UP Express: tipping point

With Premier Wynne putting the pain on Metrolinx, your correspondent feels like we have reached a tipping point. The UPX is bleeding money. It is far from reaching its ridership targets, and miles from paying for itself. Something must be done. But what?

RidershipScratch public transit as usually defined; the trains cannot be used elsewhere in the city, and will (for now at least) have only four stops. A train to the airport should be defended, too; it is a fine idea even in the Über age.

It also only makes sense to now maintain the premium service. With cash haemorrhaging, Ontarians need to get as many moneyed “elite business travellers” on board as we can. We need at the same time, though, to get the rabble on, and to get them paying the bills.

How can this be done?

Metrolinx knows the answer: price discrimination. Charge the rich more, the poor less, and fill those trains up!

There are many ways to do it. Trips to Pearson could cost much more than trips between Union, Bloor, Weston, and the projected Mount Dennis station. A trip from Weston to downtown should cost about $10; this is more than the GO ($6), but much less than $22 charged now. Going to Pearson? Tough noogies: $25.

Is this unfair? No more unfair that airport improvement fees, fuel surcharges, or the jerk who stuffs a suitcase into carry-on. Travel is full of indignities; one more won’t hurt much.

This might seem to discourage local travellers from taking the train to Pearson, but savvy ones could manage. Advance or Presto purchases could be discounted (more than they currently are, however), or tickets could be sold in a discounted bundle of 5. Locals would catch wind and plan trips out.

Would it bother the haughty to rub with the hoi polloi? Then don’t let them! Borrow an idea from the golden age of rail (but lose the stupid uniforms from the same era): travel classes. Put Pearson travellers in one train car (where all 14 of them¹ would fit with room to spare). Put local travellers in the other car. We won’t let them know that we’re having more fun in the back.

This plan could even save face for Metrolinx. They could maintain that they’ve met their objective: a pampering service for that elusive elite business traveller². Now, though, as a gesture of good will, they are opening access to all Torontonians. They could brand it as ‘ride sharing’, because, you know, the sharing economy thing is cool. Like MSN.

But instead of doing the smart thing, or the right thing, Metrolinx is the same, dumb thing: giving free rides for a little while, under the mistaken belief that if people just tried it, they would like the UP Express.
Metrolinx: people won’t. Nobody wants to spend their weekend riding your train just to see what it’s like. They want to spend it with their families or sweethearts. And dear, dear Metrolinx, a word? Use economics instead of branding. If your model was ever good,³ the market changed while you were building. Über increased the supply of transit; that lowered prices. Time marched on.

Time marched on, but the uniforms didn’t. I’m itchy just looking at the them. Were they made from Soviet blankets?

This could be a time for change: the UPX—which caused so much disruption, pollution, expense, and waste in Weston—could, at long last, be put to good use.
If only we could get Metrolinx to listen.

¹ Yes, that’s how many people take the train.
² The elite business traveller without an Über app on her smartphone.
³ It wasn’t.

Premier to Metrolinx: Open UPX to commuters.

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https://www.upexpress.com/SchedulesStations/WestonStation

After waiting quietly for months while Metrolinx timidly adjusted the metaphorical deck chairs, according to the Toronto Star, Premier Kathleen Wynne has put her foot down and put all options on the table for the much unused, unpopular and unaffordable UP Express. Metrolinx has dithered for months half-heartedly making minor promotions and adjustments to increase ridership, all the while plaintively bleating that surging numbers are just around the corner. Adam certainly put paid to those notions recently but they still didn’t get the hint. Now that the Ontario Government is scouring the bushes for fresh revenue streams, the Premier seems to be thinking that it just makes sense to have hundreds of passengers paying a low fare rather than a handful at the current obscene tariffs.

For years, WestonWeb readers and writers have warned that a high price would mean low ridership. As far back as 2012, the Auditor General warned that the airport trains would be a money pit.

Let’s hope that Bruce McCuaig and his management team can hold their noses and arrive at a decent price for the trains and enable Weston (which needs a whole lot of help) to take full advantage of this resource for all the people; not just the wealthy (who declined to use it anyway). This will be a true all-day service for commuters and might take pressure off the roads as well as the TTC and make Weston an even more desirable place to live.

Upcoming events

UrbanArts will be having its annual open house on February 12, between 4 and 7.5d512a45-43e1-4979-ae63-49f143691e17


 

The Learning Enrichment Foundation will be hosting a job fair on February 18 from 10–2. “Landscaping positions, Customer Service, RN’s, Drivers, Forklift Operators, PSW’s and Warehouse workers are only a few of the positions being hired for that day. Many others available.”

 


The  Frontlines Centre will be having its annual fundraising dinner. They hope you will “Come out and enjoy an evening of good food, better desserts and know that you are making a difference in the lives of children and youth in the Weston community.”

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UPX numbers are in: it’s bad. Again.

Here’s a fact: bad news is always released Friday at 4.

Dateline, Weston, Friday 4 pm: The UPX numbers are out. And they are bad.

If, like me, you are interested in sophistry, the report is worth reading. Metrolinx buries the lead behind delicate apology:

It takes time to build awareness and loyalty. Feedback from riders has been overwhelmingly positive, giving us confidence that the more people who try UP Express the more long-term customers we will gain.

While we acknowledge that ridership levels are below what was projected, we now know much more about consumer behaviour and the realities of the market than we did when those projections were made. We are adjusting to meet the challenges. Because of the positive feedback we have received from people who are using UP Express, we have every reason to believe ridership will grow over time.

That last part is a lie: there is no reason to believe that ridership will increase. Ridership in November and December tanked.

  • 2186 people rode the UPX daily in November
  • 2184 rode it daily in December–even though Pearson is much busier that month.

The report says, optimistically, that daily ridership is “approximately 2400”. I don’t know how they got that number.

Ridership has been declining since service began. When it started in July, about 3250 people rode the train daily. By September, 2500 people were riding it. Last month it had dropped by another 100.

Metrolinx had promised that ridership would be 5000 by the end of the first year of operation (to break even, it needs more). The last time I tried a calculation, I figured it was losing about $100,000 a day. That should surprise nobody: the Auditor General said the train would be a dud, and the private public partnership folded because there was no profit to be made.

Metrolinx to VIA: No dice.

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Oh the possibilities! VIA Rail’s route (in blue) from Union to London.

VIA Rail trains pass (without stopping) through Weston twice a day in each direction on their way from London to Toronto’s Union Station. Some passengers from London, Kitchener, Guelph, Stratford and other stations along the route are headed to Pearson and it seemed like a no-brainer for those passengers to simply exit at Weston and hop aboard the airport train thus saving themselves time and money. Another plus, Westonians would have another way to travel westwards along that route and even catch a ride to Union in the other direction twice daily.

Enter Metrolinx. Metrolinx has said no. Apparently the arrangement is too hard to accomplish because of tight scheduling, passengers would only have 60 seconds to get off the train. Compared to regular UPX stops of 30 seconds, this seems like quite a generous allocation; especially since few will likely be getting off.

Why the foot dragging from Metrolinx? Well for starters, that’s a precious revenue loss if passengers can get a cheaper fare to the airport from Weston. Second, it’s an inconvenience to have a tight schedule to worry about. Third, why bother; it’s only Weston.

Bottom line: Laura Albanese, Ahmed Hussen and Frances Nunziata should be screaming from the rooftops for Metrolinx to add this (however small) amenity to Weston. Larger scheduling problems have been solved in the past. According to an article in the Star, this decision is not carved in stone. Let’s hope that our representatives can bring some pressure to bear; soon.

St John’s Anglican Church for sale

St John’s Anglican Church on Weston Road has gone up for sale.

The church was built in 1856 and renovated in 1999. According to Realtor.ca, it is not designated as a heritage building”, which certainly sounds ominous. This, however, contradicts the city of Toronto’s database of heritage properties, in which it is listed.

The Anglican church is asking for $1,650,000, which will be used to build a new church at a different location for the newly-combined parish.

Thanks to A for the tip.

Gas plant details revealed

Laura Albanese has revealed a few more details about the gas plant likely to be built in the Kodak Lands. The natural gas plant will power the Eglinton LRT in emergencies, to heat the maintenance facility and to “reduce power consumption at high demand peak hours during the times of the year when Toronto Hydro is close to capacity.”¹

The power station will be 18 megawatts–“relatively small” according to Metrolinx. Your correspondent supposes that “relatively” is relative. An 18 MW station is enough to power about 14,000 homes—all of Mount Dennis, in other words. Still, it seems possible to make it quite small in size.

Great Mabruk power station

Great Mabruk power station, also 18MW

 

Recognizing the unpopularity of the power plant, Albanese says, 

I have been in contact and written to the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change asking that they look into this issue, including making sure that all safety and environmental concerns are addressed and ensuring that alternative energy options are exhausted before going ahead with this proposal.