The Future of UP Express

 

A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the adjacent GO train platform. (File)
A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the (foreground) GO train platform. (File)

Officials at Metrolinx are looking over their shoulders after the unprecedented intervention by the Premier in forcing a rapid and substantial revision of UPX fares. When the Premier has lost patience in your effectiveness, other questions from the top may follow, such as, ‘Where else are they screwing up?’, and, ‘How many people did it take to make that idiotic decision?’

It doesn’t take much digging to uncover their inadequacies. Whether it’s the inability to coordinate a VIA Rail stop in Weston or their continued insistence that UPX needs to recover its investment, management has shown that they have a tenuous hold on the idea of serving the people (watch the most recent Board Meeting to get the idea) while ignoring the realities of transportation in the GTHA. The lack of a unified fare structure between TTC, UPX and GO and the failure to connect the UPX Bloor Station to the Dundas West TTC Subway station also come to mind.

Even before the outrageous fares were set, the whole idea of a boutique rail line serving business professionals was simply a non-starter. Back in 2012, WestonWeb asked,

Can you imagine captains of industry schlepping their own bags along miles of platform at either end and onto a train?

Captains of industry want to be carried (preferably in a limo) from door to door and don’t care about the cost as long as they get a receipt.

WestonWeb was not alone in predicting a tough time for UPX. Mike Sullivan, the Clean Train Coalition and many others voiced their concerns but the experts knew better. One wonders about the high priced consultants (expert experts) that Metrolinx was tapping into. How did they all get it so wrong?

UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )
UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )

No doubt there needs to be a scapegoat and according to media reports it’s likely to be UPX President Kathy Haley who was given the impossible task of making an unviable service financially self-sustaining. Her cheerleading for the service rang more and more hollow in recent days as evidence mounted that while people would clamour for a free ride, they weren’t prepared to pay more than a TTC or at worst a GO fare. Metrolinx head, Bruce McCuaig and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca bear some of the responsibility for their stubborn expectation of the impossible.

What should be the future of UP Express?

The first should be a recognition that this is truly public transit and like all public transit should not be expected to recoup its cost. There are reports that the service will be pulled under the GO Train umbrella and that would seems likely given the recent fare alignment with GO. Regardless of the overhead, in this day of electronic fares, there are attendants galore and a ticket inspector on every train. Some re-deployment of staff to other GO positions would no doubt cut down on costs.

Will the lower price increase ridership? Probably, but the trains will not be full even at the new fare structure. Many people have suggested that the train be made part of the ever changing SmartTrack plan with additional stations along the way. An obvious site is Mount Dennis where a Crosstown Line station will be located. One problem needing a solution is the high platform of the UPX (see photo above). Regardless, many communities along the line would also welcome a quick commute to Union Station. That is likely the future for UPX but for now, Weston residents can bask in a fast (14 minute) service to and from Union every 15 minutes.

Premier to Metrolinx: Open UPX to commuters.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 3.48.39 PM
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.

UP Express opens June 6.

With great fanfare, Premier Wynne today rode the UP Express from Union Station through to Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport. The Premier, pronouncing the much discussed train as the ‘up express’ (rather than U.P.), stated that this is the beginning of a new era in infrastructure investments. She also suggested that public transport becomes widely used if it is a more convenient way to move from one place to another than driving. No doubt many people will sample the new service for the first time out of curiosity but whether the train is viable in the long term is a highly contentious point. Time will tell if our new transit link will be more convenient for Torontonians, airport workers and tourists (and therefore successful) or if it will end up as a commuter rail line with additional stops along the way.

The Premier also referred to the doubling of GO train service by 2020 which is part of a $16 Billion Liberal infrastructure spend designed to get people out of their cars and onto public transit. Metrolinx President, Bruce McCuaig claimed that in its first year, the UP Express will result in 1.6 million fewer car trips. Former federal Transport Minister David Collenette who got the ball rolling back in 2000 tagged along for the ride. Sadly, there was no invite for WestonWeb to sample the new line.

In its early inception, the train was called Blue 22 and tragically, with the addition of a stop in Weston and three minutes of extra travelling time, nobody in the government could come up with a brief rhyming couplet that ended in twenty-five; hence UP Express. As readers are aware, the stop in Weston was a testament to the political clout of residents who forced the government to offset the negative repercussions of about 150 extra trains through Weston every day. Hence we ended up with a stop along the route, new respect from politicians and a beginning to the end of the decline of Weston.

Arrive in 25.
Don’t Drive – Arrive in 25™

Let’s hope that the same fighting spirit hasn’t left the station as there are fresh battles coming (more on that later).

For extra credit, here is an article that extolls the merits of vastly expanding our current (slow and very tentative) link to Kitchener (Incidentally, there is considerable interest among Kitchener residents, some of whom would like to change at Weston onto the UP Express).

City Council votes for low fares

Bruce McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx, wrote on Wednesday that we should expect unaffordable fares for the UP Express.

The UP Express was modelled after London’s Heathrow Express, Tokyo’s Narita Express and the Arlanda Express in Stockholm — all dedicated air links and offered at prices ranging from $26-$41 (all figures Canadian).

 

McCuaig is cherry-picking expensive (and far-flung) airport links for comparison. (Also, Narita’s airport link is actually $15 leaving the airport and an hour-long trip, far longer than the UP Express trip.)

By way of comparison:

  • Vancouver’s line is $9.
  • New York’s is $8.
  • Sydney’s, $8.
  • Calgary’s, $8.50.
  • Paris, $14.
  • Berlin is $5.

You get the idea. High fares (and, to be fair, super-deluxe service) are the exceptions, not the norm.

Yesterday, Toronto City Council voted symbolically in favour of motions by Frances Nunziata and Josh Mattlow for affordable fares.

Rob Ford, Shelley Carroll, Josh Colle, Mike Del Grande, John Parker, Gord Perks, and David Shiner voted against the motion.

McCuaig said it wasn’t going to happen:

UP Express is a dedicated airport express train, and not a commuter service…. [His emphasis] [u]nlike mass transit services that happen to include an airport stop.

 

More promises about electification

The UP Express will be the first part of the transit system to be electrified, Bruce McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx, said again last week in a meeting with reporters. Electrification could begin as early as next year.

The Premier and the Minister of Transportation also said that they would be investing hugely into all areas of transit, promising 15-minute service and electrification of all GO trains over the next 10 years. If they are re-elected.

They did not say, however, how much all this will cost or where the money will come from. And the Liberals have for months been filibustering a cross-party committee attempt to reveal how much money the UP Express will lose. I’ve learned from my wife that when someone won’t even lie to you about how much something costs, it cost a lot more than you’d like to hear.

YHC is not a betting man, but I’d lay money on this: after the apologia of the PanAm games has passed, the Liberals (if they remain in power) will announce with great fanfare the electrification and conversion of the UP Express into a regional transit line with more stops and lower fares.

It will remain a mess, and incompatible with the rest of the transit system, but faced with having to justify spending buckets of money on the downtown elite, they will have to do something to appear both more fiscally conservative and populist. And the expensive debacle of the Blue22, Air Rail Link, UP Express Weston Line will be fantastic for Weston. At long last.