The discount program that knocks $1.50 off fares for commuters transferring from the GO or UPX to the TTC with a Presto card will end on March 31. The provincial government has ended funding for the program, which went over budget.
The program was started by the Liberal government in 2017. Its cancellation may hurt Weston more than most, because our best connection to downtown is on the UPX or GO trains.
The province paid $18.5 million a year to offset the cost of the discount for both transit agencies, but the current Progressive Conservatives say the funding was designed to be temporary. A three-year agreement on the subsidy is set to expire in March 2020.
Metrolinx considered raising fares on the UP Express because it is too successful as a commuter line, according to the Toronto Star.
If you’re new here, a brief recap: the UP Express was designed to be an executive-class ride from the airport to downtown. There were jazz bands, an in-ride magazine, cheese and wine pairings, and a fashion show. I’m not making this up.
It should have been a scandal up there with e-Health and the gas plant bribes.
Everyone said it would lose money, including the private partner and the Auditor General. It went on to lost not just money, but gob-smacking amounts of money—more than $50 per rider.
But, before the line completely bled out, the Liberals dropped fares, making it a swish ride downtown for the proles like you and me. We get first-class service on a cattle-class budget. Unfortunately, the first-class airport passengers get cattle-class service because we get our sweaty pits right in there.
The good news: the UP Express now loses about $6 per rider, instead of $52. That may be because they cut the in-ride magazine, but it’s more likely to be because there are more riders, so the same subsidy is spread out over more people.
Now, according to The Star, Metrolinx was considering raising fares to $20 chase that business-class traveller again (never mind the fact that she is taking an Uber to her hotel). The plan was not—ugh—”actioned” according to the spokesperson The Star spoke to.
A Toronto Star article published today sheds light on a leaked internal Metrolinx document from February of this year that proposes huge changes to the UP Express. The document proposes that when the Kitchener line is electrified in 2025, the airport train would become part of the GO system and use the same new rolling stock. The current UPX stop at Union Station will also be relocated because of increased numbers – at the cost of at least $77.4 million and some inconvenience to passengers – according to the planning document.
The plan leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Where will airport travellers store their luggage on commuter trains built to maximize numbers of people? What will happen to the separate UPX and GO platforms at Weston Station? What will become of the existing UPX trains which were designed to be converted to electrical power? Will the UPX airport platform need revamping to accommodate the new and larger trains? When will the changes take place?
It’s clear that the change won’t happen for at least five years. On the bright side; there’ll likely be two changes of the provincial government between now and then so anything can happen. My bet is that Doug Ford’s austerity regime will modify it severely or put it (and electrification) firmly on the back burner for a future government to tackle.
Update: According to CP24, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Akins has stated that the $77.4 million needed to enable relocation of the Union Station platform is no longer ‘necessary’. The money would have been spent on a pedestrian bridge initially proposed thanks to the platform’s southerly relocation.
The austerity prediction didn’t take long to be borne out. Read more here.
Update #2: The UPX platform specifically designed for UP Express trains will become redundant once the move is made to electrified GO trains. According to the Globe and Mail,
“…the Union Pearson Express will load in a different part of the station – leaving the soaring Zeidler-designed wood space where the train now stops to find a new use – and its unique rolling stock will be replaced gradually by regular GO trains.”
Presto – Because of the ‘exclusive’ deal signed with Galen Weston’s Loblaw Inc., Metrolinx will be firing the three dozen small retailers who currently sell TTC tokens and passes in our neighbourhood. Only the two Shoppers Drug Marts will sell TTC fares (Presto tickets and cards). It’s a huge reduction in accessibility for our part of the city. There’s lots else wrong with Presto, and TTC is not happy about it.
UP Express and GO fares – The previous government promised to lower GO fares to $3 within the city. The new government told Metrolinx to lower them to $3.70. Metrolinx left UP express fares at the old higher level, and removed the $1.60 discount for transferring to TTC, for those using UP from Weston (or Bloor). The province gave Metrolinx money to provide the discount for both UP and GO. I wondered if Metrolinx had returned any of the money, but the folks at the Ministry of Transportation could not answer that question. I’ve asked Metrolinx but I’m not holding my breath.
Tier 4 Trains – The Minister ordered GO to use Tier 4 diesel trains on our line (now called Kitchener line) once they had bought some. Tier 4 are about 8 times cleaner than the locomotives now in use. They now have 8 locomotives. But they initially advised they would not be using them on Kitchener. When challenged, they said they’d check again. Still waiting.
Noise Walls – The original Environmental Assessment demanded walls along the curve at the end of Holley where it meets Parke. None were installed. Metrolinx claimed it was too difficult given the size of retaining wall they built. But their own consultant on the EA warned them to make sure they built walls strong enough to hold the noise walls. If they didn’t that’s on them, and we deserve something. In addition, the EA demanded a wall between the tracks and Rosemount south of John. Nothing installed there. No excuse given. And they promised walls behind Brownville and Arthur streets. Still nothing, though they claim it is due to property negotiations with landowners on those streets.
Government Regulators – It took some doing but I found persons at both the Provincial and Federal Ministries of the Environment who could speak about the now ten year old Environmental Assessment. Provincially they didn’t think there was anything they could do to force Metrolinx to live up to the promises in the EA. Federally they were quite shocked, as Metrolinx had recently sworn out a ‘solemn declaration’ claiming they had lived up to all the EA commitments, in order to get the final payments from the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
In addition, the Province relieved Metrolinx of its responsibility to monitor air quality. Metrolinx claimed that the implementation of the UP Express had not seriously degraded air quality. Trouble is, it is GO Transit operations if not Tier 4 (see above) that will adversely affect our air quality.
The federal folks are questioning Metrolinx about the noise walls. We shall see what happens next.
The short story: everybody is on board for a more prosperous, better-connected Mount Dennis. Alex Bozikovic wrote in the Globe:
Spread new growth across the neighbourhood. Focus on jobs and mix up jobs with some housing. Bring lots of people to live near transit. It sounds simple, but would require some changes to the city’s usual planning approach.
Interestingly, many locals are on board with this agenda. Mike Mattos, who heads the Mount Dennis Community Association, says the group largely welcomes the ULI proposals and, in places, development. “We need more people in the area,” he told me. “We don’t think the retail strip is going to survive with the current population. And we need more of the right kinds of jobs.” With all that, and some inventive policy, this could become a more prosperous place without becoming any less interesting.
Here in Greater Weston™, a whole other set of politicians cater to our needs. Our MPP on this side of the river (Etobicoke Centre) is Kinga Surma . In her latest flyer, she announces, ‘The government is tunnelling the Eglinton Crosstown’.
“Since I have been the MPP for Etobicoke Centre, I made a commitment to all of you that I would fight to tunnel the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport. Since last June, I met with the Premier, the Minister of Transportation and Metrolinx to emphasize the importance of providing Etobicoke residents with fast, reliable public transit; one that did not add to the congestion on Eglinton. We worked together for months to plan and budget a regional transportation system; something the residents of Etobicoke, Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area have been waiting for.
We are tunnelling the Eglinton Crosstown and we are building subways!
I will always fight for the people of Etobicoke Centre.
I want to thank you for your support throughout this process.”
Although Premier Ford has made it clear that tunnelling the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown is his preferred option, I can’t recall a government announcement that such a decision has been made.
If this is a done deal, there’s going to be a whole lot of money and time needed – plus some razzle dazzle from the Premier himself. Oh and perhaps the slight formality of an updated environmental assessment, further community consultation and finding the ‘efficiencies’ that will finance this endeavour.
Lastly, if Doug Ford doesn’t win the next Ontario general election in 2022, will appeasing Tory voters along the Eglinton corridor be on the next government’s priority list? It’s doubtful, so let’s not get too excited.
Sadly, transit decisions in this city and province are still made through election campaign napkin planning.
The PCs want to take over responsibility for the unbuilt Eglinton West LRT, which would start in Mount Dennis and extend to the airport, and they tabled a bill this week that would make Metrolinx the only agency that could build it.
Metrolinx, of course, is the provincial agency that overbuilt and underconsulted on the UPX line in Weston and Mount Dennis. Whilt the bill didn’t say so, uploading responsibility to the province is probably the first step toward burying the Eglinton West LRT.
Last week, the city asked the province to explain some very basic things, like where the stations might be, how much it would cost, and why they think it’s a good idea. This week, however, Doug Ford said
What an insult you just gave to all the bright minds at Infrastructure Ontario—some of the smartest people in the world—saying ‘back-of-the-napkin.’ They came up with the plan.
Toronto city planners were given some of the 11-months of work that’s already done on the above-ground LRT—much of which would be wasted if Doug Ford’s plan to bury the line goes ahead.
Image from the city, via Urban Toronto.The proposed trains would run down a median along Eglinton, stopping at heated stations. Two lanes of automotive traffic would still be possible, due to the width of Eglinton in Etobicoke.