An animated day in the life of Montreal’s bus network

It’s fun the kinds of things you can do with data.

Montreal’s transit agencies, including the STM, STL, RTL and AMT, have made their trip data public through a standard called General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). This allows the data to be sucked into applications like Google Maps, making it easier for people to plan their trips. The time of every stop of every bus is a set data point.

In this video, published a few weeks ago on YouTube, someone has taken this data and created an animation of every bus trip during the average weekday in the Montreal area. STM, STL and RTL buses are represented by little dots that race along their routes.

It’s an interesting way to visualize the activity involved in public transit. The animation, which is presented as a 1:600 timelapse (every second represents 10 minutes), starts at 4am with just the night buses on the island of Montreal. After about 6am, it expands into the morning rush hour, and you can see a clear bias toward downtown from all directions. Some thoroughfares like Henri-Bourassa Blvd., Sauvé St., Parc Ave. and Côte des Neiges Rd. emerge as lines because they see so much bus traffic during this time. The traffic dies down a bit after the morning rush hour, though not as much as I expected. After about 3pm there appears to be a general bias away from downtown as the evening rush hour begins. After 7pm, it noticeably dies down, more so after 11pm and 12:30am, and after 2am it’s back to just the night buses.

Each of those dots is a bus with a driver in it. Some could have just a few passengers on board, while others could be so packed they’re not stopping to pick up more.

It’s an expensive system, and a complicated one. But without all those little dots, the city would grind to a halt.

If you’re interested in trying to figure out other cool ways of manipulating transit data, you can download the STM’s GTFS data yourself. Data from the RTL and STL and AMT are also available. (The AMT data includes commuter trains, its express buses and data from smaller transit agencies like the CIT du Sud Ouest and CIT La Presqu’île.)

UPDATE: The YouTube account in question has done similar things for a bunch of other transit networks, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Los AngelesOttawa/Carleton, Vancouver and Toronto (above).

If you want to compare apples to apples in terms of population size, the best match for the Montreal area (whose animation doesn’t include many outlying suburbs) would be Seattle:

9 thoughts on “An animated day in the life of Montreal’s bus network

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Really interesting! But one major flaw – no metro trips are shown! Unless I’m blind…

      It’s true. Same for commuter trains. Adding metro departures would undoubtedly add very bright lines corresponding to the metro lines, particularly during rush hour.

      1. TransitQuebec

        Actually, i think we see metro trips, juste check where the yellow line is and you will see two yellow point moving back and forth between the two shores

        1. Denis

          Actually, wouldn’t that be the handful of buses that shuttle from Papineau metro to Longueuil metro in the mornings and late afternoons?

          1. TransitQuebec

            Note that those point are moving “all-day” between Longueuil and Montreal, so it’s the metro line. Try also spotting green, blue and orange (not easy in all those with STM bus dot – the same color use on google maps) dot on the map along the metro lines

  1. gds

    When you compare One Day Activity for Montreal and Toronto you see what a screwed up road network and transit system we have. The Toronto one is a simple grid with obvious transportation that goes East-West and North-South.

  2. Alex H

    It doesn’t take much to understand why Montreal has huge traffic problems: Poor public transit off island.

    The contrast between the north side of Montreal and the south side of Laval is so striking as to be beyond understanding. The artificial barriers created with different bus systems handing transit in these areas is painful to watch. Speeding up service in Montreal, adding express routes on island just isn’t going to do much to change the traffic situation in Montreal. When too many people from off island are pretty much forced into cars, the results are inevitable.


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