On Thursday night, I was riding the metro home from a vernissage in the Plateau. I got on the Orange Line at Sherbrooke with a plan to get off at Villa Maria and take the bus from there.

I was reading a book as I tend to do on public transit, riding what felt like an ordinary metro ride. In between Vendome and Villa Maria I noticed two white male STM security members walking purposefully toward someone. I turn and see a young black man holding a pink soccer ball near the accordion section connecting the metro car I was on with the next.

I saw the two men question the third aggressively. My heart pumping, I debated whether to say something or intervene.

I ultimately decided that it was none of my business but as I got off the train, that quickly changed. I’d only taken a few steps when I heard a scuffle.

I turned around and saw the two STM security guards slamming the man into the concrete wall of Villa Maria metro’s Cote Vertu direction platform. I was not person who took the video you may have already seen, Nzo Hodges deserves credit for that, but I was right behind him when it all happened:

I later heard reports from the STM that the young man was resisting, but what I saw was him trying to protect his head and face and escape from two men hitting and tackling him.

He tried to get away, but a grip on his leg pulled the guy back down. I saw the man on his back, his head close to the tracks, palms up in surrender, asking the STM cops to stop hitting him, that it was hurting him, as the two men stood over him, batons menacingly raised.

The guy was clearly surrendering, yet one of the STM cops still thought it necessary to whack him in the legs with his baton. When the next train came, the young man used the distraction it caused to make a break for it, and I was relieved for him, but I was also scared.

As I made my way up the escalator, I saw two white female STM guards running up it, presumably to assist their colleagues. I worried for the man because it’s been so cold the past few days, and he’d lost his coat in the shuffle.

I heard that he was causing a disturbance, but I didn’t notice him on the metro until he was approached by the two STM security guards. I heard he was blocking the passageway, but there were other riders doing so who were not questioned or reprimanded by STM security that night.

From the body language of the latter, it felt like they were looking for a fight. I’m no expert on law enforcement, but I know that people who are allegedly trained to keep the peace have a responsibility to keep a situation from escalating to violence. I saw no attempt by the two STM officers to do so.

If the young man had truly done something wrong, they could have written him a ticket, issued him a fine, and let him go. Instead they chose violence, and for that they should be held accountable, which is why I’ve come forward about what I saw. If it gets the victim justice, it was worth it.

Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal want to expand the Montreal Metro with an entirely new line, the 29-station Pink line, which would run from Montreal North to Lachine, intersecting both the Orange and Green lines a few times and the Blue Line once. Her mayoral rival Denis Coderre doesn’t think it’s a viable solution to the city’s transit woes…is what I would have written if that was what he said.

Instead, Coderre did what he always does. He dismissed the idea outright, telling reporters that ” it’ll never happen” and comparing it to a joke you might hear at Just for Laughs.

I’ve been to Just for Laughs and I’ve also rode both the western and eastern ends of the Orange Line and the 105 bus at rush hour, they are not comparable. Overcrowding on public transit is not a joke. It’s something that someone running for or running to be re-elected to the post of Mayor of Montreal should care about.

So why does Coderre feel we shouldn’t even discuss it? Is it the price tag, which Plante estimates at $6 Billion? Well, she already knows where that money is potentially going to come from: the new federal infrastructure bank and two provincial funds, one specifically for transit and the other for infrastructure.

Also, it’s a little funny that a mayor who can spend $1 Billion on Montreal’s 375th birthday, double what Canada spent on its 150th, with some of that money going to eyesores like those granite tree stumps and a National Anthem for one borough, would have a problem funding a project that Montrealers could rely on for years or decades to come.

Could it be that Coderre feels the six year time frame proposed by Plante is unrealistic and would be too disruptive? He does, but forgets that the original two lines of the metro were built in four years and without a tunnel-boring machine, something that hadn’t been invented in the 60s.

If, by chance, he is implying that it can’t be done in that time-frame given the corruption Montreal’s construction industry is infamous for, well, even Jean “count the trucks twice” Drapeau’s record with the metro proves that it can. Yes, the plan is even corruption-proof (though I’m sure Plante and her team would work outside of a corrupt system).

Could it be that Coderre doesn’t want to upset the apple cart he’s holding for the powers-that-be in Quebec City? Bingo!

You see, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is part of the Réseau de transport métropolitain (RTM), a provincial body which runs transit in Montreal and the surrounding area including buses, metros and above-ground trains. So any new initiatives, say, a whole new line on the metro, needs to be worked out with the provincial authorities.

De-clogging Montreal’s existing transit infrastructure with new projects clearly isn’t the RTM’s top priority and why would it be? I wouldn’t expect the Mayors of Longueil or Laval or their representatives to push for it, that’s the Mayor of Montreal’s job.

Our current mayor clearly doesn’t want to stand up for what Montreal needs, if this comment from the press conference where he was dismissing the Pink line is any indication:

“Let’s be frank here, it’ll never happen. You cannot say that. There’s other things that we can do. First the Blue line, then through the planning we’re talking about to finish the Orange line.”

Okay, extending the Blue line east, fine (Projet wants that too, BTW). But finishing the Orange line? Um, last time I checked the Orange line was complete, at least on the Island of Montreal. Any new stops would have to be in Laval.

While I completely understand the RTM being concerned with this, the Mayor of Montreal shouldn’t be. Or, at the very least, our Mayor should be more concerned with the relief from the sardine can that is the Orange line at rush hour actual Montreal voters are asking for.

Public transit is not a joke. The concerns of riders aren’t jokes, either. Whether you support the Pink line as Plante and Projet have proposed it or not, at the very least, the concerns of transit users should be discussed, not dismissed and laughed off.

A more honest response from Coderre would have been: “It’ll never happen…as long as I’m Mayor!”

 

With all the bad news coming down the wire in the past week I was looking for something positive to report on. Thursday night I found it. Out of the blue, on the Orange Line, I finally got to ride on the new Montreal Metro train, the almost mythical Azur.

Sure, quite a few friends have already rode it since it first appeared in February and I even saw it pass twice going in the opposite direction. However, with only one train in operation so far, and not on the Green Line, which I use for most of my underground travelling these days, I guess you could say I came late to the party and this is a late review.

With a provincial government hell-bent on austerity and a municipal administration which is building on a legacy of corruption with completely unappealing corruption like the granite tree stumps, I didn’t hold out much hope for a project from an organization funded by Quebec and controlled, for the most part, by Montreal. Especially since the organization in question, the STM, is known for hiking fares while not improving service, even in ways they promised to (cough, accordion  busses on the 105 route, cough).

I was pleasantly surprised. While this new train wasn’t perfect, it was most definitely money well spent, and I did enjoy my first ride on it.

The Best Parts

Here are some of the highlights:

  • One Big Car: The whole train is made accordion-bus style. It’s one big car. This obviously creates a less confined feeling, but I also can see this coming in handy when I catch a metro at the last minute by hopping in the first car available knowing that my connecting bus is closer to the other side of the train. Now, instead of having to race across the platform, it’s possible to leisurely make my way to the desired exit while the train is in motion. Also, no reason to illegally and quite dangerously cross between cars when the train is moving (something I had never tried but cringed when I saw others doing it).
  • Feels Like Air Conditioning: While I’m pretty sure the train isn’t actually air conditioned, it sure felt like it was. Most likely due to the fact that with one large car, there is much better air circulation.

Montreal Metro Azur 6

  • Retractable seats: The seats in the new Azur train can fold back when not in use, or at least the ones I saw can. Not only does this create more actual space and add to the general feel of more space, but it can be useful for people in wheelchairs like on busses. That would, of course, work better if the whole metro system was more accessible.
  • Station ID and Ads Separate: There are still ads on this new train, of course, even some video ads, but the next station shows up on a different screen in a different location like in some new busses. Keeping the info separate from the ads is always a good thing in my book.
  • Smoother Ride: Maybe it’s just because it’s new, but the ride on this train honestly felt much smoother than any other metro I had been on.

What Needs to be Fixed

Montreal Metro Azur 3There are some areas, however, where improvement is needed:

  • Slippery Floors: I didn’t notice this one myself, being non-disabled, but Samantha Gold, a colleague here at FTB pointed it out that she found “the floor of the new cars extremely slippery. Dangerous for disabled folk like myself.”
  • No Audio Station ID: One thing I found conspicuously absent was the recorded voice announcing the next stop. Maybe it was just turned off for this particular ride or maybe it was something they were still implementing, but its absence made no sense and I can imagine it would be considerably more difficult for blind people who have gotten used to it.

So overall, for me anyways, more good than bad and the bad can be fixed. Regardless, it was nice to write about something good, or at least something not wasteful, that our municipal and provincial governments have done for a change.

What do you think of the new metros?

Accessibilize Montreal, a local group committed to accessibility and “challenging mainstream perceptions of disability through direct action,” took such action last Friday at metro Places des Arts, calling for more accessible transit.

According to the group, currently only 7 of the 68 metro stops in Montreal have elevators and many busses lack functioning ramps. 

Here is an interview in collaboration with Dragonroot Radio with Accessibilize Montreal organizer, Aimee Louw.

Last week, Montrealers got a look at the new metro cars headed our way. This week, the big transport story isn’t about new things, but rather repairing what we have and how long it will take.

The Yellow Line which connects Montreal (Berri-UQAM) to the South Shore (Longueil-Université De Sherbrooke) with a stop on Île Sainte-Hélène (Jean-Drapeau) will close for twenty five weekends in 2014. So just what does this mean for…

Festival-Goers

Nothing, really. The closure is scheduled for March 8th through May 25 and then picks up September 13th and runs until December 14th. So while going to Halloween at La Ronde may be a little tricky, going to Osheaga, Piknik or Heavy MTL in Parc Jean Drapeau fortunately won’t be, or at least it won’t be any harder than normal.

South Shore commuters

They will be affected, or at least those who make the trek to and from Montreal on the weekend (for work or play). The line will remain open during regular hours Monday to Friday.

It will also re-open on the weekend, with fifteen minutes’ notice if there is a problem on the Champlain Bridge. That bridge is how public transit users will get on and off the island as well, by way of special shuttle buses that will travel between the closed metro stops.

The tunnel itself

Workers will replace deteriorated concrete and fill cracks in the tunnel’s roof and install channels to pumping stations for water that is constantly infiltrating the tunnels. The STM wants to insist that this is preventative work and not an emergency operation.

Considering this line and these tunnels have been in service since 1967, even before the video below was shot, and run under a river, it’s probably a good thing that they get fixed up every now and again.

For now, just remember…

The new Montreal Metro cars are here, well, not quite here, they’re at the Bombardier factory in La Pocatière. While we’ll have to wait until Spring 2014 to see the 468 new cars, costing $1.9 billion, in action, Bombardier gave the media a look at some of the new features on Monday.

Bombardier is boasting that these cars, which they’re calling Azur, offer more room for more passengers, more things to hold onto and bigger windows. Also, the seats pull back and none of them touch the floor, which makes cleaning easier.

While most of these changes seem like moderate progress along the path started with the last change made to the interiors of some cars, there are some very interesting alterations and additions:

azur exterior
A new metro car with the accordion connector on display at Berri-UQAM metro in 2012 (image STM)

Walk between the cars

One of the most interesting features of the new design is the ability to safely walk between metro cars. The new cars are connected by what looks like the same accordion design that connects sections of reticulated buses.

Allowing people to travel from one end of the train to the other while it is in motion is both practical, say when you jump on at one end but know your exit is closer to the other, and, dare I say, potentially quite fun. It is also safer, according to a Bombardier rep on an interesting interactive presentation from Radio-Canada, because it minimizes the possibility of people falling between the cars.

Four TVs in every car

Metro cars, or at least most of them, already have screens announcing the next stop and displaying the connecting buses and train lines. They used to have ads, maybe they still do, I’ve been tuning out all but the most relevant info for several years.

Don’t think that will be an option with the new cars. Bombardier are promising that each car will have four screens, similar to those currently in use in major stations like Berri-UQAM, Lionel Groulx and Vendome.

That means station info, news, weather, the time and other bits of practical info. It also means ads, video ads mixed into the stream of info, a stream that is probably going to be much harder to ignore.

new montreal metro car interior
New metro car interior (image STM)

Four cameras in every car

There will be four cameras, covering almost all of each metro car. This, according to Bombardier, is for safety reasons.

Their explanation is that if someone makes an emergency call to the conductor, he or she, along with the security central will be able to see the situation and send an emergency team right away. Currently, the conductor needs to wait for the next stop, then walk over and determine if someone needs to be called in.

I agree that calling emergency personnel right away is better than waiting, but I wonder why, even without the cameras, someone isn’t dispatched the moment an emergency call comes in. If the report is false, then can’t the person be charged with making a false report just like when someone calls 9-1-1 as a joke?

I also wonder if the feed from these cameras will only be looked at in the case of an emergency or if they will be monitored the whole time the metro is in operation. Might be farewell to sneaking some sips of a beer with your friends on an otherwise empty metro car or doing a bit of impromptu metro theatre.

Cooler cars

These cars will be cooler, according to Bombardier. That is, they won’t be sweat boxes like the current ones are sometimes.

The current breaking system produces energy that heats up the insides of the cars. The new breaking system will convert that energy into electricity instead.

Add that to a better ventilation system, probably due in part to the whole train being connected on the inside, and we’re supposed to get a much cooler riding experience. It’s not air conditioning, but at least it’s a start.

Those are my two cents. What do you think about the new design?