The public transit overhaul that Montreal desperately needs

This is coming from someone who lived in the… let me check again… seventh largest metropolis of South Korea (Ulsan, if you’re curious). Montreal, seeing as it is the second largest metropolis of Canada, ought to be able to boast about technology plenty more than Ulsan, right?


South Korea, being uber populated as it is, counts one of the most developed public transit systems I’ve ever experienced. And I’m not saying this lightly. Sure, Ulsan lags a little behind Busan and Seoul seeing as Ulsan City Hall refuses to build infrastructures for a metro due to the soil being supposedly too soft – some rumours say that it’s the bad boy Hyundai Corporation that has City Hall in its pocket, seeing as it has monopoly over the bus system. But all in all, even though Hyundai has monopoly, they at least understand how a monopoly works: there’s a ton of local bus lines. During my second year there, there were no less than ten bus lines that ran in front of my studio apartment. There’s even smaller neighbourhood buses that do little loop-de-loops and are cheaper for the folks that can’t afford the ~110W (roughly about a dollar) fee for the city buses or just need a little ride to the grocery store five blocks away. On top of that, there’s inter-city buses for people that don’t want to pay for train travel. I know several people that cross-countried from Ulsan in the south-east all the way to Seoul in the north-west for cheaper travel. Some of them did it as part of travel packages. And, last but not least, there’s the bullet train. Now, not everything is owned by Hyundai. Just the city buses in Ulsan, because Ulsan is the birthplace of Hyundai (I lived next to the Hyundai HHI shipyard my second year).

While talking about how good of a service they offer, all buses offer wifi. Yes, you read right. All trains do, too. All buses are equipped with state-of-the-art GPS systems that at once tell commuters what the next stop is through previously-recorded voice intercom (kind of like the disembodied and oftentimes undecipherable voice of the lady in Montreal’s metro) and also indicates to people waiting at all bus stops where the bus is. On cold days it’s pretty nice to know where your bus is so you can plan to either freeze your butt off or grab a hot drink at the corner café (they’re everywhere!). They have apps that help you locate your bus, too. Pretty handy if the screen at your bus stop went boom for some reason. I used that app a lot while commuting. Yes, you do have to be able to read Korean, as this picture illustrates, but I was pretty proficient. Speaking is another story, but reading is easy as pie. Learn how to read Hangul in 15 minutes with this comic. No kidding, it really is that easy.

Korean bus signs

South Korea also uses a pay-per-use card for public transit called T-Money. It is refillable at any corner store (I myself used a phone charm that worked exactly the same). So, you know, you’re not paying for nothing like we do here with our monthly passes (I don’t use the bus or metro during the weekend). Bus fares are also considerably cheaper. I’m offended at how expensive bus fares are here. Last I checked, $3.25 for regular fare. Take notes, STM: if you want people to come, you need to give them prices they won’t balk at. It’s crazy! Every year they keep reporting that more and more people opt for public transit, and yet the prices keep rising, too. Makes no sense.

Montreal, you are not an intelligent city. When you can help people travel like in South Korea, which is undeniably not the most easy country to travel to due to language barriers (however, just learning to read Hangul makes it easy as pie to travel in Korea, but that’s just me), then you may begin boasting.