Greater Greater Washington

Montreal shows the way for Metro Forward

Montreal's subway and bus operator undertook a six-year modernization effort, rebranding itself, rebuilding stations, replacing track, buying new buses, and developing new ways to communicate with riders. Hopefully WMATA's newly-minted Metro Forward campaign can emulate this success in the Washington region.


Image from WMATA.

Last month, WMATA launched Metro Forward, a six-year action plan and media campaign. Metro's infrastructure has suffered badly from decades of underinvestment and deterioration, and Metro Forward is all about changing that.

It's an ambitious plan. It will take serious time and money, and riders will face disruption along the way, but it is absolutely essential for the system's longevity.

Metro Forward resembles Mouvement Collectif ("Society in Motion"), a similar program by the STM, Montreal's public transit authority.

When I arrived in Montreal in 2005, the STM struck me as being, well, good enough. The buses and metro ran (usually on time), and most buses ran frequently enough, but there was still a lot of room for improvement. STM's old trip planner was a fiddly home-grown affair. There was very little real-time information available for rail passengers, and no real-time information for bus passengers.

This was before Twitter, but the STM didn't post disruption information on its Web siteeven in the case of major disruptions. The fare collection system wasn't ancient, but it wasn't modern, either. There were some new buses in the fleet, but no hybrids or articulated buses, and the new buses were catching fire.

Then, in May 2009, the STM launched Mouvement Collectif. Mouvement Collectif signified big changes at the STM, not just a marketing gimmick. How has the STM changed? Its bus fleet now includes hybrids and articulated buses, improving the STM's carbon footprint and increasing capacity on high-ridership routes. They've fixed the incendiary problems with the first-generation LFS buses, too.

The OPUS fare collection system was launched, providing riders with a contactless smart card which can be used across the services of the STM, as well as other regional bus systems: STL, RTL, RTC, and others. The subway doesn't have new rolling stock yet, but the MPM-10 rolling stock is now in the design stage.

The STM has a public presence on social networks, and a new Web site which is a lot better than the old design. Passenger information is getting better, too; there are now MetroVision screens in more stations across the network.

The STM has made tangible improvements to its bus network, with the réseau 10 minutes max (a network of bus lines boasting 10-minute headways), a better night bus network, and an airport shuttle which is more convenient for riders than previous options and which has proven to be a real success in its first year of operation.

It takes longer to make real changes to a rail system than a bus network; it's going to be a few more years before the MPM-10s start running. But the STM continues to work on renovating the rail system, too; elevators have been installed at key transfer stations, among other improvements. Tous azimuts ("Full Circle" in English), the STM's trip planner, is still there (although it, too, has gotten better), but more importantly, the STM's schedules are in Google Transit now.

Mouvement Collectif is also about making public transit a more attractive option. Sustainability is a major component of Mouvement Collectif: not only mass transit as a sustainable transportation choice, but also the sustainable operation of transit services, through the use of biodiesel and other energy-saving measures. This advertisement conveys the authority's green messaging:

Thanks to Metro Forward, tomorrow's WMATA has the potential to be a far better transit agency than it is today. For the STM, Mouvement Collectif has paid off; in 2010 the STM was recognized as an Outstanding Public Transportation System in North America.

Metro Forward puts WMATA on the right track to celebrate a similar achievement six years from now. It will take time, and there will be a lot of disruption along the way, but we'll get there.

Crossposted at Raschke on Transport.

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Kurt Raschke is an information technology professional and transit enthusiast interested in how technology can improve the usability of transit systems. A car-free resident of Silver Spring, he is a frequent user of Metrorail and Metrobus. He also blogs at Raschke on Transport. All views expressed here are his alone. 

Comments

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Competence, not ad campaigns, will improve Metro.

by Adam L on Jul 6, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

You didn't mention one of STM's most baffling moves: a complete refusal to require air conditioning in new metro cars as it ordered hundreds of them.

For those who wonder, Montreal summers, while somewhat shorter, aren't that different in severity from DC summers, and the metro cars at rush hour are just as crowded. The trains have a couple of fans per car.

But of course the Montreal system remains a much, much better value than the DC system: $3 to get anywhere in the city with as many transfers as you need--or $73 a month for an unlimited pass.

by Gray on Jul 6, 2011 12:57 pm • linkreport

STM finally launched an express bus? What an improvement. It used to be a long, circuitous route on a public bus or about $10 each way for a private bus.

Seems like we import some of our best ideas from Montreal (cf. Bixi).

by Gavin on Jul 6, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

(Oh, they opened a downtown cycle track before we did, too! If only we had their somewhat more-relaxed attitude about wine in public parks...)

by Gavin on Jul 6, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

I suppose that transit agencies should never even bother trying to communicate with their passengers, then?

by David R. on Jul 6, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

@Gray
For those who wonder, Montreal summers, while somewhat shorter, aren't that different in severity from DC summers,

Pretty sure Montreal summers are something like 10 degrees cooler on average than DC summers. Montreal is 400+ miles north of here.

Do older cars have air conditioning?

by MLD on Jul 6, 2011 1:35 pm • linkreport

@David R.

No. The communication is appreciated, but we already know the problems. It didn't take a media strategy or a GAO report to tell us what we already knew. And communication is never replacement for making sure the basic functions of your transit system are living up to its own goals.

@Gray

The Washington Metro services the entire DC area... quite different from other transit systems like in Montreal that only services the core urban area. A trip like the one from Shady Grove to Metro Center, which costs $5.00 during rush hour on our system would cost up to $10 on Montreal's commuter rail line. I wouldn't say Metro is a total bargain, but it's important to keep size and distance in mind when making such comparisons.

by Adam L on Jul 6, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

Communication with passengers *is* a basic function of a transit agency.

GGW readers might well know what the problems are, and perhaps something about the agency's response to those problems. I submit that most people do not.

Good communication about service disruptions, repairs, and upgrade programs helps riders to adapt and to understand.

by David R. on Jul 6, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

Just out of curiosity, I wanted to see what the average failure rate (as in trains going out of service for mechanical problems, etc.) and lo-and-behold the archived disruption reports were taken offline. There's an excuse that the reports ate up a lot of staff time, but I don't see a reason to get rid of all the archived history. So much for communication...

by Adam L on Jul 6, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

@David C.

Real communication is not responding on Twitter or putting up posters about how much repair work WMATA is doing. Real communication, for example, is letting me know when a train will be coming, even if there is track work or other delays. Telling people to wait on the platform for 30 minutes while staring at a blank train arrival screen doesn't cut it.

by Adam L on Jul 6, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

You didn't mention one of STM's most baffling moves: a complete refusal to require air conditioning in new metro cars as it ordered hundreds of them.

For those who wonder, Montreal summers, while somewhat shorter, aren't that different in severity from DC summers, and the metro cars at rush hour are just as crowded. The trains have a couple of fans per car.

But of course the Montreal system remains a much, much better value than the DC system: $3 to get anywhere in the city with as many transfers as you need--or $73 a month for an unlimited pass.

by Gray on Jul 6, 2011 12:57 pm

Air conditioning isn't NEARLY as common in the rest of the world as it is in the United States. Montreal summers are warm and humid but not like ours. Ninety plus degree days are relatively uncommon (though not unknown) and there's really only a 2-3 month window of sticky summer weather. People also complain a lot less about it when it does get hot, in fact often celebrating the weather and the break from the oppressive winters which take up nearly half the year.

by Mike O on Jul 6, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

@MLD

"Pretty sure Montreal summers are something like 10 degrees cooler on average than DC summers. Montreal is 400+ miles north of here."

It is pretty far north, but quite a bit farther from the ocean so has a slightly more variable climate. You're right that average highs are almost 10 degrees cooler than DC in the summer. But yes, still quite a few hot, humid days, which are very unpleasant on the metro.

The metro has never had A/C. Like I said, present cars have a couple of fans each. One of the top requests for the new ones was A/C, but riders were ignored.

@Adam L

While the Montreal metro has a smaller footprint than the DC metro (though it extends into quite a few suburbs), Montreal buses do extend to pretty much the entire island of Montreal, with free transfers throughout and over rivers in a couple of directions, too. Commuter rail is pretty pricey, but bus and metro can get you anywhere in the core and all of the inner suburbs for a low price.

by Gray on Jul 6, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

Given a choice between a PID sign telling me that it's 40 minutes til the next train, and a poster warning me to avoid the Orange Line because of repairs five weekends from now, I'd choose the poster.

We're not talking about promotional posters about how much repair work Metro is doing - my understanding is that Metro Forward includes specific information about repair plans.

CTA and NYC MTA have standard systems for informing the public about repairs. Temporary signage explains the need for the repairs, which does help with managing traveller's expectations, and also helps people understand how they can move around the closures. (They figured prominently in the multi-year CTA reconstruction of the subway "slow zones.") This is basic communication for a transportation system.

Metro Forward starts to do this. This program is a sign that Metro understands it's possible and necessary to explain repairs and how those repairs affect passengers.

by David R. on Jul 6, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

@Mike O

"Air conditioning isn't NEARLY as common in the rest of the world as it is in the United States. Montreal summers are warm and humid but not like ours. Ninety plus degree days are relatively uncommon (though not unknown) and there's really only a 2-3 month window of sticky summer weather. People also complain a lot less about it when it does get hot, in fact often celebrating the weather and the break from the oppressive winters which take up nearly half the year."

While it's true that Montrealers complain much less about summer than they do in other areas, they do complain quite a bit about the conditions on the metro in the summer.

I agree with you that A/C is much less necessary, in general, in Montreal. But there are a few places were tons of people gather very densely where it would be much appreciated. The metro happens to be one of them.

I mention it here not because it's a complaint that I personally had (coming from quite a ways South) but because locals do feel quite strongly about it. Those complaints were ignored when the design requirements for the new metro cars were drafted.

by Gray on Jul 6, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

@David R.

I would like to know whether to even bother taking the train by looking it up on my computer/phone before I run out the door to catch a train that may or may not be coming.

by Adam L on Jul 6, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

It's great to hear about Montreal's improvements, but how realistic is Metro's plan? What does it mean for riders? Will we notice a difference? What about automatic train control?

A quick glance at the Metro Forward Web site is just telling me stuff I already knew, and it's stuff that Metro needs to just stay in operation. What about operating better?

by Omar on Jul 6, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

As long as I can remember, Metro's posted posters and signs informing us of closures at least a week in advance...

The NYC MTA service disruption posters have a great design....except that modified service patterns on the NYC subway tend to be mind-bogglingly complicated, and there are usually about 50 different posters tacked together.

Also, a lot of communications happen two ways. I sincerely believe that Metro are being more receptive to rider input since the staffing toss-up took place.

Asking Metro to "suck less" isn't productive unless you have specific demands. As far as I can tell, most of those demands are in the process of being met.

by andrew on Jul 6, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

Adam L: I checked with Dan Stessel, who said the reports still are available.

I find it annoying how on the WMATA site they often move content from one page to another, and don't necessarily provide links. It seems obvious to link to the old reports on a page that tells people they're not producing the reports any more.

by David Alpert on Jul 6, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

Thanks, David. :-)

by Adam L on Jul 6, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

@Gray For those who wonder, Montreal summers, while somewhat shorter, aren't that different in severity from DC summers

Double checked this at weather.com. Just for comparisons sake, Montreal's average highs in June, July, and August are 75, 79, 76, while DC's are 84, 88, 86. DC averages 9-10 degrees warmer than Montreal in the summer.

Weather.com comparison between Montreal and DC

by OhioExile on Jul 6, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

@OhioExile

Yep, which I addressed six and eight comments above yours.

My point was that a large chunk of riders consistently asked for A/C on the metro cars. Even in the midst of this campaign to improve the public face of the metro, STM refused to take this into account when ordering new cars.

by Gray on Jul 6, 2011 4:08 pm • linkreport

The Metro in Montreal can get stuffy in the summer but the whole system is underground so the trains are never subjected to blazing sun like they are in DC. Air conditioning might be nice but it would add significantly to procurement, operating, and maintenance costs. It would have been irresponsible for STM to prioritize AC over other needs.

by jimble on Jul 6, 2011 8:03 pm • linkreport

There are many examples of these kinds of campaigns from Chicago, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, among others. I have mentioned the St. Louis example for the past couple of years as a particularly good example for WMATA.

-- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/11/st-louis-regional-transit-planning.html

The Montreal example isn't particularly noteworthy compared to the others. What's noteworthy is just that the WMATA effort isn't as good as the others.

However, wrt STM, I have been impressed how various stakeholders are pushing the idea of expansion to come to fruition in association with Montreal's 375th anniversary, which I thought was a good idea, as anniversaries are a good excuse for setting milestones. The 40th anniversary of the Metro opening should have been used similarly.

-- http://www.montrealgazette.com/Montreal+transit+looks+m%C3%A9tro+funding/5027744/story.html

Interestingly, given the DC regional business community's focus on roads more than transit as evidenced by the 2030 Group efforts, the similar effort last year in Montreal by their Board of Trade was very much pro-transit in terms of the recognition of its centrality to the region's economic development.

- http://www.cnw.ca/en/releases/archive/November2010/26/c7926.html

- http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Transport+issues+slow+lane/4663142/story.html

by Richard Layman on Jul 6, 2011 8:39 pm • linkreport

wrt air conditioning of STM, I agree that it would be desirable. Last year we were there during the first 10 days of July and it was very very hot.

That being said, Montreal made some key decisions about air conditioning and engineering their system generally.

1. By not air conditioning, and not needing the same kind of air circulation requirements as an air conditioned system, they could build the system so that two tracks can fit into one tunnel.

They can't add air conditioning to new cars though as a result of this particular engineering decisions.

2. The rubber tires allow for steeper grades. But in my opinion, the vehicles aren't necessarily quieter.

3. And by committing to only underground operation, they wouldn't have to engineer vehicles to be all weather hardy, and they wouldn't have to worry about operating in snow and possibly closing the system down like WMATA does. Given the amount of snowfall in the Montreal region, you can understand why they made this decision.

by Richard Layman on Jul 6, 2011 8:45 pm • linkreport

whoops, of course, by only needing one tunnel, they spend a lot less money to build and maintain the system. And so some of the reduced capital cost can be made up by providing more frequent service, which I believe that they do compared to WMATA.

by Richard Layman on Jul 6, 2011 8:46 pm • linkreport

I'll take a competently run, well designed system any day over one that's half-assed but has good advertising.

Case in point: the Los Angeles Metro has an internal advertising shop that does an amazing job selling the system. The ads are attention-grabbing and fun, the logos look cool, the buses are colorful and sleek. But the metro and bus networks leave a lot to be desired. There aren't enough heavy rail lines, the light rail lines are slow, and the ticketing/turnstyle system is hopelessly broken. I deal with it every day, but I long for DC's solid-as-a-rock Metro system where you can confidently get where you want, when you want. Who cares how they advertise it?

LA Metro Advertising: http://vimeo.com/7984623

by Chris Loos on Jul 7, 2011 12:00 am • linkreport

the new metros will have a very advanced ventilation system, there will be no A/C because it will make metro stations more hot but when u you will inside the new metro you will have the impression that it has come kind of A/C because it will be alot better than then system we have right now. If everything goes good the first test will take place in 2013 and the new metros will start working fulltime in 2014.

by busman on Jul 11, 2011 11:37 am • linkreport

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