Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Montreal's Metro v. NYC's Subway

I recently took a trip into the magical international land of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As is tradition here at Velvet Sea, when we travel, we compare (we also butcher the English language and continually say "we" when in fact referring to only me). We will be using the same scientific criterium as we used during our comparison of London's Underground to New York's subway.

First off, Amtrak is the least effective way to travel to Montreal. Maybe a bus would be worse. The trains are plenty comfortable and certainly affordable ($110 roundtrip) but the border crossing is a nightmare. The Canadian guards ask so many ridiculous questions and take their sweet ass time- 35 minutes before they even get on the train. The train took 3 hours more than the scheduled 10 hours in both directions. If you're not in a rush and not sitting near the stinking bathrooms, the train might work for you.

The Metro has some freestanding stations and some inside other buildings. The signs were not always easy to spot. Most stations were only 1 flight down to the platforms with wide staircases. I could not use the turnstiles due to the type of ticket I bought, so I had to wait on line at the booth for the attendant to let me in each time. Exits were quick and well marked, although a local street map posted near them would have been a big help.
Ticketing Montreal's Metro is a much newer system than NYC's, having been built in the 1960's. Their ticketing system is in the stone ages though. To buy a single ride ticket, you pay the person at the booth, they give you a small Chuck E. Cheese skeeball type ticket which you promptly place into a slot in the plastic box attached to window. The attendant clicks a button and you can walk through the turnstile. When the next customer comes for a single ride, the attendant gives them the same ticket you just deposited in the box.

The Metro has no automated ticket machines and the daily tourist pass ticket requires you to wait on line to flash it to the attendant each time. There's a line every time but it moves sort of fast. It's tricky for tourists because the sign showing the ticketing options is posted on the window in front of the booth but is so small that you can't see it until you are right at front of the line.

Stations The Metro's stations are all very clean and well lit. They have nice artwork throughout and are in a variety of styles. Signage is clear (in French and English) and passageways are wide. Transfers were all quick and easy. There are not many seating options in the stations but they do have these awesome metal bars that just far enough away from the wall to make a really comfortable lean. Paper recycling bins are a nice touch.
Montreal is known for it's rubber wheeled trains that are supposedly quieter than New York (and other places) steel wheels. I did not find this to be true; they do make a much lower pitched noise but it's still noisy.
The trains were relatively clean. The cars are narrow, about the size of NYC's numbered lines but with a 2 and 1 seating instead of a long bench. The airconditioning was barely functioning, making the trains a bit steamy. The cars were well lit without too much advertising and with big windows. Some had electronic lcd screens showing animated advertising in French. Seats were a bit narrow. The ride is smoother than New York's and way less crowded. I found it a bit unnerving that the doors open a split second before the train fully stops.
The Metro trains came quite frequently, within 5-7 minutes every time. Some stations had giant TV screens showing news, with a ticker on the top telling how long before the next 2 trains come in each direction. Hot! Announcements on the train were all in French and their pronunciations made it tricky to figure out what stop we were at, but it was easy to see signs through the train doors and windows to compensate.
The Metro's official map is not overlaid with the city map, so it's a bit tricky to figure out where you need to get off. There are many close together stops but they are brief enough to not be an annoyance. The train stop running at 1am.

To recap, I'd wuss out and say it's another draw! Montreal has the edge in cleanliness, stations, and entry/exit but New York has an edge in ticketing and trains, while service is a toss up due to NYC's local/express system and 24 hour service.

category: nyc_