June 22, 2017 | transit
The Union-Pearson Express. It was a great idea that became one of the most reviled transit links in the city of Toronto for a time. But today I’m coming in on a hopeful note.
I think this transit link is an important one, and could be the Relief Line of west Toronto with the right encouragement.
Before we dig into what could be, let’s review the history of the Union to Pearson Express Line. At first, it was a good idea. Let’s have a train that connects the Pearson airport with the city! Who could disagree with that? Other major cities have traffic-proof rail links to the airport. Toronto should too. Metrolinx that manages the transit links between cities and towns in the Golden Horseshoe and created by the Government of Ontario has been responsible for the organization and creation for this transit line.
The funding for this came from the province and money set aside for building infrastructure around the PanAm Games. The idea to piggyback on the PanAm Games was smart. Let’s build a transit link that will help athletes and everyone else connected to the Games. They can ride in and out of the city with ease so they get to their events on time, and then Toronto would have something left over that Torontonians could use for themselves.
Then there were a lot of dumb ideas.
- DUMB IDEA #1 First, Metrolinx decided a fare price of $27.50 would be required to ride the train from Union Station to the airport with a stop in Weston and a stop at Dundas West/ Bloor St. According to their calculations, there would be around 5000 riders a day at first and then up to 7000 within a year or two each day. At this point, the finances of this transit project should break even. Those calculations turned out to be way off. It turned out to have just under 2500 riders a day when originally launched. Who was going to pay $27.50 to go from the airport to downtown on a train? True, it is much cheaper than taking a cab on your own, but unless you live at Union Station, you would be taking a cab, subway or a GO train from the train station home. Also, other people could use this train who were not going to the airport, but a daily cost of $27.50 may have been too rich for most people’s commuting budgets.
- DUMB IDEA #2 Before it was even built, Metrolink was not making friends. Local neighbourhood associations petitioned hard to have this transit line electrified like in every North American and European country who currently build transit, but they still went with diesel. The only caveat was that the trains could be retrofitted for electric use in the future.
- DUMB IDEA #3 Once it was built, a lot of things were neglected. I imagine has been today to save money. Even today, I’m still amazed at how poorly managed some things are at Metrolinx. I live close to this line where a 15 meter sound wall was built between the train and Dundas Street West, the upper two thirds were constructed with glass for a much nicer appearance. The only thing is that the glass wall all along the route is covered in spray paint, and Metrolinx is not required to remove the paint. So they don’t. Also near where I live, there is a section between Dundas Street West and the road called the Railside Gardens that was taken care by the West Bend Community Association for years. To build the wall, Metrolinx needed to remove the garden with the promise to replace it. They planted close to 50 trees in the middle of last summer last year and almost all of them died because they didn’t bother to water them. Hopefully the replacement trees do better this year.
But let’s not be too crabbypants… Here’s a few things Metrolinx did right.
- SMART MOVE First, they eventually lowered the price once the ridership numbers came in. By cutting the price in half, ridership has now risen to 9000 people/day. They’re not quite making money yet, but an improvement on the roughly 2500 riders a day when the first launched with rates twice as high as they are now.
- BETTER REVIEWS Second, the reviews are now pretty good. Depending on where you live in the city, you can get to the airport fast. There’s no traffic. Often, you can sit down. There is only two stops between Union Station and the airport. For many it’s faster and cheaper than driving and parking or taking a cab on your own or with your partner. For me at Dundas and Bloor, it costs$ 5.65 to the airport, and I could get there in 15 minutes. The Presto Cards works well. The trains are pleasant. The ride is smooth.
- SHIFT IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION And most importantly, the ridership has shifted from business travelers going to the airport to include commuters as well. And to their credit, Metrolinx has advertised this well. For example, my neighbours who work downtown can take the transit from Bloor/Dundas to downtown in 7 minutes. If you live in Weston it’s a little longer, and will cost you $5.65.
So, the UP Express is moving in the right direction, but I think there’s room for improvement. Here’s where I hope happens next:
- BETTER CONNECTION The Dundas West and Bloor stop needs to connect to the subway. I know this has been blocked by the owners of Crossroads High Rise for whatever reason, but it would be great to have that connection to the Dundas West subway station. It would also be good to have a card that is usable for the TTC and the UP Express. It would be great to connect the two systems. I know an Ontario-run transit organization like Metrolinx has little in common with the Toronto Transit Commission, but wouldn’t it be nice if there was more overlap. I dare to dream.
- ELECTRIFY Come on. Let’s do what every other big city does. Let’s have cleaner air. I’m not going to expect this to happen soon if they are losing money, but I hope it does. At least Metrolinx is looking into electrifying other lines.
- LESS EXPRESS And by that, I mean more transit stops between Union Station and the airport. I don’t think we should brag any more about how fast one can be shuttled to the airport from the Union Station. This is clearly not working exclusively as a airport transit link. So, let’s put in some more stops! Not a lot, but we do go through one very dense area that would really boost the ridership. A stop in Liberty Village is a must. I know John Tory was thinking the same thing when he conceived of Smart Track during his election.
I know Metrolinx is not perfect, but we have something really great here with the Union-Pearson line. I think we could make this into something that is much more usable, electric and a great relief to west enders for transit.