Further facts of fare slashing

Twitterers and the community had a few thoughts on the changes that might come to Weston as a result of the new, lowered UPX fares.

Paul Ferreira pointed out that there is little reason to keep the GO stop here if the UPX costs the same and runs much more frequently. Surely few people get off the train here in the morning. The UPX, which runs 19 hours a day could entirely replace it.

I worried that Metrolinx would pull a bait-and-switch and raise fares again. But Bruce McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx, took to Metro Morning today to talk about the fares and ridership.

Unsurprisingly, the service will not cover its costs—in fact, he said that making money will be “pushed out in the future. But there are no plans to get us hooked and raise the fare again if ridership increases; prices will be reviewed only once a year.

Finally, the new prices will take effect March 9.

Several questions remain:

  • How will the service be integrated into the TTC? It would be lovely if we could transfer at low cost to the subway.
  • When and how will it connect to the Eglinton LRT in Mount Dennis? It seems impossible that it wouldn’t.
  • Will more stops, in Mount Dennis and Liberty Village perhaps, be built?
  • I think it will be great for commuters out; could it draw commuters in? Will people from elsewhere come work in Weston? Perhaps the low commercial rents and densities could generate a renaissance.

 

The Best Best Fare Structure for the UPX

Finally the barrage of criticism surrounding the Union Pearson Express has had a positive effect. As noted here earlier in WestonWeb, the Premier has ordered a review of the cost of a ticket for the much abused train. Based on the overwhelming response when the fare is zero, we shouldn’t assume that commuters will be tempted by a cost that strays too far beyond GO Train fares. As many have pointed out, if the price is too low, the trains will be overcrowded. However, with limited stops, the demand for a free return trip to the airport shouldn’t be confused with the needs of the relatively rare number of commuters who live close to the four stations along the line.

In addition to this important factor, many of the pundits’ armchair calculations of the revised price are based on cost recovery. This is completely inappropriate. Transportation systems are expensive, never recover their costs and just like roads, must be heavily subsidized by the taxpayer. Cost recovery can therefore never be achieved and is a false flag to go chasing after.

When money is invested in transportation infrastructure, the price may be high but the benefits are many. People spend less time commuting and are likely to be healthier both mentally and physically. Pollution is reduced and health care costs are lowered. Can you put a price on a healthier and happier population? Apparently some people can.

For better or worse, the investment in UPX is gone and will never be seen again. Luckily, the money was converted into some mighty fine infrastructure which should be adapted to serve ordinary folks.

For now, what should the price be? Looking at the abominably unintuitive GO Train fare calculator, the cost of a trip from Union to Malton Station (the same approximate distance as Union to Terminal 1), the full fare cost is $7.70. Given that the UPX train’s schedule is more frequent, a 15% surcharge is probably appropriate. Likewise with fares from Weston and Bloor, the same principle should operate. The only proviso should be that as in the recent free weekend, airline passengers showing a valid ticket should have priority.

The

(GO Train track is in green and UP Express in grey). Malton to Union Station is about the same distance as Terminal 1 to Union.

With those provisos, here is your new unofficial fare structure, labelled using the SmartTrack logo since eventually this line should be incorporated into Mayor Tory’s scheme.

For some reason, GO does not give students a discount. For that reason I have followed their lead. Along the same line of thinking, UP Express gives families a discount. I have removed these as revised costs would not be as prohibitive.

One Stop Fares; old and new.
Old and new one-stop fares for UP Express with GO Train equivalent fares in between.
Two Stop Fares
Old and new two-stop fares for UP Express with GO Train equivalent fares in between.
The Full Distance
Old and new Airport to Union fares for UP Express with GO Train equivalent fares in between.

Transit Planning Meeting

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.44.34 PM

There’s a lot going on in Toronto transit-wise and especially in our neck of the woods. Six meetings are being held across the city to discuss transit – the closest will be at Richview Collegiate this Saturday.

Come and hear the latest transit ideas, updates on transit planning and construction going on throughout the city and contribute opinions on the direction the city, Metrolinx and the TTC should be taking. No doubt there will be considerable interest in the new UP Express fares as well as electrification of GO Trains.

  • Date: Saturday February 20
  • Place: Richview Collegiate, 1739 Islington Avenue
  • Time: 9:30 am to 11:30 am

Update:

Frances Nunziata says “My office has organized one to be held at the York Civic Centre on Feb. 29th at 7 pm.”

Petition started to thwart gas plant

Residents and Environmental Defence have started a petition to demand a green-energy solution to the power plant at the Kodak Lands.

Metrolinx would like to build a 18-megawatt natural-gas plant there to power the Eglinton LRT during power outages, and to provide electricity to the grid during peak pricing. Environmental Defence wants, instead, the “largest rooftop solar project in Canada”.

They would like you to “tell Metrolinx to go solar and ditch the gas plant”.

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 than 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.

SmartTrack plan announced

The SmartTrack plan has been radically revamped, much to Mount Dennis’ gain (and Weston’s loss).

As expected, the new SmartTrack likely will not head north, up the Kitchener tracks that go through Weston. Nor will the subway-style portion likely head west along Eglinton. Instead, the subway train will connect to the Eglinton LRT, which will be extended westward.

This new plan will save whopping amounts of money—billions and billions. It is also, for the first time, actually feasible.

The original ‘plan’ had called for a very long, very expensive, and not practical ‘heavy rail’ corridor from Union Station out to the Mississauga Airport Commercial Centre (the middle of nowhere, as far as I can tell). Clearly, neither Tory nor his team had ever been to Mount Dennis—the swoops are quite obviously problematic, as are the newly-built homes on Eglinton that would have had to be expropriated.

Two less problematic plans were launched in the wake of the election: one would have built a subway out Eglinton through Mount Dennis, but it would have required considerable engineering accomplishments, the destruction of many houses in the neighborhood, and damage to Eglinton Flats. The second plan would have run the subway up the corridor which runs through Weston. This too had problems, notably that there is no spare rail capacity on this line. John Tory entertained the prospect of taking the white-elephant UP Express off Metrolinx’ hands as a solution.

According to Steve Munro,

In excruciating detail, this week’s study establishes that although it is physically possible to build SmartTrack, the technical challenges will be considerable and the associated cost will be high

The administration has now moved on and adopted a sensible one: build on the existing Eglinton LRT plans put forward by Metrolinx.

1
The competing plans were summarized. The now-current LRT plan is in the left-most column. Rough approximations of Tory’s half-baked plan are “Corridor 1”. The through-Weston alternatives are given in “Corridor 2”.

Many problems remain. There is no spare capacity on the Georgetown/Kitchener line, as long as the UP Express and go trains running at their current frequency. The obvious solution—end the money-sucking UPX—is not mentioned in this report.

The impacts on Weston are also unknown. The report asks ominously “Will the [Mount Dennis station] be served by the UPX instead of or in addition to the GO Weston Station?”

It seems hard to believe that the UPX would not connect with the LRT and SmartTrack. It also seems absurd to have two UPX stations so close together. Your correspondent worrsies the Weston station of the UPX could be closed—and, worse, take the GO Train with it. After all, nobody has yet taken transit seriously in Weston.

Mount Dennis Station

 

 

New details about SmartTrack: big changes

The Globe says there will be big changes to transit in Mount Dennis because John Tory’s SmartTrack plan is bleeding out.

Tory seems to be giving up on his troubled original plan. The ill-conceived election proposal called for a hard—perhaps impossible—turn in Mount Dennis, so the tracks could follow Eglinton Avenue out to the airport corporate area. The track would have being built on columns across Eglinton Flats park, and at least 50 homes would have been demolished. It would also have been very expensive.

According to the Globe and Mail, the subway line will now end in Mount Dennis, where it will connect with the Eglinton LRT; the LRT will be extended out to the airport area, instead. There are few details at this point, but the map and the plan for two lines seem to indicate that the problematic part of the Mount Dennis section of rail will no longer be required.