Friday 28 December 2012

Montréal, Canada

As 2012 draws to its close, it’s time for me to feature one more Olympic city.

The 1976 Olympic Games were hosted in the city of Montréal.  Canada's second largest city with 1.6million inhabitants, Montréal is located in the province of Québec where French is the official language.  English is nevertheless widely-spoken.

Montréal had trams in the distant past.  The last trams were withdrawn in 1959, in favour of buses.  Montréal also had trolleybuses but these, too, had been withdrawn by 1966.  In the same year, however, the first sections of Montréal's Metro opened.

There have been plans to reintroduce trams to Montréal's streets but these are currently unfunded.  So, on the city's streets, you will find buses and more buses.

The transport network is provided by STM.  The bus fleet comprises low-floor single-deckers, although not all of them are wheelchair-accessible yet.  I noted that, as in San Francisco, the front display shows the route number and name (generally the principal road corridor served) rather than an end destination.

The current livery is white and grey with broad diagonal blue stripes and the large chevrons (the STM logo).  There were plenty of buses still carrying an earlier livery with a horizontal blue band (shown below) when I visited in September 2012.

The bus route numbering follows a system.  Routes numbered 10 to 299 are regular services.  These are supplemented by a network of express services, numbered in the 400s, which are supported by bus priority measures.

In most cases the Express routes operate only on Mondays to Fridays, and often only in the direction of peak traffic flow.

Routes numbered in the 700s are shuttle services generally serving tourist destinations and visitor venues.  Amongst these are route 715, which serves Montréal's old town (right), while the 747 (below) links the city centre with the airport.  The airport has no direct rail link to the city.

As well as standard single-deckers, Montréal's bus fleet includes a number of articulated vehicles.


The single fare on the STM network is a flat rate regardless of distance travelled.  At the time of my visit, this was $3 per trip.  Single fare tickets bought using smartcards allowed transfers for up to 2 hours between buses or between bus and metro (provided the journey is in one direction).  An out-and back trip isn't covered by a transfer fare, and tickets bought on the bus in cash don't permit transfers.  There is also an 24-hour ticket for unlimited travel, priced at $8 at the time I visited.
On the 747 airport shuttle bus, the $3 ticket isn't valid - the 747 only accepts or issues the $8 ticket.  When I arrived in Montreal it was evening so, having paid $8 to reach the city centre on the 747, my ticket then enabled me to use the STM network for most of the following day. 

Sightseeing tours of Montréal city are operated using two very different - and very interesting - types of vehicle.

Amphibious vehicles provide a tour which includes both streets and river.

Alternatively, visitors to Montréal can view the city from the upper-deck of a London bus.  A handful of Routemaster buses, retired from many years' service in London, have been shipped to Canada.  Their rear staircase and platform have been rebuilt for use in Canada as traffic drives on the right, and they have been converted to open-top.

Although similar to the vehicles used on normal bus services, the single-deck buses in Gray Line colours appear to be for Gray Line's customers, ferrying them to or from the main tours. 

It is possible to get around part of Montréal's city centre on foot without using the streets.  Montréal's "Réso" network is the world's largest network of underground walkways.  33 kilometres of corridors link shopping centres, commercial buildings, metro stations and the central railway station, protecting pedestrians when the weather outside is bad.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

What better, on Christmas Day, than a nice festive image of a London double-deck bus?

Rather than focussing on a single city, in this post I will merely compare public transport planned in a number of cities on Christmas Day.  Checking various websites (with help from Google Translate in some cases), I have been able to find out the following provision is planned:

Brussels, Belgium: Sunday service
Zagreb, Croatia: Sunday service
Copenhagen, Denmark: Sunday service
Bordeaux, France: Sunday service
Paris, France: Sunday service
Strasbourg, France: Sunday service
Berlin, Germany: Sunday service
Cologne (Köln), Germany: Sunday service
Frankfurt, Germany: Sunday service (with adjustments)
Amsterdam, Netherlands: Sunday service
Lisbon, Portugal: Reduced service (summer holiday service levels)
Barcelona, Spain: Sunday service
Stockholm, Sweden: Sunday service
Geneva, Switzerland: special holiday timetables
Zürich, Switzerland: Sunday service

Sydney, Australia: Sunday service
Montréal, Canada: Sunday service (with minor adjustments)
Vancouver, Canada: Sunday service (with minor adjustments - click for info)
Victoria BC, Canada: Sunday service
San Francisco, USA: Sunday service

Edinburgh, UK: Limited service on certain bus routes only, operated by First and Lothian

This information is, of course, posted in good faith.  I can't give an absolute guarantee it is accurate, but please leave a comment if you spot anything which is wrong.

Wishing all my readers a very happy Christmas.

Friday 21 December 2012

Tromsø, Norway

The city of Tromsø lies in the Land of the Midnight Sun.  It is the northernmost university city in the world.  At a latitude above 69 degrees north, this north Norwegian city is well within the Arctic Circle.  During the summer months, the sun doesn't set for around 2 months.  Conversely, on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the sun will not have been seen since late November.  It will be a couple of weeks into 2013 before Tromsø is next touched by direct sunlight.

Although Tromsø is the second largest settlement in the Arctic (the largest is Murmansk in Russia), it is a relatively small city with around 60,000 inhabitants.  Most of the city, including the centre, is on the island of Tromsøya.  Outlying parts of the city are on the mainland to the east, or on the island of Kvaløya to the west.  Road bridges connect these areas to Tromsøya.

The city's transport network is provided by buses.  Most of the buses are standard, two-axle single-deck vehicles with two sets of doors.


Where higher capacity is required, this is provided by longer three-axle vehicles.

Tickets can be bought on the bus or in advance from a number of outlets in the city.  A flat fare of 40 NOK applies within Tromsø if you pay the driver, or 30 NOK for tickets bought in advance, clearly encouraging passengers to buy from sales points away from the bus.  When I visited Tromsø in 2010, a single ticket allowed unlimited transfers for up to 75 minutes.  Full information about Tromsø's bus services is available in Norwegian only on the Tromskortet website.  The Visit Tromsø website includes a useful summary in English.
In addition to the bus services, Tromsø has a cable car.  This carries tourists to a viewpoint high above the city.

Although it usually operates all year round, the cable car is currently closed for maintenance, and not expected to reopen until May 2013.

Heading out of Tromsø, local buses also operate to nearby settlements on land, while ferries provide links to communities on the nearby islands.

Tromsø is not served by rail - the nearest station, Narvik, is a 4-hour journey by coach.  Coaches provide longer distance links over land across northern Norway, while the famous Hurtigruten coastal ferry calls at Tromsø on its spectacular, once-daily voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes, close to Norway's border with Russia.  The northbound voyage docks in Tromsø for 4 hours during the afternoon while the southbound vessel is in port around midnight.  The end-to-end journey from Bergen to Kirkenes takes 5½ days.

The image below shows the northbound voyage leaving Tromsø.  In the background is the Arctic Cathedral, one of Tromsø's most recognisable landmarks, built in 1965.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Barcelona, Spain

Updated 15 November 2014

The second largest city in Spain, Barcelona is one of the most visted cities in Europe attracting millions of tourists every year.

Barcelona itself is home to around 1.5million people, with about 5million in the greater metropolitan area.  It is another Olympic host city, having brought the games to Spain in 1992.  Transport in Barcelona is overseen by Autoritat del Transport Metropolità (ATM).

Barcelona's metro system first opened in the 1920s.  Recent years have seen considerable expansion of the system.

At street level, the network is operated mainly with buses.  The Metro system and most of the bus services are operated by Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB).

There are plenty of standard-sized single deckers in TMB's fleet.

All of those I saw had three sets of doors.


A number of core high frequency services are now identified by their direction of travel.  Route numbers beginning with an 'H' are 'horizontal' (if you look at a map).  Routes with a 'D' are 'diagonal', while those with a 'V' are 'vertical.

Some of the buses used on these core services carry a revised livery, which includes a representation of a street map.

Barcelona now claims to have the most environmentally-friendly bus fleet in Europe, with all TMB vehicles complying to at least Euro4 emissions standards.

As well as conventional diesel-powered buses, the TMB fleet also includes hybrid and gas-powered vehicles.  Gas-powered buses make up around 40% of the fleet.


A considerable number of articuated buses also ply the streets of Barcelona.


Bus route 165 is unusual, in that it operates as an express service.  It links Barcelona with El Prat de Llobregat.

The articulated vehicles are no longer the largest buses to be found in Barcelona.  In 2013, TMB introduced three bi-articulated hybrid buses to route H12, operating as a trial alongside articulated vehicles.  The bi-articulated vehicles only operate at certain times.  I only just managed to track one of them down.

At the opposite end of the scale, midibuses and minibuses can also be found in Barcelona.


The red livery of TMB is not the only one to be seen in Barcelona.  Buses on certain routes into the suburbs carry yellow or orange colours.


Coach services operted by Mon-Bus link Barcelona with nearby towns.

A dedicated coach service, Aerobús, runs frequently from Barcelona city centre to its airport.  Long, three-axle vehicles are used.

Route A1 runs to Terminal 1, route A2 to Terminal 2.  Special fares apply, TMB tickets are not valid on the Aerobús service. 


Although the dedicated Aerobús services are aimed at providing the link to the ariport, a normal TMB bus service also operates.  Bus route 46 runs to the airport from Plaça Espanya.

As in many cities, the only double-deck vehicles are found on sightseeing tours. 

Two operators provide tours - Barcelona Bus Turístic vehicles carry a red and white livery, while Barcelona City Tour vehicles are red.


Trams disappeared from Barcelona's streets in 1971 with the exception of one line, the Tramvia Blau.  This has been retained as a heritage line, providing a link between the suburban rail system and one of Barcelona's three funicular railways on the hills which overlook the city.  Special fares are charged on Tramvia Blau.

Two new tram systems opened in Barcelona in 2004.  Each comprises three lines, and both systems are operated by TRAM under a concession agreement.  The two systems are not physically connected although there are proposals to join them. 



In addition to the bus, tram and metro networks and its funiculars, Barcelona is also home to not just one but two cable car systems.

The Teleférico de Barcelona, dating from 1931, crosses the harbour.

Two cabins operate on a 1.3km route from Miramar, on the waterfront, to the side of Montjuïc which overlooks the city.

A separate cable car system operates on Montjuïc itself.  The Telefèric de Montjuïc opened in 1970, although the cabins now operating date from 2007.

Both cable car systems operate as tourist attractions.

One system which is not aimed at tourists is the cycle hire scheme, Viu BiCiNg.  An annual membership fee is payable to use the service, which is intended only for residents of Spain.

The reason why Viu BiCiNg is not aimed at tourists is because of opposition from commercial bicycle rental companies, which already catered for tourists before the public cycle hire scheme had been introduced.

With thanks to Richard Turner for providing a number of the images in this article.