I’ve got a riddle for you: What is green, orange, blue and yellow and always keeps you guessing? Answer: The Societe de Transport de Montreal, a.k.a. the STM.
Where the hell do I even begin detangling this mess? How about I start with the shocking issues of homeless people caught defecating and performing oral sex in the metro?
How about the actual stalactites we had growing in Station Beaudry? At any moment, I expected bats to swoop down on my goddamned head.
How about the fact that Berri-UQAM looks like a scene from Blade Runner, with its Caution-taped, smashed glass doors of the abandoned bus station, while down in the metro itself, the walls are striped with rust, crust and leaking water? (Yes, in typical Montreal-style, instead of revamping the old bus station, we abandoned it completely, and built an entirely new one, leaving the old one to deteriorate uselessly.)
Now, before you go dismissing this article as a First World Complaint, let me cut you off right now – that’s a cop out. If you’re on social assistance or permanent disability, only have a hundred bucks left over after paying rent to cover costs (like, oh I don’t know, FOOD for example) and you need to budget travel costs so that you can get to a job interview in the middle of winter, that is a real problem. Because no, there is literally no transit options available for low-income persons.
If you’re a student who happens to be twenty-six or older, say halfway through a PhD (like many PhD students), then you know that those “student-discounted” metro passes don’t apply to you. That’s right, there’s an age limit to being a student in Montreal, and it doesn’t matter if you’re already sixty thousand bucks in debt.
Additionally, recent price hikes have made it virtually impossible to refill your monthly OPUS cards at the OPUS machines, because those machines have an $80 limit. Yes, metro passes cost more than $80 a month now.
Alright, now that I’ve tackled the obscene, the infuriating, and the illogical, how about the downright inaccessible? If you’ve taken the metro even once, you’ve probably watched as an elderly person or woman with a baby carriage struggled to make it out of the station. With 72 metro stops, there are surprisingly only eight elevators in the entire transit system for people with limited mobility. Sure, there is a separate van service for people in wheelchairs, but not everyone with restricted mobility is in a wheelchair. Some people have chronic issues, some people have children, and some people just have a harder time getting around.
These are issues that should have been addressed far before Station Vendome got another set of stairs, when it already has two, for example.
At least Guy-Concordia finally got the makeover it so desperately needed, as the whole place felt like you were walking through an open wound.
On the Internet, transit users were quoted saying, “Guy-Concordia is an abomination,” and “Least favorite [station] is Guy-Concordia, it smells, I saw cockroaches there, there’s always homeless people, and once a crazy dude tried to show me his penis and then proceeded to pee on the stairs.” Instead of police trying to catch fare-dodgers that probably can’t afford to get around, maybe they should try and stop people from committing acts of obscenity instead.
With McGill Station and Peel Station inexplicably only a two-minute walk apart, other neighborhoods like Griffintown/St. Henri are left to fend for themselves. Which makes it obvious that this city, like any city, caters to areas and individuals with cash. But that cash clearly isn’t going to the STM union workers, who have been protesting over budget cuts. Now most of those workers seem bitterly pissed off and defeated – my bus driver on a certain route has taken to wearing baggy jeans, gold chains and blasting gangster rap as loudly as he can, while the woman in the ticket booth at a certain metro of mine is so busy texting on her cellphone or reading The Da Vinci Code that by the time she notices me, I’ve missed my train.
Concerned citizens in the Notre-Dame-De-Grace neighborhood, tired of the 105 bus barrelling down Sherbrooke Ouest with passengers literally crammed against the bus doors (as if that’s safe) petitioned for more 105 buses to frequent Sherbrooke.
Instead of logically spacing the buses out in a more timely fashion to distribute passengers, now one can witness three 105’s at a time clogging traffic on Sherbrooke like ducks in a row, the first bus full and the other two half-empty. You can’t hear it, but I’m slow-clapping right now.
CHOM Radio used to do a joke-poll that asked listeners to guess which metro line was defunct that day, but I’m sure their funders didn’t appreciate it, as it was quickly snuffed. Still, it was valid of the hosts to beg the question, because even though the STM website offers statistics on the overall efficiency on the smoothness of rides per kilometer, this morning I took the orange line only to have it break down in BOTH directions, one right after the other. Later that afternoon, my editor texted me and said, “Surprise, surprise, I’m at Lionel-Groulx and both the orange and green lines are broken down.” I’m not sure what the statistics of that are, but I have a feeling that something’s not adding up…
It’d be less of a crisis if one could actually get to work on time. When offered a lucrative job last year, the deciding factor for my potential boss was how I would be commuting to the office. When I told her I took the metro, she reluctantly told me that the metro was too unreliable as a mode of transportation and to contact her again if I ever moved within walking distance or was able to bike.
I realize that this article is offering up a lot of anecdotal evidence, but with STM reps putting forth questionable statistics, one becomes cynical toward the available “facts” and it seems more educational to ask others about their own interactions with the STM.
I decided to ask another young woman what she thought of our public transit system. Coming to Montreal from the south of China to study business at HEC, she told me that the former CEO of Montreal’s STM had come to speak to her class recently. She admitted that she was “quite embarrassed for him” because “it seemed like he had the mark of an alcoholic,” and that “his head was in the clouds.” She went on to say, “I wanted to learn about how Montreal’s transit system worked and succeeded, but the CEO was bragging about going to fancy restaurants with his wife. He kept telling stories about a waitress that had given him bad service and how she should behave better.” She added, “I’m not surprised people are going to the bathroom in your subway. In my city’s subway, we have washrooms.” Sadly, our STM workers are incompetent enough as it is without having toilets to clean.
If you’d like to request information on how the STM is spending their money, which is totally within your rights as a tax-payer (under the Freedom of Information Act), know that the STM is notorious for giving citizens a rigmarole of bureaucracy and delay.
With something like a million users taking public transportation in one day, any logical person is forced to ask the question, WHERE IS THE MONEY GOING? Surely it wasn’t all spent on Concordia’s new floor and Vendome’s redundant staircase.
Once could offer driving as an alternative but… HAHAHAHA! That was a joke. There is enough material on the construction and highway scams in Montreal to write an entire book. Blame is put on road conditions, intense seasons and materials used, but it all comes down to corruption and laziness. The fact that Montreal construction sites are being thrown birthday parties because they’ve been there so long is downright pathetic.
This writer offers no solution other than Every Person for Themselves. Hop the metro. Have compassion for your bus driver. Or you can even demand financial compensation from the STM for the trouble they put you through, like McGill Engineering professor Jeremy Cooperstock did. He also won his case, because deep down, the STM knows they’re fucking us.
On being unreliable, the STM has given the blasé statement that bus schedules are merely “indications,” of when the bus will arrive. As one pissed off commuter on an Internet forum sagely put it, “If the STM schedules are simply “indications” which may or may not be respected, why not take other STM notices as such? The price of a regular ride is “indicated”…but maybe I’ll just pay whatever change happens to be in my pocket.”
In closing, I do admit that part of Montreal’s charm is in its obvious, antiquated ways, but when these ways begin affecting the basic daily needs of its citizens, like mothers with babies, people with limited mobility, and people struggling with poverty, then that charm is surely lost.