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.

Author: Adam Norman

I am raising my two children in Weston.

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