Montreal’s REM: Revolutionizing urban transit in Quebec

The Réseau Express Métropolitain will connect urban and downtown areas across the city.

Transportation is at the forefront of most people’s worries nowadays, whether you take the metro, car or bus. Planning to get to a destination is always stressful. The Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) network is expected to be completely operational by 2027, revolutionizing Montreal’s transportation system by connecting the suburbs to the city’s bus and metro network. People traveling from suburban areas will find it much easier to access downtown areas. 

According to Statistics Canada, just over 80 per cent of Canadians live in the suburbs and must venture to the city every day for school or work. According to REM info, it’s expected to accommodate 42,120 riders during rush hours. Some commuters have already felt the difference in their commute time.

Giuliana Iacano, 20, resident of Sainte-Dorothée, Laval, studies at John Abbott College in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. She is looking forward to the REM’s arrival in her neighbourhood. 

Iacano’s current commute takes nearly an hour, as there are no convenient transit routes from Laval to the West Island. “I am eager to ride the train to school next year because I currently spend $100 a week on gas. As a full-time student, the cost of gas takes a significant portion of my earnings,” Iacano said.  

Montreal is known for having a well-connected transport system, though many claim it isn’t perfect. In addition to the REM, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) bus and metro system connects most of Montreal and is cost efficient. A monthly Opus card fare is $58 for students and $97 for the regular fare for commuters who remain within Montreal.

The bus routes usually pass every 10 to 20 minutes during peak hours and 15 to 30 minutes regularly. The metro usually arrives every two to five minutes during peak hours and five to 10 off peak. It is overall an efficient system, but may have some drawbacks, oftentimes experiencing delays that are unreliable and irritating for people on a tight schedule. 

The REM is a self-automated electric rapid transit system that will allow Montreal to be even more interconnected and accessible, as it will connect three existing metro lines: blue, green and orange. The system will also bring Montrealers to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport, the South Shore and the West Island.

The REM will be operational for 20 hours each day. Trains will arrive every two and a half to five minutes during rush hour, and every five to seven minutes during non-peak times. 

The main line that is currently open goes to Brossard, Verdun, Le Sud-Ouest and Ville Marie. In 2024, the main line will extend to Côte-des-Neiges, Mount Royal and Saint Laurent. 

Two other branches will open in 2024: Deux Montagnes and Anse-à-l’Orme. The Deux Montagnes branch will have stations in Pierrefonds, Laval and Deux Montagnes. The Anse-à-l’Orme branch will have stations in Pointe-Claire, Kirkland and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Ashley Sakaitis, 22, a resident of Brossard, has started taking the REM since its opening on July 28. She gets on at the Brossard station and off at Gare Centrale before hopping on the metro. Sakaitis’ commute takes around 30 minutes.

“I enjoy it so far because it’s smooth, quiet, and clean,” Sakaitis said. “I frequently stand up because I can’t tell how fast we’re moving. I’ve also used the REM at night to attend the Bell Center hockey games. It’s an extremely convenient 10-minute commute.” 

Jaimie Litwin, 21, resident of Pointe-Claire, takes the metro to Concordia every day. Since the West Island does not have any metro stations, Litwin gets dropped off at Fairview, rides the bus to Côte-Vertu, and then catches the metro from there. She said the commute takes over an hour and often experiences delays. 

“If there’s a delay in the bus or metro, I’m usually late for class,” Litwin said. “I’m looking forward to the REM because it will have a station nearby and a simpler transit route.”

When the REM opens, Litwin will get dropped off at Fairview. She will ride the REM from Fairview to Gare Centrale. From there she will take the connected metro Bonaventure for a short ride to Guy-Concordia. The commute will take approximately 30 minutes.

The REM network system is expected to save many headaches as the car drives from suburban to downtown areas during the morning and afternoon rush often takes over an hour.


‘My whole motive is to just give back’: Design student fights for a user-friendly Montreal

From changing public transport signage to blocking off Mackay street to cars, Concordia student Dashiell Friesen wants to bring change to Montreal’s streets.

In the early hours of Sept. 29, Mackay Street, located on Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus, was blocked off by students demanding the road’s pedestrianisation. 

Running up and down the street throughout the protest was Dashiell Friesen, one of Pedestrianise Mackay’s coordinators. Directing traffic away from the street and helping his peers paint a mural, Friesen found himself in an uncertain, yet exciting new situation.

“I’ve never done a project like this to this size,” Friesen said in reference to the mural. “It’s been an experience seeing it being created, [Mackay] being blocked off… […] It’s changed my perspective on protests.” 

Friesen is a fourth-year student in design at Concordia and a long-time advocate for increased public infrastructure. 

Growing up in the heart of New York, he said he experienced the utility of public transportation. Its proximity and ease of access was a gateway into independence in his teenage years. Friesen’s fascination for public transportation grew over the years, eventually leading him to apply his passions into real-life action such as the Mackay Street blockage.

Friesen has been coordinating efforts to pedestrianise Mackay Street since the past summer. First, his plans focused on transforming Bishop Street, as it already gives priority to pedestrians. However, he soon set his sights on Mackay Street, as he thought it served as a better equivalent to McGill University’s pedestrianised McTavish Street.

“There’s such a limited amount of space available, without tearing all the buildings down,” Friesen explained. “I think that’s what I appreciate the most with Montreal, it’s that there’s just more public space to just hang out.”

Friesen said he envisioned a pedestrianised Mackay having walking space above all, as well as seating areas and a garden.

The Mackay Street protest was not achieved solely through Friesen’s efforts. Alongside him was Lily Charette, mobilisation coordinator for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA). Advocating for various causes during her time at Concordia, Charette is no stranger to researching and bringing a protest to fruition. 

“Dashiell was someone I would always talk to about [Mackay],” Charette said. “There was never really a big push for it, it was always pushed to the side in the past. He was really passionate about the project.”

The pair worked together to bring this project in the limelight. Where Charette hosted meetings and came up with a plan of action, Friesen would plan out mock-up models and write proposals to involved authorities such as Concordia’s administration or to the city. 

Last summer, Friesen installed signage stickers for Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) access at Bonaventure and Gare Centrale stations, days prior the Autorité Régionale de Transport Métropolitain (ARTM). 

While passing through stations, he noticed there were no clear directions guiding travellers to the new REM trains. Friesen utilised his background in design in order to print his own signs based on the city’s previous designs for other modes of transport.

After initially reaching out to the ARTM about changing the signage, Friesen’s efforts came to light thanks to news outlets. This, alongside his own efforts to contact the ARTM, prompted them to install clearer signage for the REM. 

“I don’t typically love participating in protests, I’m fine just seeing them. But I wanted to still be involved in advocating for something in the city,” Friesen explained. “In a way, protesting was me installing my own signs, or you know, getting a huge group of people to block a street.”

Emboldened by the change he’d been part of with the REM signage, Friesen decided to tackle pedestrianising Mackay Street. “My whole motive is to just give back in general,” Friesen said.

In the weeks since the street blockage, the painted mural has remained on Mackay Street. Friesen said he has received good news regarding the city’s plans for Mackay Street. However, he said his cohort’s job is far from over, as they’ll have to keep raising awareness in order to fuel the conversation they’ve started in Concordia’s halls.

Mackay Street and the Hall Building.

Photo by Lily Cowper / The Concordian


Uncertainty as the imminent shutdown of the Deux-Montagnes train line looms

A state-of-the-art light-rail system will replace the train line

In April of 2016, Quebec’s pension fund manager, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), announced its plans to build a state-of-the-art light-rail system — linking Deux-Montagnes, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Montréal-Trudeau Airport, downtown Montreal, and the South Shore.

This plan involved slowly but surely shutting down Exo 6, a train line running from Gare Centrale in downtown Montreal to Deux-Montagnes on the North Shore, which carries nearly 31,000 passengers per day.

Construction began in 2018 with service being stopped on Friday evenings and only resuming on Monday mornings. According to a report by the Montreal Gazette, this shutdown of weekend services affected nearly 3,000 riders.

In order to completely rework the line, plans were drawn to shut down all train services between Gare Centrale and Deux-Montagnes in mid-2021, for approximately two years.

Fast-forward to September of 2020 and the plans to shut down the line have been moved up by six months to Dec. 31 after ridership has drastically dropped due to the pandemic. This comes after services were already halted between Gare Centrale and Gare Bois-Franc back in May.

Alternative modes of transport have been funded, most notably the shuttle buses taking passengers from the Deux-Montagnes station to Côte-Vertu metro and from Terminus Saint-Eustache directly to Montreal’s downtown area, as well as reserved bus lanes. However, not all commuters are sure this will be enough.

“I’m more frustrated than anything,” said Reyanne Desir, a Concordia student. “I don’t have my driver’s license. Therefore, the only way I can travel is by train or bus. The bus can be unreliable. The train is the best option that I don’t have access to right now.”

With tens of thousands of commuters now having to choose between taking a bus with reduced capacity because of the pandemic, or driving on already-congested roads, Desir is not alone in doubting the alternative’s efficiency.

“I would probably take my car because going with the bus and metro would take me a good hour-and-a-half, maybe two. I would be heavily affected, because by train, I was there in one-hour max. It would be kind of a big deal for me,” said Concordia student Simon Riopel.

Of course, with the uncertainty of the pandemic, which has only worsened in recent weeks, safety is also of great concern for commuters that may now have to take the bus or metro.

“With the pandemic, it’s just constant uncertainty and I don’t know if I should get my own apartment in Montreal or just wait,” added Desir.

The Concordian reached out to the Deux-Montagnes User’s Committee, a group dedicated towards demanding suitable mitigation measures from the REM, for comments on the matter. One spokesperson stated that the “CDPQ is lucky to have the COVID [because] without the lockdown, the service would be a disaster.”

The Réseau express métropolitain has not responded to a request for comment.

The Mount-Royal tunnel portion of the line is expected to be finished in late 2023 and the entire network by late 2024.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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