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.
Metrolinx confirmed that they will be building a UPX stop at the Mount Dennis LRT station. This can’t be good for Weston; our stop is only 2.5 km away. It will make little sense—if the UPX is still primarily an airport train—to keep it open.
There may be a solution at hand: a provincial committee has asked Metrolinx to look into handing the UPX over to the TTC. MP Cheri Di Novo has requested the same, and has asked for more stops.
According to the Sun, Josh Colle, the TTC Chairman, said he was amenable; Steven DelDuca, the Transportation Minister, said he was not.
Manuel Pedrosa, Manager of Community Relations at Metrolinx, did not return my email asking about the future of the Weston stop.
David Collenette, the ‘brains’ behind the UPX, is hard at work again, this time as a $500-a-day consultant for a high-speed rail project outlined in yesterday’s provincial budget.
He’ll be working on a ‘SuperCorridor’, “bringing high-speed rail to [southern Ontario] as part of the Province’s Moving Ontario Forward plan.”
I can’t wait.
Not content with one half-billion screw up, Collenette is, the province says, “working with Metrolinx and freight partners to explore potential improvements to GO rail services along the Toronto–Kitchener corridor.”
You could be forgiven for thinking we’d been through that already.
You’ll soon have all-day, 15-minute service downtown for $6, if the Globe and Mail is to be believed. Metrolinx is slashing fares on the UPX .
Sources say that people would be able to ride the train from Union station to Bloor west or Weston for the equivalent of GO rail fares, which would mean the price dropping to under $6 from around $11 to $15.
My heart is racing. Really. My mind is spinning.
If this is true—a big if—nothing could be better for this corner of the city. We will soon have affordable, express transit downtown and midtown, and a connection with the subway. This could be the beginning of something great in Weston. We could be a commuter centre, with affordable housing and easy connections to the highway and downtown.
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?
Scratch 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.
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.
Metrolinx released few details about the timeline for electrifying the UP Express in a recent meeting—the first in more than a year—on the issue.
The UP Express was recently given a fast-track environmental assessment, but it is looking decreasingly likely that it will be electrified by 2017, as had been promised by Laura Albanese and Glen Murray. No money has been put aside for that stage of the project, and Karen Pitre, spokesperson for Metrolinx, refused to say when it would be accomplished:
“I know you want a time and a date and I’m not going to give it to you because I’m going to be wrong,” Pitre said, point blank.
“I would say that the work that’s been done by the community and Metrolinx has advanced this considerably, but I know it’s not fast enough and I understand that.”
Laura Albanese wrote an open letter to Minister Steven Del Duca this week asking nicely for an updated timeline on the project:
I’m writing to you today to request that you provide more details regarding your ministry’s plans for the electrification of the UP Express and the Kitchener GO Line, and an updated timeline for the completion of these projects.