Montreal·CBC Explains

How seemingly small acts can cause long delays in Montreal's Metro system

Many of the delays were caused by clients dropping items or holding doors open, but others are more memorable — such as when three Metro lines were shut down for 44 minutes during rush hour after pepper spray was discharged on a train.

Clients are the number-one cause of delays on the Metro, according to STM data

There have been 997 passenger-caused delays in the first five months of the year. Of them, 425 were classified as voluntary. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

When the Metro stalls or stops, one of your fellow travellers is likely to blame. 

The Société de transport de Montréal has released detailed information about Metro service disruptions in the first five months of 2019. And according to the data, the most common cause of delays is its clientele.

From January to May 2019, passengers were the source of just under half of the incidents that caused a delay.

Many of the delays were caused by clients dropping items on the tracks or holding doors open. Others were more memorable, such as when three Metro lines were shut down for 44 minutes during rush hour on Jan. 9 after pepper spray was discharged on a train.

"We know that the service shutdowns can be avoided if clients adopt the right habits," said STM spokesperson Philippe Déry.

These habits include holding onto your personal belongings, staying away from the edge of the platform and not blocking train doors.

The STM determined that more than 40 per cent of the delays caused by clients were not accidental.

There have been 997 passenger-caused delays since the start of the year. Of them, 425 were classified as voluntary, ranging from pulling the brake to jumping on the tracks to the January pepper-spray incident.  

A further 350 incidents were classified as involuntary and 222 as caused by illness or injury.

"Of course we know that nobody wants to get sick on the metro," said Déry. "But if you are feeling sick and you are already on the platform, please do not get on the train."

The STM made information about the Metro incidents public as part of its goal of publishing all its data by 2021.


Delays create ripple effect, especially during rush hour

Since there is no separate service track on Montreal's Metro system, when one train doesn't leave a station on time it can back up the entire line. 

"It's kind of like there is an invisible rope between the trains, and the rope must always stay the same length between trains," Déry said.

The STM says 97 per cent of Metro trains arrive on time. Delays of five minutes or more are used in this calculation.

The number of delays shorter than five minutes were not previously made public by the STM, but it is included in the latest data release.

The new data shows that nearly 80 per cent of Metro delays last less than five minutes: 1,660 of the 2,101 recorded in the first five months of this year. But even those brief delays can cause a ripple effect, especially during rush hour.

"If an incident occurs during rush hour, even if it's just a 30-second or one-minute delay … it will not be resolved in an instant," Déry said.

"It can take 15 or 20 minutes until the trains resume their regular intervals."

During rush-hour service, which runs from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, trains are scheduled to come every two to four minutes on the Orange line, and every three to four minutes on the Green line.

The STM uses signs to inform riders how their behaviour can affect Metro service. Some infractions come with hefty fines; holding a train door open can come with a ticket of up to $500.

Déry said that if a door breaks because someone is holding it open, the whole line can shut down.

If you drop something or are feeling ill while on a platform, look for one of the blue phones to speak with someone from the Metro's control centre, he said. They will send someone to help.

The STM is also studying whether installing doors on some platforms on the Orange Line would prevent people from dropping personal items or going down onto the track.

Such safety barriers, which would only open when a train is at the station, are to be installed on the planned extension of the Blue Line, Déry said.

Azur trains cause fewer delays

The second highest cause of delays was problems with the STM's rolling stock, that is, mechanical issues with the trains currently in operation.

These delays will likely decrease as more of the new Azur train cars come into operation.

Even though most of the train cars now in operation are the Azur model, they were responsible for far fewer delays (125) than the older MR-73 trains (337).

However, the Azur trains haven't proven immune to major Metro stoppages. An Azur train's tires blew out on April 6, bringing trains on the Orange Line to a halt for more than four hours.

The STM is receiving an additional 17 new trains starting next spring. When they enter operation, Déry said, 90 per cent of rush-hour trains will be Azurs.  

He said the transit authority is also becoming more familiar with the particularities of the Azur models as more are put into service.

The station where most Metro slowdowns occur will not be a surprise to Metro riders: Berri-UQAM.

The busy station where the Orange, Green and Yellow lines converge was the location of about 10 per cent of all Metro incidents so far this year.

Berri-UQAM also leads in "station incidents," a problem at a Metro station that does not cause a train delay.

The leading cause of delays at that station, as at almost every other station, was clientele.


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