, office building or bus station, but at 3am these are all closed. I ended up going to the Station Centrale bus station (through the outside because the direct underground access was closed). If this happens again, remember to use a bathroom where you can find one.
Though the night buses were running as usual, those unaccustomed to their schedules risked getting screwed. These transit users at Côte Vertu metro, for example, checked the posted timetables to realize that the last night bus to Cartierville and the West Island left at 4am, and the first Sunday morning bus wouldn’t arrive for another hour (the 215 to Fairview wouldn’t start until 6:15, almost two hours later).
I wanted to get some pictures showing clocks on them, since the platforms, trains and passengers don’t look much different at 3am as they do at 3pm. Unfortunately, the MetroVision screens weren’t working (it probably would have been too much of a hassle to have them function for the four hours overnight).
But there were other clocks as well. This one shows a scheduled departure from Saint-Michel at 5:21am (the return trip of the train in my pop quiz last week), which is actually only a few minutes before the regular metro opens anyway.
I have no idea how this got to the floor at Snowdon station. I don’t recall seeing any horses or farms nearby.
The very earliest trains in the morning at 5:30am usually have quite a few people on them, either getting to work really early or having spent a long night out and waiting for the first train to arrive. But on this morning, not much of that could be found here.
The McGill Daily points out that having the metro running during the night cuts down on drunk driving. And every year people wonder why the metro can’t keep running during the night on New Year’s Eve. Hopefully this experience might convince the STM to make some more exceptions for special events.
UPDATE: You should also check out La Presse’s special on life in the metro.