The Gazette’s Andy Riga has a story out today about the 515 bus to the Old Port, and the problems it has attracting riders – particularly as it uses a route that the mayor wants to replace with a tramway eventually.
The problems are familiar to this blog’s readers: the route is confusing with its yellow and blue signs, travels through an area of town (René-Lévesque Blvd.) already served by plenty of transit services, doesn’t do enough to attract and inform tourists, it tends to get stuck in Old Montreal traffic, people in Old Montreal tend to prefer to walk to their destinations to and from nearby metro stations (particularly in the summer), and the new residential developments it was supposed to serve (like the new Griffintown) haven’t yet emerged.
But Riga brings up an interesting point through his access-to-information request and interviews: The STM knew way back in 2007 that a circular route taking René-Lévesque Blvd. would be a waste of money:
A March 2007 study, also obtained under access to information, suggested that the route eventually chosen, particularly the section along Rene Levesque Blvd., would “increase operating costs” and duplicate service offered by “numerous other lines.”
The federal Old Port of Montreal Corp., which took part in the study, favoured the longer route that used Rene Levesque, and that was eventually accepted.
Riga quotes STM planning head Michel Tremblay saying this summer would be a “last chance” for the 515, after which the STM would re-evaluate the chronically underperforming bus route.
The article also says there have been no studies or surveys conducted for the 515 bus since its launch. So I guess I just imagined this detailed survey that was presented to a public consultation by the city last year based on a study of the 515’s use by passengers in 2008. Either that or the STM was unaware of it, which seems silly.
Riga also has some supporting documentation on his blog, which shows the STM predicting some huge spike in ridership in June that hasn’t materialized.
UPDATE (April 30, 2011): Andy Riga has more info in The Gazette, saying that cutting this useless stretch would save $882,000 a year.
Put a tramway on a more heavily used STM route like the 139 or 67… stop marketing the 515 as though it deserves higher order transit through the virtue of passing through tourist areas. The ridership doesn’t justify it one bit!
When I lived in Griffintown I took the 515 often; several times a week to work, depending on the 107 (which, reasonably, was not always on schedule). I loved that bus, though I can’t remember it ever having more than a dozen people on it. Anyway, clearly it’s not a big tourist bus and the René-Lévesque leg is just ridiculous, given the traffic and the duplication of the 535 in rush hour and the 150 the rest of the time. A direct route along Peel/de la Cathedrale and de la Commune seems reasonable, though. Riga published a table showing non-summer (i.e., non-tourist) ridership exceeded expectations. Steve, given your STM knowledge, were the expectations really, really low? Is 1,100 daily passengers sufficient to maintain the 515 on a revised route? Or is it simply too low to justify it?
The issue isn’t so much passengers per day but passengers per bus (or, if you want to go further, passengers per bus per hour, or average load of each bus). That’s what determines whether it makes sense to run the route.
From the figures Riga presented, the 515 has about 1,100 passengers a day. But that’s with 150 departures a day (75 in each direction), and more on weekends, which works out to about seven per departure. That means that on average, every trip of the 515 from Peel to Berri to the Old Port and back to Peel can expect seven people to board.
And this is after the STM drastically reduced the number of departures, so it would have been even worse before.
I’m not sure of the break-even point, and I remember it’s not particularly high (maybe 20 or so), but it’s higher than seven.
It has 7 passengers per bus across the whole line. This doesn’t mean there will be 7 passengers in it on average, since this would imply that passengers are riding along the whole line. If you consider that passengers might ride along 1/2 of the bus line (which is generous for a loop), then you arrive at 3.5 passengers on average in a bus.
I believe the downtown loop for that TRAM is misguided. I think there should be better routes for that proposed TRAM, that do not include this useless loop.
Montreal should stop building expensive public transportation projects for tourists — public transportation is supposed to be for residents. Together with the planned non-stop airport shuttle to downtown hotels, and the funky TRAM loop for downtown, it seems the taxpayers are going to spend a billion dollars that seem mostly geared towards tourists.
I still like this bus. But the main problem is that for tourists is that the 515 is not very “readable”. Using a city’s public transit system is a skill with a steep learning curve, especially when you don’t know a city’s layout very well.
The fact that it uses numbers, and that it’s a bus route, probably puts people off — the buses might disappear later, and you might get stuck someplace!
So, some ideas: they should paint the middle of the streets with blue and yellow lines marking the paths of the bus, and add some LEDs or something to the stops to make them stand out.
Or cut off the underused René-Lévesque portion and make the route non-circular so you don’t need the blue and yellow in the first place. Instead, they could be like all the other buses, running east (Berri-UQAM) to west (Peel).
The STM ought to start up a website where changes to the service can be proposed and voted on. The ridership should drive these decisions.
That’s an excellent idea.
Near the end of the story is another issue that deserves more attention: many (if not most) STM employees that deal with the public can’t speak any English at all. When tourists (or even residents) who don’t speak French attempt to ask for help, they’re often met with hostile responses in FRENCH! What kind of customer service is that? The fact that the STM doesn’t require its front-line employees to know ANY English is shameful…
I think the hostility is a bigger problem than the lack of English-speaking drivers. Tourists all over the world have to deal with language barriers, so that’s not a big issue. Would you revisit a city (or tell friends to) after being yelled at for not knowing the language? Probably not.
I guess the first question is “what is the intention of this bus?” If it is to get tourists from hotels to old Montreal, walking (or taking the metro to various orange line stops and walking) is way more effecient. If the idea is to move people around old montreal, there is no need for a leg on Rene Levesque. If the idea of this bus is to serve the “planned” Griffintown area, then shouldnt it wait until there is actually something to serve?
I cannot help but think that the bus would be much more effecient serving some sort of routing that basically circles around old montreal, along du la commune in a single direction, and perhaps using something like Viger to return back to University to start over again. Basically, down university, onto the end of de la commune, all the way to Berri, up Berri to Viger, and around again. That would put the route in touch with a number of metro stops, and make it a valid way to get in and out of the old montreal area (instead of walking).
Otherwise, this appears to be a confusing bus from nowhere to nowhere with no plan to serve anyone.
I don’t see why this bus has to serve two metro stations. Why not just shuttle between Berri and the Old Port?
The thinking behind the Peel terminus is that’s where the tourist information centre is. But I don’t think that’s enough to justify such a long stretch of useless bus route.
The 515 would probably be more useful if its final stop was at the McGill métro instead of Dorchester Square. It could go down Beaver Hall / McGill, east on de la Commune, and north on Berri. It would be much shorter, would go through areas much more heavily traveled by most workers, residents and tourists. Who really gets off on Peel anyway, except for the ETS students?
it sort of depends on what the goal is. If it was to shuttle people to the old port, running from Peel down might be useful idea, with no stops until old Montreal. It would probably be good to have at least one metro station directly involved as well, just to make it more practical for people who don’t need to visit InfoTouriste. Otherwise, treat it as an express bus, with no stops except in Old Montreal.
My guess is that in the summer, it would get more than 7 people per departure.
I know this is ever-so-slightly-but-not-quite off-topic, but I would love to see a free bus from Place Dorchester to the Beaver Lake parking on Parc Mont Royal. Tourists (and locals) could walk back to down town past the magnificent Mt Royal Chalet/downtown lookout, down the recently newly-rebuilt stairs, down the newly renovated (with John Lennon “give peace a chance” memorial) Peel street entrance, and down hill some more back to downtown. Since it is mostly all downhill to get back, it would be one of my favorite “try this” items in Montreal. On a similar vein, I’d add a bus (free/sponsored on weekends?) from Mt Royal metro station (in the Plateau) to Beaver Lake too. Because access to the upper area of Parc Mt Royal takes some effort to get too, and the future of the park is reduced-car-usage. Fewer cars, then they gotta make it easier to get there by public transport.
End of slightly off-topic but great tourism idea post! In my books, the view from Mt Royal over downtown and into eastern townships and deep into Vermont on a clear day is one of the top 3 must-do activities in Montreal.
Doesn’t the 11 bus do exactly that?
The bus from Dorchester Square to Beaver Lake sounds interesting. The 165 (or 535 from Peel and René-Lévesque) brings one within walking distance of Beaver Lake, but it requires walking through a rather desolate-looking part of Remembrance Rd., which might turn some tourists off.
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