Transit in Montreal, Quebec

A metro train awaits passengers at Montreal's Jarry Metro Station in the 1960s.

Transit In Montreal, Quebec

Montreal is the largest city in Quebec and the second largest city in Canada after Toronto with a metropolitan area population of about four million, with the city proper having a population of about 1.65 million.  The metropolitan area straddles the Saint Laurence River, with the city itself being on an island.  Public transportation in Quebec is city-based, with the city of Montreal operating Societe de Transport de Montreal (STM), with Laval, a suburb to the north, and Longueil, a suburb to the south, operating their own transit systems.

  Commuter trains operating in the region are overseen by AMT (Agence Metropolitan de Transport).  This article will focus on the STM only.

STM is perhaps best known for its extensive rubber-tired (one of only a handful in the world outside of France) subway system which began operation in the fall of 1966, fourteen years after Toronto opened Canada’s first subway.  Four lines serve sixty-eight stations along forty-three miles of track.  Because harsh winter weather is not kind to rubber-tired rapid transit vehicles, 100% of the subway system is indeed in a subway, which is a rarity.  Washington Metro stations have been heavily influenced by stations in Montreal, which are usually cavernous and softly-lit.  Trains operate from 5:30 AM – 1:00 AM, with Saturday service continuing to 1:30 AM.

STM also operates an extensive bus service which is made up of 150 local bus routes,   23 owl bus routes, 31 express routes, and fifteen shuttle routes for a total of 219.

  Owl routes provide 24-hour service on major corridors

In 2013, STM provided 416.5 million rides, or an average of 1.3 million on a weekday, meaning that Montreal has almost the same transit ridership as Los Angeles despite having a service area population that is only 25% as big.

Fares and Funding

STM has a wide variety of different fare products.

  One trip is C$3.25, with a two trip ticket being C$6.  Ten trips are $C26.50, while monthly passes are C$82 for a regular fare and C$49.25 for children and seniors.  The monthly pass is an unusually low multiple of the cash fare, with only twenty-five trips needed before it is cheaper to buy the pass.  In addition to the above fares, STM offers a day pass (C$10), an evening pass valid between 6 PM and 5 AM (C$5), and a weekend pass (C$13).  I find the evening and weekend passes to be creative attempts to increase off-peak ridership that I believe should be emulated by other transit agencies.  The OPUS smart fare card is heavily promoted but is not necessary to take advantage of free transfers between buses and the subway.

In 2015, STM’s budget is C$1.4 billion of which C$664 million is from passenger fares and other self-generated revenue, for a farebox recovery of about 46%.  While excellent by American standards, Montreal’s farebox recovery is lower than that of Toronto.  Most subsidies come from the city of Montreal (C$409 million or 28%), with the rest of the money coming from the province of Quebec.  75% of the budget can be considered operating with the other 25% making up the capital budget.


STM has set an ambitious goal to have all new buses be electric powered by 2025 so that the transit system will be completely greenhouse gas emissions free by 2040 (as the vast majority of Quebec electricity is generated by emissions-free hydroelectric power such a goal is achievable).  Experimentation is currently underway with both the BYD electric bus and a new electric bus under development by the Nova corporation.  Because of reasonable worries about the performance of battery buses in the brutal Montreal winters, a next-generation trolley bus system is also being planned with initial deployment on four heavily traveled routes.

The City of Montreal plans to extend the Blue Line east four stations from the current terminus at Saint-Michel to Pie-IX Boulevard and a possible extension of the Orange Line Cote-Vertu Station northwest for two stations to a new connection with commuter trains at Bois-Franc.

  Longueil has plans to extend the Yellow Line, and Laval wishes to loop the Orange Line around and connect the eastern section with the western section to make a continuous loop.  Sadly, no funding has been identified for any of these extensions.

Overall, the ease of getting around Montreal without a car in the summer is 10 out of 10 and in the winter is 9 our 10 (one point has been subtracted for the cold).