On most routes, rush-hour buses leaving Lionel-Groulx and Côte-Vertu métro stations are packed, with many passengers standing.
But many of the new West Island express buses begin their long journeys carrying only a handful of riders.
Last week, The Gazette counted passengers boarding four express buses launched in April — the 405, 425, 475 and 485 — as they left their respective métro-station terminals.
Average number of riders per bus, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.: 14. Six buses left with fewer than nine passengers.
Montreal city buses have 30 seats and can accommodate up to 75 passengers.
Quebec is providing all the funding — more than $32 million — for the four weekday-only new West Island buses.
The aim is to lure drivers to public transit before the Turcot Interchange reconstruction begins so that the project does not worsen traffic between downtown and the West Island.
Quebec spent $23.1 million to purchase 32 new buses for the lines. It has earmarked another $5.8 million per year to operate the lines. And it’s footing the bill for a new $3.3-million boarding area at Lionel-Groulx for the buses.
The Société de transport de Montréal admits that West Island residents have not latched on to the four routes as quickly as they did to the 470 Pierrefonds express bus, which has seen service increase almost a dozen times since it was launched in 2005.
The four new lines were created to shuttle people between the West Island and the subway system in Montreal. That means most riders heading back to the West Island would be expected to board at métro stations.
The STM provided ridership figures for mid-September to mid-October.
They indicate the average number of riders per bus is: 41 on the 405; 36 on the 425; 48 on the 475; and 42 on the 485.
That includes all passengers on individual runs — those who board at métro-station terminals, as well as those getting on along the routes, using the express buses to get around the West Island.
Three of the new lines — the 405, 425 and 485 — have Lionel-Groulx as their métro terminal. The other route — the 475 — serves Côte-Vertu métro.
More passengers might use the routes if they could find the buses.
Seven months after being launched, the four routes are still not indicated on métro-station signs that give passengers the location of buses. Nor are any maps posted showing the individual routes of the new expresses.
At Côte-Vertu, the express bus is at an isolated corner not served by other routes.
At Lionel-Groulx, a boarding area for the new routes that was promised for this fall remains a construction zone. The STM says it expects passengers to start using it by year-end — but shelters may only be installed in 2013.
A new 300-spot parking lot set up for users of the 485 at the Dollard des Ormeaux Civic Centre sits mostly empty. The STM says about 125 cars use it on many weekdays. But often usage is about half that.
“The buses are making an impact — they’re drawing a ridership — but they can do far more,” Marvin Rotrand, vice-chair of the STM, said of the West Island buses.
Last week during rush hour, it was standing-room-only on Lionel-Groulx departures of the 211, a West Island bus. Meanwhile the 405, which takes a similar route and also leaves from Lionel-Groulx, was leaving with few riders on board.
“That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Rotrand said. “The 405 would get them where they’re going with fewer stops and quicker. We think it’s a marketing issue. We’re not sure everybody is aware of the express bus services.”
The STM does not plan to reduce the number of buses on the four routes. But Rotrand said it may adjust the departures and make minor adjustments to the route of one of them — the 425, which connects Lionel-Groulx métro and Kirkland.
Told about the lack of signage at Lionel-Groulx and Côte-Vertu métro stations, Rotrand said: “If that’s the case, the STM has got to market these routes better and it starts at the station.”
Express buses are aimed at commuters heading for downtown or to métro or train stations. They are faster than regular buses because they make far fewer stops.
Some passengers complain the new West Island express buses are anything but express on some days, taking up to an hour to get from Lionel-Groulx to the Dorval bus terminal, for example. That’s a 15-kilometre ride.
The STM says it does not plan to alter the West Island-bound routes so they take less busy roads — such Notre Dame St. along Highway 20, and Victoria St. in Lachine — when Highway 20 is clogged.
“Clearly congestion caused by construction is going to impact everybody, including the STM,” Rotrand said. “We have no control over that. We have bus lanes, but if the buses is deviated off the lane because of construction closing a major route, clearly that’s going to have an impact on the schedule.”
When possible, the STM planning department gives bus drivers alternate routes to avoid roadwork, he added.
Departures by the numbers:
Boarding was counted on the four new West Island express buses between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Three routes that leave Lionel-Groulx métro — 405, 425 and 485 — were counted on Monday Oct. 29. The one that leaves from Côte-Vertu — 475 — was counted on Friday, Nov. 2. Six departures were counted for each route.
405-Express Bord-du-Lac: average of 19 passengers per bus. Lowest: 5 passengers (5:01 p.m.). Highest: 30 passengers (5:21 p.m.)
425-Express Anse-à-l’Orme: average of 14 passengers per bus. Lowest: 3 passengers (5:01 p.m.). Highest: 21 (6:01 p.m.)
475-Express Dollard-des-Ormeaux: average of 12 passengers per bus. Lowest: 3 (5:15 p.m.). Highest: 18 (5 p.m.)
485-Express Antoine-Faucon: average of 13 passengers per bus. Lowest: 5 passengers (5 p.m.). Highest: 23 (5:40 p.m.).