There are a lot of changes here, and they’re summarized below, but the major themes are these:
- Three new routes (353, 354, 376), all of which existed before – and along similar routes – long ago when night service first began in Montreal. The 353 serves the northeast end of the island, while the other two are express buses to the West Island.
- All routes now operate seven nights a week. No more Friday/Saturday-night-only routes.
- With few exceptions, the maximum wait time between buses is reduced to 45 minutes from an hour.
- The other two West Island routes take dramatic turns halfway through their routes to serve a north-south axis: the 356 along Sources and the 382 along Saint-Jean and Saint-Charles. Before this change, there was no north-south link west of Décarie, which means if someone stayed until 2am at a bar in Ste. Anne de Bellevue and wanted to go home to Pierrefonds, they’d have to take three night routes, including a stop at Atwater, getting home at 4:30am, if they were lucky.
- Four routes are extended to serve the downtown core between Atwater and Frontenac, bringing the total to six. In addition to the 358 Sainte-Catherine and 360 des Pins (which was a Friday-Saturday route) are added the 350 Verdun/LaSalle, the 355 Pie-IX and the 364 Sherbrooke/Joseph-Renaud, all along René-Lévesque, and the 356 Lachine/Mtl-Trudeau/des Sources, which goes along Sherbrooke. This has two main benefits: People who take these routes to get home will require one less transfer, and there will be more night buses travelling through downtown, reducing waiting times for those who want to get to the major hubs of Atwater and Frontenac down to about 15 minutes.
- Hochelaga-Maisonneuve gets night buses on more streets. Before there was just the 364 along Hochelaga and the 355 along Ontario and Ste. Catherine (depending on direction). Now, there are four buses on different streets: 364 on Sherbrooke, 362 on Hochelaga, 355 on Ontario (in both directions) and 353 on Ste. Catherine. All four connect with the Frontenac terminal.
- The 378 Sauvé/Côte-Vertu is extended west to connect to the Trudeau airport terminal.
- The 362 Hochelaga/Notre-Dame is extended west to Frontenac.
With the three new routes, the extension of three others from three to seven days a week, and the increase in frequency, the number of departures goes up pretty dramatically, from 1,368 to 2,009 per week, an increase of 47% (note that this is by my hand count, so it may be off by a few). This doesn’t count the nine routes whose length has been extended, in some cases dramatically. In terms of hours of service, the increase
is probably more than 50% is from 46,000 to 80,000 hours a year, a 73% increase.
The STM calculates that 95% of the people in the Montreal agglomeration now live within one kilometre of a night bus stop. It also estimates that transfers will be reduced by 25%
All changes take effect the night of Monday, June 27, along with changes to day bus schedules. The STM has posted a cute little Flash app showing the various routes.
Why did it take so long?
These changes are a long time coming, and follow some serious public consultation. As a public transit user, it’s hard to be against a huge increase in service. My criticisms, laid out below, are minor compared to the praise for the new service. If anything, my biggest reaction is to ask why it took so long to make these changes, and why the routes we’re bringing back were removed in the first place. (I have the answer to the second question, unfortunately: Ill-advised budget cuts to public transit in the 90s).
As a regular night bus user, I can attest that the service is underused by casual users. There are a few reasons for this:
- confusion – the routes don’t match day routes, and it’s not obvious which ones to take or how and where to transfer
- wait time – in some cases up to an hour between buses, and long waits for transfers
- lack of shelter – this is a problem particularly in winter, but there are few places where one can wait for a night bus indoors
Many people who don’t like what the night bus service offers use alternative forms of transportation. Many take cabs, which is expensive but very convenient (and relatively worry-free when you’re drunk). But many people also prefer to drive home from bars at night, which presents the very obvious risk of drunk driving (and an even higher risk of “buzzed” driving, from those who are convinced they’re just under the legal limit). I don’t know if increasing night bus service will have a major impact on drunk driving stats, but if even a handful of lives are saved because a few people took a night bus instead of driving after a long night at a bar, I’d say it’s worth it.
“It”, by the way, is about $4.4 million, according to STM chair Michel Labrecque.
The new network will come with an advertising campaign to inform riders, which includes wrapped buses, social media, and a campaign organized with Labatt.