The UPX is losing about $11 per rider, according to Metrolinx. This is a great improvement, though obviously far from ideal.¹ The ill-designed train used to lose $52 per passenger.
An $11 subsidy is large compared to the TTC ($1) and GO ($1.50). In total, the province lost about $30 million running the UPX last year.
The numbers revealed by the Metrolinx board imply that the shrinking deficit is caused primarily by ridership growth, not cutting costs. Two million more people take the train now annually than at its launch.
In 2015–16, the train cost about $63 million to run. The sum of subsidies and fares this year equals $58 million—close enough when considering that Metrolinx has private sponsorships to bring revenues up.
There are, surely, ways to trim expenses on the service, which was bizarrely designed as (and still offers) a premium, business-class experience with in-ride wifi, a magazine (in the age of smartphones), and even a lounge with cheese pairings and live music. In case one needs to unwind after a 25-minute ride, I presume.
Metrolinx recently announced a 3% fare increase for GO and UP Express fares. Happily for Weston, fares for other than the full Union to Pearson trip will remain unchanged after the anticipated increase in September. Only fares higher than $5.65 will be increased.
If transit electrification were a train, you’d be better off taking the ankle express.
The province took some more small steps toward electrifying the UP Express and GO trains. It announced this week that it “will assess the environmental impacts of converting core segments of the GO rail network, including the UP Express, from diesel to electric.”
It also announced that hydrogen fuel cells, the fuel of the forever-future, will be considered.
In 2012, Laura Albanese said the UPX would be electrified by 2017. In 2013, Glen Murray, then Transportation Minister, said the same.
The remaking of the Ontario Municipal Board may have profound effects in Weston and Mount Dennis. Under proposed rules, community members will be unable to challenge high-density buildings built within 500 meters of a transit station—such as the Eglinton Crosstown stop in Mount Dennis and the GO Transit stop in Weston.
The 500 meter radius would encompass much of the village of Weston and some of the developed parts of Mount Dennis.
The CEO of the Ontario Homebuilders’ Association told the Globe and Mail,
“I would imagine that ratepayer groups would be up in arms,” Mr. Vaccaro said. “It is almost like trying to find a way to shield the municipalities … by saying to them: ‘If you make that tough decision, you don’t have to worry about the OMB appeal. We’re going to shield you from your angry residents.’”
Weston had the controversial Weston Common project approved despite considerable community opposition, including by us at WestonWeb. The 30-storey building was mandated by Toronto planners adhering to tall building guidelines meant for downtown.
Under the new guidelines, similar buildings could be put up without appeal to the OMB if they are first approved by City Council.
Update: Chris sent in a much better map based on the fact that the station is linear. 500m covers much more of Weston.
All forms of transportation are subsidized in Ontario, including our roads. Each TTC fare is subsidized by the city to the tune of around 89¢. GO Train passengers are also subsidized by about the same amount. In contrast, on the Sheppard Subway (Line 4) property tax payers fork over about $10 for each passenger’s ride. The one-stop Scarborough Subway with its $3.5 Billion capital cost will need big subsidies to support the paltry 2300 riders a day expected to use the boondoggle service (compared to over 7000 a day currently on UPX).
One can argue that the extra burden of maintenance, traffic control, police supervision, accidents, deaths, sprawl and pollution make roads a poor bargain.
Adam is correct that our accidental commuter train to the Airport or downtown is heavily subsidized. For the moment, Metrolinx is being coy about UP Express subsidies, probably because they are so high. Let’s remember that UPX was designed as a premier experience and not expected to break even for several years. The model was flawed, based more on wishful thinking than actual need. People stayed away in droves thanks to high fares. The (not so) mysterious absence of the executive types who could afford the service meant that trains ran empty all day long. Thanks to high staff levels, capital and running costs, estimates placed the subsidy at around $50 per trip. Now that fares have come down and ridership has tripled, the subsidy may have eased somewhat. The cost of running UPX was $63.2 million last year. Now that prices are affordable, the boutique service levels and running costs could probably be lowered. No doubt with increased ridership, subsidy levels could approach those of the TTC.
The bottom line is that the UPX isn’t going away anytime soon and it provides a huge benefit to our community. Lord knows City council seems to begrudge any money spent on Weston. It’s nice to enjoy this large, if accidental, benefit from the province. Long may it last.
Extra credit: read this 5 year-old article on the UPX from our archives for some interesting viewpoints and statements from that time.
I am going to take the opposite viewpoint to my esteemed colleague Adam on this topic. Here’s the ‘good cop’ version.
David Collenette was the man behind the UP Express, having first proposed it 20 years ago. His original vision was for a direct train that would offer a 22-minute ride from Pearson to Union that would cost $20. Without going into the details of what happened between concept and reality (read our back issues), the end result was that Weston in effect ended up with an all-day commuter rail service into Toronto for about the same price as a GO Train ticket.
Collenette has re-emerged as a ‘Special Advisor’ in a report outlining a vision of a high speed rail line joining Toronto and Windsor.
Lord knows how hard it is to get anything built in this neck of the woods. Collenette’s vision of the Air Rail Link (as it was then known), ended up as a huge gift for Weston’s commuters. Now on the wildly popular UP Express (since lowing prices), in rush hours, it’s standing room only.
What about the Toronto to Windsor HSR Line? It’s certainly needed. In fact, decent rail links all over Canada are needed. Part-way to Windsor lies Canada’s Silicon Valley in the Kitchener / Waterloo area. It’s too close to fly there (only 100 km) yet GO Trains take at best 2 hours. An HSR train would use much of the same corridor and cut travel time between the two city centres dramatically. Stops at Malton (Pearson), Guelph, Kitchener and London are proposed for the first phase.
What’s in it for Weston?
In 2021, the UP Express will add one more station at Mount Dennis and connect to the new Crosstown Line. Will this new station make the UP Express unacceptably slow? There is a rumoured possibility that Weston’s station will be too close to Mount Dennis and may be closed as a result.
The report itself recommends that existing services be ‘optimized’:
The Province should align provincial mandates to optimize rail services by directing Metrolinx and MTO to collaborate on the development of an Integrated Rail Strategy for the Toronto-Kitchener corridor, which would
•Clarify the mandates of GO RER, UP Express and HSR on the corridor.
•Assess ridership and service frequencies.
•Recommend how the Province might optimize GO RER, UP Express and HSR ridership to maximize the benefit to Ontarians.
One way around the two station dilemma might be to convert the existing UP Express into a commuter line and open new stations along the way. This could be a way of easing the burden on the subway system while preserving Weston’s regular and rapid link to downtown.
What will the cost be? Anyone who has done home renovations will know that estimated costs before a project begins are likely to end up higher in reality. What studies do show is that public transit adds value to a community if done well. No doubt changes and variations are up for grabs as they were with the original idea for the Airport Rail Link.
What about a high speed train running through our community? The train won’t likely be that fast in the city. Currently the UP Express hits speeds of up to 130 km/h between Bloor and Weston for an average of around 77 km/h. The report projects a somewhat faster average speed (just under 100 km/h from Union to Malton).
The next steps will be more studies and consultations. This is just the beginning of what will be a long and ambitious project. While there may be pitfalls along the way, there will be opportunities and this proposed infrastructure holds huge promise and potential for Weston.
We do however need to be on top of this as a community and make sure that the people of Weston / Mount Dennis are heard loud and clear.
David Collenette, the ‘brains’ behind the under-used, over-priced, executive-class UP Express service, has announced another of his plans: a $19 billion, twice-hourly, high-speed train between Toronto and Windsor. The provincial government mademuch of it today.
Collenette has two proposals, the cheaper (and slower) of which would put a 250 km/h train on the corridor that runs through Weston. It would run from Union to Pearson, then on to Kitchener, Guelph, London and Windsor. Collenette says the train would be profitable and could be built speedily.
He’s said that before. He was so utterly wrong that he should never be allowed near a cocktail napkin again.
The UPX was supposed to be $200 million. It cost three times that.
It was supposed to be running by 2008. It took until 2015.
It was supposed to be profitable. It has never been profitable.
Moreover, there is already train service to every destination the government has in mind. GO Trains run to Kitchener and Guelph. VIA trains go to London and Windsor. The competition is brutal, too: flights to Windsor are about $150 and take an hour, and the Ontario government has also already announced all-day service to Kitchener and other improvements to regional rail service.
In the unlikely event that this high-speed line ever gets built, it will require undoing much of the work already done on the corridor: “a number of infrastructure upgrades”, in Collenette’s words.