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Barcelona vs. Montreal

by The Concordian September 6, 2011
Barcelona and Montreal boast fine architecture, delicious food, summer festivals and a spectacular nightlife, yet when it comes to public transportation, there is simply no contest.
Montreal adopts inferior models of public transportation from its European counterparts, faintly echoing Barcelona’s system of basic principles while seriously lacking in its execution.
Barcelona’s public bicycle program, Bicing, was implemented in 2007 and is an irrefutable success story. Montreal introduced a similar program in 2009 with Bixi which has since been riddled with drawbacks, financial hardships and bailouts.
The metro systems are no different. One look at their respective websites tells the story.  Montreal’s Société de transport de Montréal is a woefully outdated and carelessly constructed afterthought, where Barcelona’s Transports Metropolitans Barcelona is stylish, smart, and proudly integrated into the city’s infrastructure.
I marvelled at Barcelona’s superior subway system more than I did at Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, wondering, “Why can’t Montreal do that?”
The difference lies in the TMB’s focus on ease and its attention to detail. Barcelona’s subway stations are equipped with a line of interactive machines that take your cash, print your ticket, and send you on your merry way. There are no booths and no ticket agents. Should you need to speak to someone, there is a help intercom button that immediately connects you to a real person on-site.
In Montreal, if you do not have an Opus card and you are buying a one-way ticket, be prepared to wait in line. The stations usually only have one machine for printing tickets, and stationed behind the ticket booth is one tired human being, who is designated to provide both ticket exchanges and information, making for a painfully slow and aggravating interaction, especially during peak hours.
Whatever the STM can do, it seems the TMB can do better. The STM announces the stations on the loudspeaker as you ride, but the TMB cars have announcements and corresponding maps that light up, so you always know exactly where you are. The STM stations have TV screens with time updates, letting you know when the next train is coming by the minute, but the TMB lets you know by the second.
Not to mention, the TMB is air-conditioned.
One would assume that Barcelona riders pay a premium for such convenience and service, but a one-way ticket on the TMB is 1.40 euros, a mere $2 Canadian or a third less than the STM’s pricey $3 a ride.
These small, thoughtful details may seem trivial, but together they add to a noticeably better experience, removing the inevitable headaches that Montreal’s STM riders endure.
Antoni Gaudi’s work may be the archetype of Barcelona culture and structural brilliance, but the real ingenuity is found in Barcelona’s underground – an ingenuity that Montreal, for all its European style and charm, has poorly replicated with the STM.

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1 comment

Joël Pichette November 16, 2011 - 14:53

Montreal might not doing as much as Barcelona which is European but in America, Montreal is doing better than most other cities, considering that in almost every town to go to the corner store you need a car… America is made for car owners…

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