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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The inevitable failure of the 515

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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.



  1. Ah! Je suis content que quelqu’un s’insurge enfin contre cette infâme ligne d’autobus.

    J’ai toujours trouvé l’idée idiote et le renforcement à coup de publicité rendait la chose carrément absurde, comme si la STM essayait de se convaincre du bien fondé de la ligne.

    Les évidences sont multiples:

    – Le Vieux-Montréal est couvert par 6 stations de Métro (Champs de Mars/Place d’Armes/Square-Victoria/McGill/Place des Arts/Saint-Laurent), je ne vois pas en quoi ça n’a pas sauté aux yeux des planificateurs.

    – Les touristes ne prennent pas l’autobus dans une ville étrangère, c’est un autre fait archi-connu.

    – Les gens qui habitent/travaillent dans le Vieux-Montréal sont peu nombreux comparativement a tous les quartiers de Montréal et ils sont riches, ont tous des voitures et ne vont surtout pas s’abaisser à prendre l’autobus.

    – Quand on se rend au travail le matin, on ne peut pas se fier sur un autobus pour faire le trajet Métro->Travail, c’est trop peu déterministe par rapport à la marche à pied.

    J’espère que ça va remettre leurs idées de tramway à la bonne place. Il y a tellement d’axes très lourds point de vue transport en commun qui en bénéficieraient bien avant ce quartier (Parc/Côte-des-Neiges/St-Michel).

    Que dire de la quantité de gens qui habitent à l’est de la ligne Orange mais trop au Nord de la ligne verte, ils sont carrément non-déservis.

    Ça fait longtemps que je voulais partager cette frustration, merci.

  2. You mean the 24 Sherbrooke, not the 105, as the 105 runs from métro Vendôme towards NDG and vice-versa.

  3. C’est vraiment dommage, je prend ce bus pour aller travailler tous les jours, c’est vraiment pratique…
    J’habite pas tres loin de rachel et st. denis, donc le bus 30 puis le 515 pour aller a mon travail (peel et wellington) c’est vraiment efficace.

    Et franchement, le metro? j’ai deja essaye, mais je comprend toujours pas comment on peut entrer dans un wagin a 8h30 le matin…

    Et sinon, je cite Vincent: “Les gens qui habitent/travaillent dans le Vieux-Montréal sont peu nombreux comparativement a tous les quartiers de Montréal et ils sont riches, ont tous des voitures et ne vont surtout pas s’abaisser à prendre l’autobus.”

    Tu sors ca d’ou?

    Et pourquoi t’es frustre contre une ligne de bus? au pire ca te concerne pas si t’en as pas besoin. Je suis pas d’accord avec leur projet de tram, mais de la a chialer contre une ligne de bus, faut pas deconner non plus

  4. A lot of riders might pick it up at the downtown terminus adjacent to the tourist centre. Problem is, it’s the terminus for both directions. I took it once and found it confusing, myself.

  5. Especially as the federal government gets ready to roll out the infrastructure spending, Montreal needs to be ready with a solid tramway plan and I don’t think this one qualifies. We need to rethink this tourist-trap (what tourist is going to visit the Old Port because of a tramway who wouldn’t go there anyway?) and focus on more densely populated areas.

  6. «je comprend toujours pas comment on peut entrer dans un wagin a 8h30 le matin…»

    «Wagin»… Quel beau lapsus!!!!

  7. Je l’ai pris à plusieurs reprises, spécifiquement pour voir le paysage, et ce qui m’a emmerdé le plus, c’est qu’à chaque coup, c’était des autobus avec les fenêtres bloquées par leurs putains d’annonce.

    C’est vraiment génial de faire une ligne d’autobus touristique avec des autobus desquels il est impossible de voir à l’extérieur.

    Difficile de faite mieux; vraiment, chapeau les gars!!!

  8. i would think it more useful to construct tramway lines, as vincent mentions, along the most frequented axes (people walking + taking buses + driving there by car). this includes shopping streets like st. catherine, st. laurent, mont-royal, masson, etc. which are the major frequency bringer.

    plus with a tramway that passes often, i.e. every 5 minutes, the street could be closed off to car traffic (they can park in side streets for delivery) and this creates a whole different ambiance, with street-side restos etc. and also would ensure that the tramway has its ridership

  9. You can also have certain hours for deliveries. They do it in Amsterdam and elsewhere (including some more snowy cities).

    Although I agree that the priority should be high-volume lines (Avenue du Parc is one, and possible now that they have eliminated the échangeur), a tramline can also be an “élément structurant” for a planned district. See the old tram up through Villeray.

    I don’t think the fact that residents of Old Montreal tend to have high incomes (prestigious condo developments and apartments) necessarily implies that they own cars or above all want to use them daily. Many are people who have had the possibility to choose an urban lifestyle with little or no private car use. A truly walkable, cyclable and public-transport centred city will also imply that people with the means to own a car will choose not to do so, opting in stead for rentals or carshare schemes when they want access to a car. (This, from observation of Paris, Amsterdam and other places).

    Interestingly, there seems to be a poverty stigma attached to bus ridership that is not found in relation to either the métro or the tram…

  10. To build a tramway to serve a route where there is little demand would be an astonishing waste of money. Tramways can only be justified where the demand is at the level of thousands of travellers per hour. If it is built it will suck away the investment necessary for existing overcrowed bus lines, and moreover give trams the poor and unjustified reputation of white elephants,
    David Tighe

  11. Vieux-Montréal is covered by the green line??? News to me.

    “Many are people who have had the possibility to choose an urban lifestyle with little or no private car use.”

    This is true. I could easily buy a car but I don’t want to. The Ville de Montréal seems to be banking somewhat on a postmaterialist/creative class culture.

    I’m always amazed, when reading various debates on transit infrastructure, how easily these ostensibly “deficit hawk” type tropes get transmitted around:

    “Tramways can only be justified where the demand is at the level of thousands of travellers per hour.”

    Why the idea is so commonly accepted that public transit must be a passive observer to existing transit patterns, while autoroutes are free to despoil agricultural land and reshape the region in _anticipation_ of future development, is beyond me. Perhaps Spacing Toronto readers have been reading this site.

    I still think the tramways are a rather silly idea, especially given the weather out there today. We should instead try to get the metro finished. Unfortunately, the Liberals were reelected and seem intent on paving the far reaches of Québec and building bridges to Laval.

  12. Having just returned form a trip to Amsterdam, I’m really all about the trams. They are less hassle than taking the metro and come more frequently than a bus. Here is an interesting article from The Tyee that champions the tram as investment of choice:

    A tram down Ste-Catherine, on du Parc or St-Laurent would be fantastic. Not through the Old Port.
    As Chris points out in his post, this is the route that a developer wants to service its new neighbourhood. Access to good public transit increases property value (look at all the expensive apartments/condos surrounding Vancouver Sky Train stations) and developer profit.

    I also think it is high time buses in Montreal got some bike racks on the front.

  13. pas surprenant… cette ligne le est completement inutile… combien de millions gaspilles? Pendant ce temps on laisse aller le grand prix qui justement emmene des touristes a la tonne.

    La ville a vraiment les priorites a la mauvaise place. Le seul mode de transport de masse qui fonctionne et qui fait ses preuves a montreal est le metro. Arretons de jeter de l’argent sur des niaiseries a gauche et a droite et completons les lignes comme elle devrait l’etre.

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