Nuit Blanche Part 3: The all-night metro

Télécité time

The count stands at three. Only three times since it opened in 1966 has the Montreal metro run throughout the night:

  1. March 4, 1971, during the “storm of the century”
  2. Jan. 1, 2000, to help New Year Decade Century Millennium partiers get home
  3. 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.

Nuit Blanche shuttle bus at the Old Port stop

Nuit Blanche shuttle bus at the Old Port stop (12:10am)

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.

Place des Arts station at 3:17am

Place des Arts station at 3:17am

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).

Snowdon station (blue line platform) at 4:52am

Snowdon station (blue line platform) at 4:52am

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.

Longueuil station at 3:35am

Longueuil station at 3:35am

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.

Stranded transit users at Côte Vertu at 4:33am

Stranded transit users at Côte Vertu at 4:33am

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).

Blank MetroVision screens at Côte Vertu

Blank MetroVision screens at Côte Vertu

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).

Departure clock at Saint-Michel

Departure clock at Saint-Michel

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.

Straw (hay?) at Snowdon

Straw (hay?) at Snowdon

I have no idea how this got to the floor at Snowdon station. I don’t recall seeing any horses or farms nearby.

Jean-Talon station at 5:28am

Jean-Talon station at 5:28am

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.

7 thoughts on “Nuit Blanche Part 3: The all-night metro

  1. Alex T.

    I was at Cote-Vertu about 10 minutes before you took that picture. I never quite understood that 90-minute gap between the last 382 (04:00) and the first 64 at around 5:30. I’m glad I only live about 15 minutes away from the metro station.

    Reply
  2. Vahan

    I usually don’t have anything nice to say about the terrible service we are getting from the STM. For years we have been promised more buses on the 535 line, yet every morning my kids have to wait for a few buses to pass by before getting one they could get into. The Metro is always down at critical times and most times trash filled. The trash I blame on the users who have no respect for public property, but the break downs are mostly due to lack of investment even though the rates are jacked every year. I was, nonetheless pleasantly surprised wit the Nuit Blanche service and the the amounts of people using the service.These were the “hardcore” public transport users showing great respect for other users and everything was running smoothly in the wee hours of the morning.

    Reply
  3. ladyjaye

    I wish the metro would remain open till, say, 3 or 4am on Fridays and Saturdays. The rest of the week, I can understand why it’d close as it does now, but considering that people do go out on weekends and all, it would be a service to society to allow people to ride the metro when closing time comes. For instance, going home from downtown during the day takes me approximately 30 minutes (more so if the timing’s bad for the bus or metro; walking home from the metro takes another 25 minutes). Using night buses: close to two hours (must take 2 night buses then walk that 25 minutes). Huge difference. No wonder I never go out of my neighborhood till the wee hours of the night…

    BTW, when we took the night metro last Saturday after attending Fantasia nuit blanche at the PDA, it was filled (green line), with mostly kids in their early 20s. Considering how rowdy and exciting and awake they were compared to my sleepy state, I felt so old (and I’m 33!)…

    Reply
  4. Jean Naimard

    The Métro could very easily work through the saturday-to-sunday night, as no track maintenance is done at that time. Coming home from the clubs is a cinch with the Métro, but the night bus network sucks big time (why can’t they have a bus run every 20 minutes along the subway lines???).

    Running 3 trains per hour from 1 to 5 would not be very taxing, and if they really worry about power use or wear and tear, they could also run shorter trains.

    And it would help a lot.

    10 years ago, when I lived in “lower Westmount”*, I would often come home from downtown on the last métro train and get off at Lionel-Groulx, after the last trains from Angrignon and Côte-Vertu have passed, and wait for the maintenance machinery to go by towards Angrignon or Côte-Vertu…

    * I’m no shitting you. Westmount actually goes down to St-Antoine street around there!!!

    Reply
  5. Colin

    “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.”

    The Blue Line tends to be have very few passengers around at the best of times.

    Reply

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