Fares have been slashed on the struggling UP Express.
Ridership has been terrible almost since opening day, in part because the fares are eye-watering: $27.50 each way. The line is losing, by my (terrible) estimation, about $100,000 a day carrying 2500 riders–far fewer than the 6700 it requires to break even on operating costs (which do not include construction costs).
Metrolinx is now offering two-for-one coupons on their website as a way of getting people on the train.
Your humble correspondent happens to know a just a little bit about this. Coupons are one way of creating ‘price discrimination‘. Frugal or savvy riders will invest time or ink and save some money, while less interested people, like business travellers, will pay the full fare because they don’t know or care about the deal.
This is a pretty savvy move—and I expect couponing will continue as long as the train is not full. Everybody wins.
Locals (who are more in the know) can get a cheaper ride, and, since the train will run with or without these extra passengers, it is all upside for Metrolinx, too. Finally, coupons also feel a little less like a ‘traveller tax’, so visitors will likely not feel particularly ripped off.
Ski hills offer this kind of deal quite consistently to generate good will and fill empty gondolas. Locals can buy tickets in advance or at an out-of-the-way spot at a discount; they can also buy weird seasons’ passes, like all-you-can-ski Tuesdays. The hill is open anyway, after all, and an extra skier on a Tuesday night costs the mountain nothing.
Metrolinx, if it’s clever, will continue to offer deals for the same reasons. First off, and most importantly, local riders are free money: they likely would not have taken the train at the full price and are not displacing anyone. Coupons also let locals feel a little less unwanted, a sentiment, I think, that the UP Express has struggled to dispel with all of its talk of “premium-fare business travellers”, (who, as has often been pointed out, could just take Uber).