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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A ride on the 747

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STM’s direct bus link between downtown and the airport has arrived none too soon. The former route’s multiple confusing transfers (one of which was so close to the airport the weary traveller might have inhaled jet fumes) seemed to have been designed with jet-lagged torture in mind. The old route had been in place since at least 1999, when I was cruelly initiated with duffel, trunk, and bicycle in tow.

Montreal’s 747 is a welcome option for frugal travellers, and probably a cause for celebration among airport employees who make the daily commute.

It proves to be a transportation melting pot. No longer are the classes singularly defined by limo, taxi, shuttle, or metro. Rather, all types ride the 747.

This results in a typically Montreal-style socializing experience. In fact, it takes the communal effort of all passengers to ensure everyone’s safe transit.

Before the 747 departs on its highway journey, the pilot inevitably must inform approximately 20% of people boarding that without a pass, seven dollars in change is required. No bills. Of course, prior to embarking, every international traveller has logically unburdened herself of the three pounds of loonies and twonies one accumulates over a weekend in Canada.

What follows is a shake-down of those people already on board, as they collaborate to scrape together enough change for their fellow travellers’ tickets. The faster they do so, the less likely that flights will be missed due to the delay. This invariably creates a mixture of friendship and resentment among the passengers, the first steps of any meaningful group dynamic.

Once clearly filled to over-capacity, the 747 launches from the curb, and everyone standing quickly realizes that a white-knuckle ride is at hand. The conductor, in her rush to make up for the said delay, swerves across highway lanes as a fighter pilot might carve through the skies.

Since the temperature cannot be lower than a stagnant 30 degrees inside the bus, neighbouring passengers become immediately intimate, involuntarily sharing their sweaty secretions and closely-quartered looks of amused fear.

They learn to collectively anticipate the driver’s abrupt reactions to the finicky traffic, leaning together into the turns and helping each other keep from tripping over tippy luggage strewn across the floor.

Periodic gridlock on Autoroute 20 allows for the passengers to collect themselves. They straighten their damp sportcoats and reposition their drooping bra-straps.

It also provides out-of-towners with a close look at a few of Montreal’s lesser-known characteristics. Some point in disbelief at the crumbling facade of the Turcot Interchange which swoops above us. It appears to be held together by failing rebar, chain-link fencing, and ominous spray-painted X’s. Others note that for no apparent reason, traffic drives (or inches along) on the left side of the road at this section of Autoroute 20, a rare circumstance in North America.

With the bus becalmed by hot traffic, one also becomes acutely aware that we are, yes, on a bus. It is not immune to the perpetual backups and dangers present on Montreal’s highways. This bus is no train, let alone a 747.

But we safely arrive to the airport in reasonable time as one relieved group. We scatter through the terminal, then share looks of solidarity as we reconvene in various lines to prepare for our next transfer.



  1. Although I greatly appreciate the 747 service I am worried about the highway speed of 100kph plus with standing passengers on a bus which does not seem to have the solidity of an inter-city one. I have often taken the alternative regular one which is equally fast and felt rather nervous.

    I think perhaps it should be governed down to 80kph.

  2. Why is the default always bus? Lots of underused rail rights-of-way in Montreal that could be used a get all those lane clogging buses off of our over-used highways.

    I keep my fingers crossed the rail shuttle to Dorval Airport will be completed in a few years.

  3. Hahaha…great article! I can almost smell it now…

    Something tells me THIS route would be a great candidate for those Chinese superbuses that can hop over traffic!

  4. A few months ago, I tried to take the 747. I approached the kiosk and asked for a ticket. The lady told me that it was just an “information kiosk” (handing out brochures) and I had buy a ticket at the currency exchange counter. I took a look at the currency exchange counter, and its line-up of at least 10 people with one person serving them, and headed straight to my trusty limo line. I was on my way within 2 minutes.
    I haven’t tried to take the bus since. I hope they’ve improved their procedures.

  5. I had the exact same experience as Z, except that I tried to board the bus first. They said it was a seven dollar fare so I gave them a ten: “no you need exact change. Or an opus card.” I flashed my opus card. Since I only buy individual trips, that did not work either. Went inside and found the info kiosk. They sent me to the currency exchange place. The bus left while I waited in line. There were only three people ahead of me so I waited some more. Another bus came, and I almost missed that one too! I was most definitely NOT amused. Why can’t they at minimum have an opus machine there?

    This payment arrangement – if you have a weekly or monthly fare-pass on your opus card it is free – may work well for airport employees (and how many of them live downtown?), but it most definitely is not easy to navigate for the infrequent rider. What a wonder first impression to make on tourists.

  6. My experience was very different, and very positive.

    On July 3rd i went to pick up some family and some of us decided to take the 747 back.

    I followed the signs from domestic arrival to the 747 stop, there was an information desk right inside and right behind it was a ticket machine that provided the necessary pass.

    I was initially unsure about what to do so i asked the person at the desk and he said to use the kiosk. This machine accepts coins and bills and spits out one day passes. It also gives back change.

    we then went outside, waited for a bit and got on, no problem.

    I figure this machine is new, given the experiences of others. All i can say is that it was as perfect a trip as i can imagine.

  7. I’m the kind of traveller who doesn’t always like to get bugged down by the details, so the first time I took the bus, not having checked its price and not having any change, had no choice but to gave them a nice even 20-dollar bill. In retrospect, I see that $20 meant that I probably could’ve taken a taxi all the way to the airport. but I was sweating at the counter, with people behind me, feeling pressure rising and my brain checked out….

    With little hesitation, they took the extra $ of course, but I didn’t get any special treatment for my “tips”. I considered it an investment for my Karma.

  8. Lots or people like to find fault with what is an actual and large improvement in service.

    Now that you know how it works, I am sure the experience will go a better the second time you use the service. Sort of like when you lost your virginity eh? Well, I hope you learned to do it better the second time!

  9. YES! I agree completely.

    I was so angry after riding the 747 that I screamed at the poor driver.

    My problems were that:
    – The first bus I took to get to the metro couldn’t sell my a 747 ticket.
    – The fee used to be $2 and now it’s $7 although with slightly better service.
    – The bus left so late that I was worried I’d miss my flight
    – The old 204 does seem to still be running (although I’m absolutely sure) and so I could have saved the $5.

    What a terribly organised and executed new route. Good job STM.

    Can’t we just have a regular bus that goes to the airport on a frequent basis. Buses go all over the island and venture much further than the airport.

  10. @Free-Spirited, Phil:

    The instructions for how to use the 747 are pretty clearly posted on the STM’s website and in the paper brochures they hand out. All it takes is 5 minutes to read it, and you could have probably saved yourself some anxiety and even some money. I don’t think you can blame the STM.

  11. Great post, worth a good chuckle or two. :)

    I don’t quite understand why the STM is charging $7. Perhaps to recoup extra fuel and lost passenger revenue due to luggage?

  12. Well, over on Trip Advisor, tourists seem to love the 747, as does someone I know who lives in Verdun and works at the airport and has seen his commute reduced to 45 minutes door-to-door, which is pretty darn respectable I think.

    I think that the fare structure is brilliant — for tourists, it gets them a 24h pass which encourages them to start using transit to explore the city (something that many Americans for example — who make up the bulk of our tourists –may not consider if they come from a city where transit isn’t even considered an option, really.) For frequent transit riders with weekly or monthly transit passes, it’s free, so you can go pick your friend up at the airport no problem. Only those who are infrequent users and buy individual tickets (myself included) have to fork out the $7, which is hardly an exorbitant fee I’d say.

    If you think it IS too much money, just use the old route — the 211 and the 204.

  13. @Free-Spirited, your $20 would probably only have got you half way to downtown. It’s a $35 cab ride get to the airport (sans tip) from Saint-Henri (last I checked).

    The 747, despite it’s considerable length, should not be compared to limo service. Public transit is a pain, but it is considerably cheaper than other options. This story made me chuckle, but anyone familiar with transit in the summer knows it’s a hot, sweaty, high speed mess.

    @Tristou makes a good point about the day pass. Never thought about it like that.

  14. As a Montrealer who uses public transit on a daily basis the 747 was a blessing when it came to my trip to the airport!
    I walked to the starting terminal and asked a driver where the lineup was, he was perfectly pleasant and i waited in line. It was early morning but there were still quite a few other passengers, but definitely not full up. There was little traffic and the ride was nice and easy.

    On my way home after my trip I also took the 747. Since I have that monthly pass i just went straight to the lineup and waited a little. The line was huuge but we managed to all fit in. It was a cooler summer night and again the ride was smooth and really quite relaxing.

    I did all my research before I hopped on that bus. There is enough information to know that it IS 7$ and that monthly passes get you on no problem. I didn’t see any other passengers having too many issues, and everyone seemed content with the service.

  15. So if I read this correctly — I will be able to buy a ticket for this bus, and by doing so gain access to the entire network (Bus + Metro) for 24h ??

    Thanks in advance for any help .. visiting YUL on Thurs

  16. Horace: when you arrive at the airport, follow the signs to the 747 kiosk and buy the $7 pass (you can also buy it from the currency exchange desk, with Canadian cash). 
    Yes, the $7 pass gives you unlimited access to the metro and bus system for 24h. 
    Enjoy the visit!

  17. Thanks very much for your response, KC BOLTON. Great article too, I enjoyed reading it.

  18. You’re a “trip!” Thanks for the tips re: the 747!

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