Last summer, the STM introduced the 515 bus route to little fanfare. The route, which is supposed to be a precursor to a promised tramway, makes a loop through downtown to Old Montreal then returns to Downtown from the Cité Multimédia and Griffintown. According to a recent story in the Journal de Montréal, the line hasn’t been particularly popular, carrying only 1200 passengers a day, about five times less than the STM’s projected 6000 passengers forcing the STM to lower the number of departures for the winter.
The STM shouldn’t be at all surprised with the failure of this route as it had many problems from the beginning. The biggest problem is that there just isn’t adequate ridership for it. Downtown doesn’t particularly need a bus as it has the green line of the metro running from end-to-end and the 15 Ste-Catherine and 105 24 Sherbrooke make regular runs. Old Montreal is small enough that walking from end to end isn’t really an issue and not enough people live or work in Griffintown to warrant a bus that comes every 10-20 minutes (coupled with the 107 Verdun that comes every thirty minutes).
To be sure, there are people who will benefit from the bus. I used to live in Griffintown only a block away from Peel and would have loved this bus to get to Bonaventure station or Downtown (had I not moved the day before the route opened) but Griffintown residents are few and far between at the moment. Those who live or work in Old Montreal might be able to put the bus to use to get downtown, especially to Berri-UQAM Metro, however, considering the ridership numbers, this doesn’t seem to be happening. A couple reasons for this might be the proximity of three Metro stations to Old Montreal (Square-Victoria, Place d’Armes, and Champ-de-Mars) and the fact that the 55 St-Laurent runs right up the middle of Old Montreal to two metro stations and beyond. Also, Old Montreal is a pleasant place to walk and more commuters are likely willing to make the walk to the Metro station than to take a short bus trip to avoid the elements or walking.
For the people whom this line was supposedly designed for, tourists, this route is probably the least useful. For starters, tourists generally aren’t interested in taking public transit, especially city buses, from destination to destination. Many, if not most North American tourists have little to no experience with public transportation in their home cities, let alone in a city they don’t know. For out of towners, bus lines can be very confusing and the fact that this circular, badly signed, route is incredibly confusing even for local transit riders just makes matters worse. Furthermore, tourists, when visiting a new city, especially a city like Montreal, are in walking mode and don’t mind making the ten minute walk down Berri from the Metro station to Old Montreal or vice versa.
The real reason for this route of course, is to test demand for a tramway following roughly the same course. Devimco is pushing for it (and even willing to throw a paltry 10 million dollars at it) quite heavily for their Griffintown project and city hall has been riding the tramway bandwagon for the last couple years so they’re anxious to get one in a high visibility area such as Downtown/Old Montreal. Of course, a tramway may prove to be more successful as tourists are keen to ride them for novelty sake and because they seem more concrete and reliable than bus lines and commuters would jump on in greater numbers for the same reasons. An injection of residents in Griffintown and the expansion of the Cité Multimédia and the project being put forward by the Société du Havre may make this a successful route. However, I wouldn’t put any money on it unless the tram is actually built.
Photo by Steve Faguy who wrote about the 515 when it started last June.