One of my favorite things to do now when I travel is to rate the various transportation systems that exist. Besides riding the big yellow school bus every day as a kid, I never had much exposure to public transportation until I moved to the city, and have since learned to hate it passionately, although I equally hate driving. Public transportation can say a lot about where a country is at in its development stage, as well as a lot about the people who live there.
Riding into Montreal on a 8-hour Greyhound bus ride from New York City, is not the most comfortable of options, but our first view of Montreal out the bus windows was: the bus takes a stunning route across the Pont Champlain bridge. Pont Champlain is a huge brown behemoth stretching in vain across the St. Lawrence; it certainly isn’t going to win any architectural prizes. The Pont Jacques Cartier, which connects Ile Montreal to Ile Ste Helene and the mainland, is a shorter and more attractive structure.
I didn’t get a chance to ride one of Montreal’s buses, nor did I take un taxi, but I will say this: Montreal boasts far more pleasant streets than Manhattan. For one thing, it’s probably one of the few places in the world with an ‘Arret’ stop sign (you know, instead of those that say STOP). Even the signs in France say ‘STOP.’Streets were wide with huge bike lanes so it’s not considered an act of insanity to ride a bike in Montreal like it is in New York; many people were biking merrily away.
I did however get to take one of the Bateaux Mouches a la Parisienne, and even though I hardly consider sitting in a glass structure without getting any water sprayed on my face boating, it was still a nice experience, especially when the water became particularly choppy and we bopped up and down. There’s a ferry connecting to Ile St. Helene and the mainland, and huge Norwegian Cruise ships and steamships ply the river, which means you can even hitch a ride here from a far-away locale if you desire a more leisurely approach than the Greyhound.
Montreal has a Metro, and it is marvelous! It may be a bit small, but then again Montreal isn’t a huge city, so it’s rather impressive that they even have a Metro. Other con: it only runs until about 2 am or so in the morning, so it’s not 24/7, but the facts below more than make up for these cons.
1. It is CLEAN. There are garbage cans everywhere, and most stations actually have bins divided into recyclables (!) Nothing is grimy or damp like in NYC’s MTA (gross.gross.gross).
2. There’s artwork! OK, so every subway system has some sort of artwork (the Lincoln Center stop on the MTA, for example) but Montreal’s stood out for their colors: bands of coloured glass lining a hall, or a mural of shapes letting in natural sunlight (particularly at the Montmercy stop).
3. Most stations have more than one vendor. Subterranean shops are very popular in Montreal, and most subway stops have at least one shop of sorts, or at the very least a vending machine (they have Red Bull vending machines!) Station Guy-Concordia
4. Stations and adverts are all in French. And the ads are usually more local, featuring Montrealer restaurants serving things like Salade du falafel. And Celine Dion.
5. The stations are wide with high ceilings, so they don’t induce claustraphobia like most metro systems. They’re much more open and the trains aren’t on deep tracks that seem like dangerous bottomless pits a la New York.
6. Trains are blue. Seating is a little questionable (they didn’t try to conserve space/make more space at all) but this doesn’t seem problematic like on the MTA: people aren’t pushing and shoving. The ride isn’t noisy nor is the train rattling like it’s about to fly off the tracks.
7. It’s cheap. An unlimited Metro weekend pass was like $10 Canadian dollars or something crazy like that. I was impressed.
8. There are more benches at the stations then I’ve seen elsewhere, and they don’t look dirty. Some benches are built into the wall.
9. There are plenty of Bell Telephone System payphones, in case your cell phone gets stolen or something (fat chance of that happening in Canada).
10. Trains arrive CONSTANTLY! There always seems to be one arriving, and they’re so punctual that the doors start to open even before the train has come to a complete stop (not as dangerous as it sounds, lol).
Le Metro de Montreal, I give you two thumbs up!