GO expansion could lead to huge changes

In November, Metrolinx published its plans for improving rail service in the GTA. If they were to go ahead, they would revolutionize train travel in the GTA and greatly change commutes in Weston.

By 2031, if the plans are implemented (that’s a big ‘if’) GO service in Weston will be:

  • Electrified
  • Every 10 minutes
  • Faster, with a 13-minute trip between Weston and Union
  • Less expensive, because it will use electric trains much of the time
  • More accessible, with station improvements.

The plan would also improve Union Station, allowing the UP Express to run four-car trains, and GO to double train capacity.

The GO Expansion Business Case does not say what will happen to the UP Express in Weston. It seems likely, however, that it would be axed. The UPX will also be stopping in Mount Dennis and Bloor, slowing the train en route to the airport.

But improved GO service, would, in some ways, make the GO train even better than the UP Express. It would be as fast, but more frequent in the rush hour. The trains would be larger, and riders may have a better chance of getting a seat. The locomotives would also be electric, instead of diesel, allaying concerns about pollution and noise.

On the downside, it is not clear how long the trains would run every day. I love that the UPX runs late and early. Nor are GO trains as fancy as the UPX, and we’d have to bring your own in-ride magazines. (Has anybody seen an On The UP lately?)

Service would be improved between Union and Bramalea on the Kitchener Line

Metrolinx forecasts that GO ridership in Weston would nearly double, as it would system-wide. Perhaps optimistically, they also say that the increased ridership would pay for the system expansion. Your correspondent has his doubts.

These are the same people who built the UP Express, which was supposed to be a  premium-fare, deluxo trip to the airport for the world-weary traveller willing to pay $29 one-way. It got rolling at exactly the same time as Uber, and ridership was dismal until the province forced Metrolinx to slash fares and let the proles ride. The UPX still loses about $20 million (by my conservative calculation) every year—about $6 for every rider.

 

TTC-Presto ‘Consultation’ Meeting

About 150 people showed up at the TTC-Presto ‘consultation’ meeting last night.  It was labelled as consultation but it quickly became clear the decisions had been made and were mostly irreversible.  The meeting had been asked for by the Fair Fare Coalition and TTC Riders.  TTC and Presto refused to advertise the meeting on their social media.

TTC will be converting fully to Presto within the year, so that by Jan 1, 2020 tokens will be phased out completely, as will ticket booth operators in subway stations.  Presto has signed an exclusive deal with Loblaw to make Shopper’s Drug Mart the only retailer of Presto media.  In York South – Weston there are 37 retailers today.  That will drop to 2.  Although TTC Riders has asked to see the contract with Loblaw, it is currently secret.

There are 135 Shopper’s in Toronto.  There are currently 1100 retailers.  TTC has stated there needs to be at least 421 outlets to maintain accessibility.  Neither TTC nor Presto could answer how or if that will be done.  They are looking at libraries and community centres, as Loblaws apparently will permit that.

Without a loaded $6 Presto Card, seniors and students will only be able to get their discount by using cash on a bus or streetcar.  With no ticket booth operators in subways, TTC has no idea how persons will transfer from a bus or streetcar to the subway, if they paid in cash.

Buying and maintaining a full presto card is a hardship for many.  It costs $6, and the minimum load is $10 in cash or $20 on a credit card auto-load.  Ironically, the TTC handed out presto cards to everyone who came to the meeting, loaded with $6!  So the minimum load is not carved in stone.  Vancouver’s minimum load is $5.  Many thought it should be a ttc fare.

There will be paper presto tickets for sale (at Shoppers and TTC stations) but they will be full-fare only ($3.25).   Currently tokens cost $3, and senior/student tickets cost $2.05 so this is a hidden fare increase. The only discount available will be to social service agencies or schools etc. who can afford to buy 400 at a time, which will be the minimum bulk order.

There are plans for a two-ride ticket, a day-pass ticket, and a weekly-pass ticket. No family pass, and no convention pass.

Presto and TTC admitted the paper tickets are not recyclable, so considerable waste will be created by the new system.  They had no suggestions as to how to avoid this.   They also admitted the tickets have no braille, so the blind have to tap the ticket on a machine in the subway or Shoppers to know if it is still valid, as they all will have a printed expiry date on them.  Tickets purchased one at a time will expire in 90 days.  Tickets purchased in bulk will expire in one year.  There will be a recommendation to the TTC board that there be a way to issue refunds for expired tickets, but that is not currently assured.

Presto advised they are working on an app for Android phones with the correct hardware to allow users to use their phones to reload their presto cards.   There are no plans to allow credit cards or Apple Pay or Android Pay systems on Presto readers.  Presto is removing credit card readers currently installed in streetcars.  Vancouver’s system, which is almost identical to Toronto’s but cost 85% less to design and build, does allow credit cards. Vancouver also has wristbands with the card built in.  No fumbling with wallets and purses.

As expected, a big part of the meeting focused on how the poor, those on Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program, seniors and students will manage without tokens.  There were demands for meetings in areas of Toronto with high concentrations of such persons, as the downtown locale limited participation.  TTC and Presto appeared to agree to have more ‘consultations’.  But it remains to be seen whether any advice from the public will change anything.

 

Just another reason for optimism

Marion from the BIA sent along a bit of news I hadn’t heard: the Greater Toronto Airports Authority is working on a plan to make the Pearson airport area “Union Station West”—a second major hub for jobs and transit.

According to the GTAA, the airport alone employs 49,000 people, and the number is growing very fast. A further 250,000 people work in the area, making it the second-largest employment zone in Canada.¹ Yet almost 95% of the workers get there by car—and it’s a death zone for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

The GTAA is looking to fix that by building Toronto’s second major transit hub, just outside Terminals 1 and 3. This should improve commutes, draw employers, and smooth transit through the region.

What business is this of WestonWeb? Have a look at the map.

One of the seven transit routes planned to link up at Union Station West² currently makes it there: the UPX. We have a monopoly on commuter rail. Better, though: Three of the seven planned lines will stop in Weston or Mount Dennis.

Sure, it’s a dream right now, but as Union Station West grows, Weston and Mount Dennis are perfectly placed to be bedroom communities. A quick hop on a comfy, uncongested train could take you to your job uptown.


¹ I have my doubts about that last bit.

² They’re going to need another name.

How much does the UPX cost us?

Neither the new Conservative government nor Metrolinx will say how much it costs to run the UPX, according to The Star.

Metrolinx has long dissembled about the chronically mismanaged line. Now

a spokesperson for the agency [told The Star] it couldn’t release figures showing how much it costs to operate the UP Express, or how much each ride is subsidized by taxpayers, because “Metrolinx considers all of its rail operations — GO and UP — to be part of one network.”

As if.

Since Metrolinx won’t do the math, I will.

The UP Express in Weston Station (file).

The line costs about $65 million a year to run. About 3.5 million people ride it annually, for an average cost per rider of about $18.50. The average fare is a bit of a mystery, but Metrolinx says that about 75% of the riders are going between the airport and downtown–with the remainder paying lower fares. I’ll assume, then, that the average fare per rider is about $9.25—the Presto fare (which is slightly lower than the infrequent traveller fare and higher than the commuter fare).

By happy coincidence, the per-rider subsidy is also about $9.25, for an annual total cost of $32.5 million.

Mount Dennis Station latest videos

Metrolinx has released two videos, one with some lovely drone footage of the old Kodak building which is being incorporated into the new Mount Dennis Station. The second video is a walk through of the actual station.

Eglinton Crosstown latest video

Here’s the latest video from Metrolinx about the new Yonge and Eglinton platforms being built under the existing Line 1 (Yonge University Line). The line is expected to be operational in 2021 and will run underground from Mount Dennis (incorporating the renovated Kodak building) to Laird.

Riding the 89 – The Old Man in the Trench Coat

Anyone who has lived in Weston has (at least once) had to ride the 89 Weston bus.

The ride is often not a very pleasant one.  Hot and smelly in the summer, crowded in the winter, each passenger jostling for a small piece of personal space.

There are so many stories that can be written about the things that happen on this bus, but today, I am going to tell you a story about the old man in the trench coat.

It was a cold, blustery winter day when I was standing on the bus platform at Keele Station waiting for the 89 Weston bus. The platform, as is typically the case during rush hour was packed. We were all standing so close to one another that you could almost feel the other person breathing, all of us, that is, except for one.

At the corner of the platform stood an old man in a brown trench coat. His back was hunched and his face hidden as he tried to shield himself from the snow that danced around us. When the bus finally arrived he got on and sat down on a seat close to the window, one of those single seats.

The bus began to move and I drifted between thoughts of what I was going to have for dinner and for lunch the next day at work. I was half gazing out the window and listening to my music when the old man once again caught my eye. This time he pulled something out of his coat.  The young women who stood close to him looked shocked and horrified. I noticed them quickly move away from him, trying to find a spot, any spot in the crowd that was away from him.

After they had moved, I was able to see what the old man in the brown trench coat had pulled out; he had pulled out a rat.

The rat was big and brown. Its long thick beige tail hung like a rope.

The old man in the brown trench coat was talking to it and hugging it. It was clearly his companion.  No one dared say a word, they simply looked on in disbelief.

Once my own feelings of shock subsided, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of empathy wash over me. It is so hard in this lifetime to find someone we can love, someone we can trust and if this rat provided that comfort in this mans life, who was I to judge.

It also reminded me once more, that you never know that you will see when you take a ride on the 89 Weston bus. I would love to hear about your adventures on this bus. Please share your experiences in the comments below.