Montreal has a clean, safe, and efficient transit system, which, along with your feet, is arguably the best and easiest way to explore the city. The island of Montreal is served by www.stm.info; the south and north shore suburbs are served by separate companies (with additional fares), such as  www.amt.qc.ca for commuter trains, or the Laval or Longueuil bus companies as well as the 5 commuter rail lines with 52 stations and by métro (subway), which as 4  lines and 68 stations.

The www.stm.info web site has a trip planner (or use Google Maps directions and choose Transit); as well, it offers various maps online, and each metro station has a system map posted on the métro platform and often elsewhere as well. Some bus stops have the system map, many have the bus schedule and route posted, and each bus stop has its own number -- call A-U-T-O-B-U-S (514-288-6287), listen to the instructions, type in the bus stop number, and you'll get the times for the next 3 busses.

For people with reduced mobility, only a few stations are accessible with no steps -- the 3 new stations in Laval, Berri-UQAM, Côte Vertu, Lionel-Groulx all have elevators to street level. More practical perhaps would be the many low-floor busses accessible by wheelchairs -- see the accessibility section; as well, there are specialized shuttles which visitors can use, although you must register beforehand and book 24h in advance so not really useful for sightseeing on the fly and there are conditions: see the paratransit section. You can also phone any taxi company and get a wheelchair-accessible taxi -- and again, it is best to reserve ahead.

The metro is also accessible to bicycles during non-peak hours, and even the commuter trains can carry bikes, although 3 stations are not accessible (Hudson, Île-Perrôt, and Candiac) -- see bikes and the AMT commuter trains.
 

Fares (see http://www.stm.info/en/info/fares)

Tickets can be bought at any metro station from the booth (cash only) or the machines (cash, credit, or debit card); some travellers report that their American credit cards are not accepted by the machines. Busses accept tickets and the Opus card or exact change in coins (no bills). Most residents buy an Opus card for $6 which comes empty but can be filled with electronic tickets at stations or convenience stores or pharmacies (see points of sale). You can buy either passes which offer unlimited use until they expire, or trip tickets which are good for one trip up to 2 hours including transfers. (Note that they do mean transfer, so once you leave the métro system, you cannot get back into it with the same trip ticket; similarly, you cannot take the same bus line without paying for another trip.) Keep your ticket with you -- it is your proof of purchase and your transfer, and there are inspectors travelling around with machines to check.

1 trip: $3
2 trips: $5.50
"Night out" pass: $5 (valid from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.; must be validated -- used the first time -- before midnight)
Weekend pass: $13 (valid from Friday 6 p.m. to Monday 5 a.m.) 
1-day (24h) pass: $10 (valid for 24 hours from time of purchase)
3-day pass: $18 (valid until midnight of the 3rd day from purchase)

Available only on Opus card:
10 trips: $25.50    
Weekly pass:  $24.50 (valid from Monday to Sunday, not 7 days from when you purchase it)
Monthly pass: $79.50

Children under 5 ride for free. The 747 Express airport bus costs $10 (coin only on the bus, and there is a machine at the airport that accepts cards and bills) and gives you a 24h pass; you can also use other passes (say, 3-day, weekend...) although you cannot buy them on the bus itself. The reduced fares offered to students and seniors are, alas, not available for tourists, only for residents. As well, 2- and 10-trip, weekly, and monthly passes will not work to enter the stations in Longueuil or Laval; only single trip, night out, 1- or 3-day or weekend passes or special multi-zone (TRAM) monthly passes will work. Note that the 10-ticket special is not available without an Opus Card, but that you can buy any number of trip tickets at 2 x $5.50, which would work out to $27.50 for 10, a slight savings.

Using your tickets/Opus Card

To use a single trip ticket in the metro: put it into the little slot on the side of the turnstile (arrows facing up, in first). It pops out of the top of the turnstile, the lights turn green, and you must remove the ticket in order for the turnstile to unlock. At your destination, no need to put your ticket through the turnstile to leave. On the bus, put the ticket in the slot at the top of the fare box (arrows down, facing you); it will pop back up and you take it with you. (If you are paying with change, put it in the slot marked with coins; when you have put in enough, the lights turn green and a ticket pops up. Take it.

To use the Opus Card or a pass/trip ticket: place it briefly on the top of the turnstile or fare box where there's a picture of the Opus card; the light will go green and the machine will tell you either how many trips you have left or that your transfer has been accepted (correspondance acceptée, meaning no trip was deducted); if you are using a pass, it will say that it's still good (titre accepté) or that it's expiring soon.


 

The metro

The metro is the backbone of the transit system, with 68 stations on four lines measuring 65.33 km of track. The first metro trains start at around 5:30 a.m., and the last leave from the ends of the line at around 12:30 a.m. or 1:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (individual station's opening and closing times are listed at www.stm.info).

Lines are indicated by colour, and directions are indicated using the name of the last stop on the line. So if you were at the Berri-UQAM station and you wanted to go to the Olympic Stadium at Pie-IX (pronounced pee-nuhf), you would take the green line, direction Honoré-Beaugrand. The next station name is announced in French as you leave a station, and again when you arrive in the station; as well, trains with electronic display system show the next station plus connecting metro lines, trains, or busses. If you miss your stop or realize you're heading in the wrong direction, don't panic, no need to pay again; simply get off, walk back up the stairs or the escalator and without exiting through the turnstiles, walk down the other side, and head in the proper direction. (Because if its design, the Longueuil station is the only one that does not provide this ability, and if you end up there by mistake -- hard to do -- you'll just have to pay again.)

Montreal's metro is often compared to Stockholm's and Moscow's in terms of unique public spaces -- each station was designed by different architects in a different style, and most contain works of art. For more information, see this comprehensive fan site that even rates each station for architectural beauty.
 

Popular Destinations

The green line covers the downtown shopping area, three of the universities (McGill, Concordia, UQAM), Atwater Market, the gay Village, the Botanical Gardens, the Insectarium, the Olympic Stadium, and the Château Dufresne. 

The orange line covers Old Montreal, the Plateau Mont-Royal area, the St-Denis Street shopping district, the Bell Centre, Jean-Talon and Atwater markets, and connections to the AMT commuter trains.

The yellow line is the shortest, joining Berri-UQAM in the Latin Quarter to Longueuil station and allows you to reach Parc Jean-Drapeau and La Ronde Amusement Park on Ste-Hélène Island and the bus to the Casino.

The blue line serves mainly residential areas and the Université de Montréal

The Underground City is mainly in the downtown area where lines 1 and 2 are parallel; north-south connections are between Place-des Arts and Place d'Armes and between McGill and Bonaventure stations; east-west is between Peel and McGill (mainly shopping malls) and between Bonaventure and Place-d'Armes (more tunnels with art).

A few examples where the subway + bus combination is useful:

  • The top of the mountain: orange line to Mont-Royal station + bus #11 direction Ouest;
  • Schwartz' delicatessen: green line to St-Laurent station + bus #55 direction Nord;
  • St-Joseph's Oratory: orange or blue line to Snowdon + bus #51 direction Est.


Bixi Bikes

Not part of the public transportation network, but the Bixi bike sharing program lets you hop around Montréal's inner neighbourhoods easily, even if its fare structure is confusing. The idea is that it's meant for short trips within the city, not for a long all-day bike trip. You pay a set fee for access to the system ($7 for 24h, or $15 for 72 hours); after that, each trip under 30 minutes is free, but if you do not dock your bike within 30 minutes, you will be charged extra, and in increasing amounts for each half hour. If your destination is further than 30 minutes, you can dock your bike, wait 2 minutes, and then go again. If the station is full at your destination, you can use the keypad to get another 15 minutes to find another station with free docks. Your credit card can rent two bikes, and a hold of $250 is put on your card for each bike. You must insert your credit card each time to get a new code, but it is charged only the first time (or again at the end of the rental period for any trip that was over the 30-minute free limit).