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Taking Montreal Public Transit for a day


I have written a lot lately about the nightmare of infrastructure work Montreal is in the throes of and how hard it is on commuters to the point it is literally effecting our well-being. The only solution Mayor Coderre has offered so far to our collective angst is his cry for ‘commuters to leave their cars at home and take public transit’, although I doubt he has followed his own edict and probably doesn’t see the inside of a bus or metro car very often, outside of publicity and photo ops.

And so, I decided to put my feet where my words are and spent a full day using the very system he believes will save us from the mess. Last week, during a cold and rainy day, I embarked upon my mission with an open mind. In fact, I was hoping the public transit solution had merit, otherwise the sanity of millions of commuters were at stake.

public-transit-collage-pic          My first appointment was scheduled for 10:00 am in Westmount. I began by organizing myself for my meetings – and quickly realized I would need a backpack. Not only would I need to carry folders and papers, I also needed to bring with my cellphone, notepad and pens, and since I would be out for the day I needed an umbrella, a change of socks (in case I got soaked), a lighter jacket for inside, a small water bottle, some snacks, wallet, glasses – and required personal items.
Before I left, I checked the bus schedule one last time, grabbed the Opus card I bought ahead of time for my fares and headed out the door. By car I might have made it to my first destination in approximately 20 to 30 minutes, albeit with the miracle of empty roads. Being realistic, it could easily take 45-60 minutes or more with the traffic, road conditions and accompanying cone contingents – never mind having to find a parking spot. Public Transit was looking good as far as that goes.

Walking directly to the nearest metro station at Du College was not an option for me with a 30-plus minute walk on a cold, wet and blustery day, carrying the extra weight that would exacerbate my arthritic condition, but there was an STM bus stop just a few blocks away that was very workable at less than 10 minutes and if I caught the bus on time, I would have arrived at the Metro in under 20 minutes. Alas, that was not to be.

The 175 bus was scheduled to arrive at 8:29 am and to be safe I left early enough, arriving at the stop at 8:20 where there were already five other people waiting. It was chilly and a light rain was falling, but believing I only had a 9 minute wait I mustered my courage. Well, 8:29 came and went, I looked down the road but nary a bus in sight. Finally at 8:35 I could see a bus heading toward us – and then right past us, for reasons completely unclear to me. Fortunately another bus arrived a few minutes later, the 202, but I forgot it would only bring us to the South entrance of the Du College metro station and I planned to pass by my bank near the North entrance – one, long block away. I began to wonder if I would make my appointment in time.

By the time I got into the station it was 8:55. It had taken me 35 minutes just to get there. Once inside, the warmth of the station calmed me and with it I found hope. It was fairly crowded and I joined my fellow commuters as we headed towards the escalator. I hobbled my way down to the tracks and within just a few minutes the distinct sound of a train coming through the tunnel was heard and headlights soon appeared as it careened into the station with a gust of wind before coming to a smooth stop.

Even though the metro cars were rather full I managed to get a seat and settled down comfortably as the doors closed and the familiar tones of ‘doo-doo-doo’ signaled departure.

With only seven stops to go before I reached the Vendome station, I relaxed into my seat, feeling very good as I imagined thousands of cars bottle-necked on the roads above as we slithered comfortably underground – without a detour or cone in sight. Instead of having to focus on the roads, I was able stare blankly into space with a smile on my face instead of a contorted scowl of frustration while behind the wheel. But my Zen moment was crushed as more commuters boarded at each stop, to the point where there was barely standing room only and the car was packed like ‘sardines in a can’ as the saying goes. And it smelled equally as bad with perfumes, cigarette smoker residue, body odors, bad breath – and smells I rather not know where the source came from. People were holding onto whatever they could as the train moved forward with a jerk. To top it off, a man with a young child who had a runny nose, sneezing and coughing into the air without a care and no Kleenex in sight, sat down right next to me. I pulled my backpack higher up on to my lap and tried to breathe through it.

Approximately 15 minutes later we arrived at Vendome and by the time I got outside of the station it was almost 9:30. I was glad I left early enough and my client’s office was just a 10 minute walk away. At this point, I had mixed feelings about my journey.

First destination: STM ESTIMATED TRAVEL TIME 32 minutes / ACTUAL TRAVEL TIME 58 minutes.

I arrived at my client’s office on Sherbrooke St. somewhat tired and disheveled, but on time. All went well and I was out of there by 11:15. My next stop was also on Sherbrooke, not too far away in NDG, so I headed towards a bus stop, of which were plentiful in the area and within a couple of minutes one arrived. I was at my next appointment in no time.

Second destination: STM ESTIMATED TRAVEL TIME 10 minutes / ACTUAL TRAVEL TIME 8 minutes.

I left the first draft of a heavy manuscript behind, lessening the weight of my backpack that had become a heavy burden and I was out by 11:50. My next appointment in Cote Saint-Luc wasn’t until 2:00 pm, so I called up a friend who worked in the area and we met for lunch at a restaurant nearby. I grabbed another bus and was starting to feel more positive about things, especially not having to deal with parking.

At around 1:00 pm I made my way back by bus again to the Vendome station in less than 15 minutes. At that time it was far less crowded, but I ended up having to wait over 25 minutes for a train to arrive – delayed for an unknown reason. By the time it pulled into the station I was feeling exhausted. The weight of my backpack, climbing stairs and dropping my umbrella several times was starting to take a toll of its own on my body. I finally arrived at the Plamondon metro station at 1:50 and went outside to wait for the 161 bus, I called my client to let them know I would be a little late. Standing in the pouring rain for over 15 minutes then getting on to an overcrowded bus and not being able to find a seat, did not make me a happy camper. I arrived for my 2:00 meeting over 30 minutes late.

Third destination: STM ESTIMATED TRAVEL TIME 43 minutes / ACTUAL TRAVEL TIME 75 minutes.

My client was very understanding and we managed to get everything done in a few hours as we had planned – and by 5:30 I was on my way home. It was dark and dreary and I only hoped the bus would be on time. It wasn’t. Apparently the 161 is notorious for being extremely late, especially at that time of the day. By 6:00 no bus had arrived and when it did it was packed and drove right by – much to the dismay of the dozen or so people waiting. Five minutes later an empty bus pulled up and I finally arrived back at Plamondon at 6:35. I limped my way inside, tired and frustrated and hoped for the best on the last leg of my journey.

It was more crowded than it was in the morning but the train arrived quickly and I was able to sit down. At first I hoped to catch one of the new Azur cars, but they have less seats and had it been one, I probably would have found myself standing. I arrived back at the Du College station at 6:55 and instead of playing STM schedule-roulette with another bus, I grabbed a taxi adding another $8 to my day and arrived home exhausted at 7:15.

Final destination: STM ESTIMATED TRAVEL TIME 38 minutes / ACTUAL TRAVEL TIME 105 minutes.

Had I needed to pick up some groceries or for that matter, a child in daycare, it would have been impossible. I’m lucky to work from home but for those who commute by public transit, even if just to and from work every day, I tip my hat to them and wonder how they keep it all together. It was a long day and except for when I need to go downtown for something special, it is an experience I hope not to repeat any time soon. Sorry Mayor Coderre, maybe you should spend a week using the public transit system or for that matter, commuting by car during rush hour – it might finally make you realize what a mess the city is in.

By: Bonnie Wurst – totimes.ca


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