A review of GO Transit’s fare structure

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Four years ago, I wrote about GO Transit’s problematic fare structure. Though GO Transit claims to charge passengers based upon a fare-by-distance structure, fares for travelling short distances were disproportionately high compared to long-distance rides from outer suburban stations. In 2015, I also found significant fare differences between corridors, with Kitchener Line passengers paying the most per distance traveled.

Since my original post, some changes were made to the GO Transit fare system:

  • In 2016, a tiered fare increase was applied, with the lowest fares frozen (for example, Union Station to Mimico, Bloor, or Danforth), with fare increases between  40 and 60 cents per ride dependent on distance traveled. Those fare increases applied to Presto fares, though with a discount (11.15% less than the cash fare).
  • In January 2018, a $1.50 fare discount was introduced for Presto card users transferring between TTC and GO. However, the Ford government announced it would no longer subsidize the TTC-GO fare discount, threatening its continuation.
  • In April 2019, GO fares for trips less than 10 kilometres were reduced, with the minimum cash fare going from $5.30 to $4.40, with the minimum Presto fares reduced from $4.71 to $3.70. A passenger headed from Union Station to Exhibition Place could choose to take a local TTC streetcar fare ($3.10 with a Presto Card) or the direct GO train ride (just 60 cents more). At the same time, the cash fares for trips longer than 10 kilometres were increased by 4%, while Presto fares were increased by 3%. 

The good news is the eventual reduction of short-distance fares have gone a long way towards flattening the fare/distance curve.

There were also some major service changes over the last four years. Two new GO stations were opened: Downsview Park (which offers a direct connection to the new TTC subway extension to York University and Vaughan), and Gormley, a station built next to Highway 404 on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Additional trains were added to Kitchener, new peak-period trains to and from Niagara Falls were introduced, evening trains added on the Kitchener Line, and this month, weekend trains were introduced on the Stouffville Line. But connecting bus routes to Cambridge, Bolton, and between Milton and Oakville were eliminated, with other bus trips cancelled across the system. Continue reading

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Transit Summit in Guelph this Saturday, November 9

4003585727_e8125d19a3_o.jpgCoach Canada bus to Hamilton, September 2009

This Saturday, I will be joining fellow transportation advocates and experts in Downtown Guelph for the First Annual Transit Summit & Town Hall organized by Transit Action Alliance of Guelph (TAAG).  I’ll be speaking about the gaps in regional and intercity transit in Guelph and Southwestern Ontario.

In the 1980s, there were direct buses from Guelph to Toronto, Brampton, Kitchener, Hamilton, Fergus and Elora, and Owen Sound. There were five VIA trains a day in each directions between Toronto, Guelph, Kitchener, and London. Though there are far more buses departing from Guelph than in the 1980s, they are mostly operated by GO Transit, all leading east towards Brampton and Mississauga. GO Transit rail service has improved, but it is still geared towards Toronto-bound commuters. Getting between Guelph and Hamilton by bus requires a transfer at Square One in Mississauga.

I wrote about these gaps before on my own blog and for TVO. I will be speaking more about them — and possible solutions to the problem — on Saturday.

Intercity bus links in Midwestern Ontario in 1983 and 2019.
The 1983 map is an excerpt from Ontario Intercity Guide published by Ontario Ministry of Transportation; the 2019 is an edited version of the same image. 

Other speakers at the Transit Summit include representatives from TTCRiders, TransportAction, and officials from the City of Guelph and Guelph Transit. The summit and town hall will be held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Downtown Guelph on Saturday November 9 from 12:00 to 5:30 PM.

You can register on TAAG’s website until Friday November 8.

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The long way to Pembroke

IMG_4409-001Layover at Barry’s Bay

A few weeks ago, I went for another long-distance bus trip. I started my journey in Downtown Toronto, and continued on to Peterborough and Pembroke, before arriving in Ottawa late in the evening.  Apart from the Toronto-Peterborough leg aboard a packed, delayed bus, this was the most pleasant of all my long-distance bus trips.

Greyhound’s Peterborough-Pembroke route only operates a few days a week, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It is one of the last rural bus routes operated by Greyhound Canada as most remaining routes operate on highways between large urban centres. The bus follows Highways 28, 62, and 60, stopping at small towns such as Bancroft, Maynooth and Barry’s Bay. North of Lakefield, the route passes through the Canadian Shield, with its lakes, rocks, and trees.

As I traveled on last Friday in September, the fall colours were almost at their peak in the Haliburton Highlands, making this an especially scenic ride. There was an informal fifteen-minute stop in Barry’s Bay, enough time to get a decent coffee and a snack.

IMG_4404-001The view from Highway 28 near Bancroft, September 27

At Bancroft, we passed by the old Central Ontario Railway Station. Passenger service ended in the 1950s, while the tracks were torn up in the 1980s. The station was preserved and is now a local museum. In front, a dozen citizens took part in a local climate strike that took place across Canada, part of the Global Week for Future. It was nice to see residents take part, even in small town Ontario.

IMG_4406-001.JPGClimate strikers in Bancroft. The former railway station stands behind

At Pembroke, I had several hours before the Ontario Northland bus departed for Ottawa. While Pembroke’s downtown core could use some TLC, it has great bones and a great collection of heritage buildings, including a late Victorian post office, its late Art Moderne replacement, the historic Renfrew County courthouse, solid commercial blocks, and a fascinating library.

IMG_4455-001Downtown Pembroke

IMG_4478-001.JPGIMG_4420-002.JPGPembroke’s post offices. The 1888 building, designed by Thomas Fuller, is now City Hall. The 1950s replacement, on the left, still houses Canada Post. 

Pembroke’s public library is especially unique, as it looks like it could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1914, it was designed by Francis Conroy Sullivan, a Canadian-born architect who studied under Wright in Chicago before establishing his firm in Ottawa. Expansions and renovations have remained faithful to the Prairie Style architecture.

IMG_4475-001Entrance to the Pembroke Public Library

IMG_4472-001.JPGLibrary interior

Though Pembroke was served by three different railways — the Canadian Pacific transcontinental mainline, a branch of the Canada Atlantic that operated between Montreal and Parry Sound, and the Canadian Northern — all tracks were removed by 2013, when Canadian National ripped up the Beachburg Subdivision. None of the station buildings survive, but the abandoned rights-of-way are still intact. At the west end of town, a long trestle now carries a snowmobile trail where the CN mainline once crossed the Indian River.

IMG_4437-002Former CN trestle, Pembroke

The removal of the CN and CP routes through the Ottawa Valley were especially unfortunate, as all through freight and passenger traffic across Canada must now pass through Greater Toronto. This was the result of cost-cutting and the loss of local rail customers, such as lumber and pulp industries. The Commonwealth Plywood plant in Pembroke still stands as a reminder of the industrial past of the Upper Ottawa Valley.

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Abandoned Commonwealth Plywood plant

The last passenger train, VIA’s Canadian, called at Pembroke in 1990. But there are two daily bus trips in each direction between Ottawa and North Bay/Sudbury, one operated by Greyhound, the other by Ontario Northland. From Pembroke, I was able to take a Northland bus that left at 9:00 PM, arriving in Ottawa by 11:00 PM. This gave me plenty of time for dinner after a long walk around town.

My trip to Pembroke made for a pleasant detour, giving me a chance to see another part of Ontario.

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The death and life of Shoppers World Brampton

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An old Target shopping cart sits in front of Shoppers World. Target, which closed in 2015, now subdivided into smaller retail units, including JYSK, Staples, and Giant Tiger

Previously on this blog, I wrote about Shoppers World Brampton, a shopping mall that slowly declined despite being located in a high-growth suburban city. I wrote that RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), the owners of the mall, were interested in developing the property by reducing the retail footprint and adding new residential uses. Some of those details have now been revealed.

Shoppers World opened in 1969, on the outskirts of the Town of Brampton, which was transitioning from a county service centre and industrial town to a suburb of Toronto. The mall expanded twice: once in 1973-74, and again in 1980-81.

In the 1980s, Shoppers World boasted a Simpson’s department store, K-Mart, two full-service supermarkets, a Pascal’s department store, two movie theatres, and even an indoor waterpark. Familiar national chains filled the halls: Thrifty’s, Grand & Toy, Coles and W.H. Smith, Smart Set, Naturalizer, Black’s, Collegiate Sports, Peoples Jewelers, and Reitman’s. Shoppers World never had the status that Square One or Yorkdale enjoyed, but it was a good mall offering just about anything you’d ever need.

It was where I got my first paying gig: returning stray shopping carts to K-Mart for a few dollars apiece. I lived within walking distance of the mall, though I joked that the best thing about it was the bus to Square One.

But many of those national retailers left by the mid-1990s. Square One, a 15 minute drive south, was expanding, and Bramalea City Centre had renovated and expanded as well. But when RioCan REIT purchased Shoppers World in the late 1990s, it made some long-needed improvements, including new flooring over the old terrazzo, a new food court, and removing some of the dead retail space for new big-box retailers like Canadian Tire, Staples, and Winners. When The Bay (successor to Simpson’s) closed, it was replaced by more exterior retail.

Meanwhile, Zellers replaced K-Mart, and briefly became a Target store during the American company’s disastrous foray in the Canadian market. Rio-Can carved that into spaces for smaller retailers, including Giant Tiger. Finally, the bus terminal moved, from a distant corner facing Steeles Avenue, to a central location right at the corner of Main Street and Steeles Avenue, designed for easy transfers to the Hurontario LRT.

ShoppersWorld

The interior of the mall is still busy, but nearly all chains let their leases expire, with independent retailers taking over. Even so, there are many vacant storefronts.

Earlier in October, RioCan submitted their plans to the City of Brampton, and were also presented at an open house at the mall on October 22, 2019. The redevelopment proposal includes new roads, residential towers with at-grade retail, underground parking, among other features.

Details from RioCan’s submission include:

  • Four new north-south and east-west public streets through the property, including multi-use paths, as several private laneways. Mill Street would continue south from Charolais Boulevard to Steeles Avenue.
  • New residential towers up to 28 storeys tall, containing 4,725 units (one, two, and potentially three-bedroom apartments)
  • 155 townhouses in the northern end of the property, towards low-rise subdivisons north of Charolais Boulevard
  • 44,647 m² (480,582 sq. ft.) of retail space integrated with the residential towers, a reduction from 62,256 m² (670,124 sq. ft.)
  • An enlarged Kaneff Park (west of the mall, between two separate existing high-rise rental tower clusters), along with new community and library space
  • New office space adjacent to the expanded park and community space
  • Most parking will be located underground
  • The Brampton Gateway terminal will remain

Site Plan of Shoppers World Brampton redevelopmentSite plan from RioCan’s submissions to the City of Brampton. Click to enlarge.

The first phase of the redevelopment will be 27-storey tower on the southwest corner of the site (where the abandoned Brampton Transit terminal now sits). This will be constructed before the mall itself is touched. Further phases will see the mall slowly demolished, though they are dependent on market conditions.

SWB - View from terminalRendering of Shoppers World redevelopment, looking northwest from the existing Brampton Gateway Terminal

RioCan hired Quadrangle and SvN architects to develop conceptual renderings for the development, indicating that RioCan is serious about this development. Given the City of Brampton’s own plans for urbanizing this part of the city, I am optimistic this will be built. The area already has good public transit access, with Zum express bus service to Downtown Brampton, Mississauga City Centre, Sheridan and Humber Colleges, as well as local service. This will also be at the terminus of the Hurontario LRT line (construction will begin shortly as the contract was just awarded), which may yet continue to Downtown Brampton.

This is the largest shopping mall redevelopment in the Greater Toronto Area, following work now underway at the Galleria Mall in Toronto, and proposed for the Promenade Mall in Vaughan (though much of that mall’s structure will remain intact). As the mid-market gets squeezed by discounters, internet shopping, and high-end shopping centres, more malls of Shoppers World’s size will see similar development.

I was surprised to see such urbanity proposed for suburban Brampton, but it may finally be the time for the Flower City to bloom. Despite my nostalgia for Shoppers World, I am excited for its future.

SWB Rendering 1.jpgLooking south on Mill Street towards the park expansion and Steeles Avenue. The first phase tower is shown in the middle background.

 

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Suburban Toronto’s transit past and future on north Yonge Street

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Stop 17 shelter in Thornhill

On Yonge Street in Thornhill, a small green hut sits beside the busy roadway at the entrance to Cricklewood Park. On the side of the small building, a wood sign says “Stop 17.” Hundreds of buses and thousands of cars pass by this hut daily, yet few may know about the transit history it represents.

Stop 17 was a stop on the Toronto & York Radial Railway line that extended north from a terminal at Toronto’s city limits at Yonge Street and Glen Echo Avenue (now the location of a Loblaws supermarket) all the way to Sutton, via Richmond Hill and Newmarket. Electric radial service to Thornhill and Richmond Hill began in 1897. By 1908, radial service reached Lake Simcoe.

Stop 17 was one of two stops in Thornhill, located at the present-day intersection of Yonge Street and Royal Orchard Boulevard. The TTC, the eventual owner of most of Toronto’s radial lines, closed the Lake Simcoe route in 1930. Soon afterwards, the wooden shelter was moved to a nearby golf club, where it served as a snack bar and rain shelter. (The radial line was resurrected in late 1930 as a suburban streetcar service to Richmond Hill until 1948.)

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Yonge Street looking south in Thornhill, September 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 441.

In November 2000, the Stop 17 shelter was moved back to Yonge Street and restored. It stands as a historical building in Thornhill, and as a monument to early suburban transit in Greater Toronto. Only a few other structures exist from the radial railway era including the Newmarket Radial Arch, the footings of a Toronto Suburban Railway trestle over the Humber River, and a radial power station in Guelph.

There was another Stop 17, on the Scarboro Radial Line between Toronto and West Hill.  By coincidence, it is also memorialized in the name of a variety store (Stop 17 Variety), which also sports a mural depicting a T&Y radial car stopped in front of the Scarborough High School (now R.H. King Academy).

Stop 17 VarietyStop 17 Variety on Kingston Road at St. Clair Avenue in Scarborough

Nearby the Stop 17 shelter in Thornhill, I noticed several markings in the sidewalk. After a closer look, I noticed that they were survey markers, indicating a location where holes were drilled for preliminary core samples for the planned Yonge North Subway Extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill.

One day, the subway will be extended north into York Region, a sensible project given the ridership potential, especially as Yonge Street sees urban intensification through Thornhill and Richmond Hill. The City of Toronto has been resistant to the extension, as the Yonge Subway is already operating over capacity, with a relief subway required to handle the loads.

The politics of subway building aside, it is fascinating to find the history and future of Toronto’s suburban transit in such close proximity.

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Sidewalk markings on Yonge Street

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“TTC YSE” marker

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The road to Paris and London

Sign with the distance to Paris and London OntarioDistance Sign on Highway 5, Clappison’s Corners

Early European settlers to Ontario were not very imaginative when they came up with local place names. Although some towns and townships have First Nations names (Toronto, Chinguacousy, Niagara), or named for First Nations leaders allied with the British (Tecumseh, Brant), most cities, towns, and townships were given the names of European settlements, British royals and nobility, or the names of those settlers.

The list of Ontario towns and cities includes no less than ten world capitals: Athens, Brussels, Delhi, Dublin, London, Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, Wellington, and Zurich. Other towns and cities across the province include the names of British royalty and nobility (Cobourg, Hanover, Port Arthur, Fort William, Richmond Hill) or the towns settler arrived from. These towns can be found throughout the province.

At Clappison’s Corners, a busy intersection outside of Hamilton, Paris and London appear on the same sign, amusing the occasional visitor. By driving west on Highway 5, Paris is just 42 kilometres away, with London an additional 80 kilometres’ drive via Highway 2.

The other Covent Garden Market, London, OntarioThe other Covent Garden Market, London

London was named for the British city in 1793, and was chosen as the site of the new capital of Upper Canada by governor John Graves Simcoe. He felt that the interior location, on the banks of the Thames River (Simcoe named that, too), would be safe from American attack. However, York (now Toronto), became the capital. But London became the regional centre for Western Ontario, and is now the world’s second-largest London with over 350,000 residents.

Paris OntarioParis, Ontario’s main street backs onto the Grand River

Paris was named in the 1840s not for the French capital, but for the large gypsum deposits in the area, used to make plaster of Paris. In 2000, the town of Paris was amalgamated with rural Brant County. The community has a population of just 12,000, the third-largest Paris (between Paris, Texas and Paris, Tennessee).

Before the provincial government downloaded thousands of highways to local municipalities in the late 1990s, Highway 5 ran from Highway 2 (Kingston Road) in Scarborough to Highway 2 again at Paris. At Paris, a motorist could continue on Highway 2 west to London and beyond. New freeways, such as Highway 403, offered a faster trip, while local roads, such as Highways 2 and 5, were downloaded as a cost-cutting measure. Today, Highway 5 runs for just 13 kilometres connecting Highways 6 and 8.

Today, the route to Paris and London is merely an anachronism of an earlier time, when King’s Highways covered the province and when motorists passed through many small towns on their way to places like Toronto, Detroit, and Montreal. At some point, the sign at Clappison’s Corners will be removed to make way for a new interchange. Until then, this humble monument to European settlement and rural King’s Highways will stand guard.

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O-Train impressions: this is what LRT looks like

IMG_4614-001Confederation Line train approaching Tremblay Station

Last weekend, I visited Ottawa to check out the new Confederation Line LRT. Canada’s newest rapid transit line, delayed by two years, finally opened on Saturday, September 14. It is the second LRT to open in Ontario this year; Waterloo Region’s ION service opened in June.

The new 13-station Confederation Line includes a 2.5-kilometre tunnel under Downtown Ottawa, with three stations deep underground. Phase 2 will add 15 more stations to the Confederation Line. I was impressed with the speed, accessibility, and capacity of the new LRT, though I noticed a few flaws, some of which hopefully will be corrected.

The Confederation Line is not the Ottawa Region’s first rapid transit project, however. The Transitway first opened in 1983, one of the world’s first true bus rapid transit systems. Rapibus, a BRT corridor in Gatineau similar to the Transitway, opened in 2013. In 2001, the Trillium Line, a diesel light rail service, opened. It operates on a disused Canadian Pacific Railway corridor through Carleton University. Collectively, the Confederation Line (Line 1) and the Trillium Line (Line 2) are marked at the O-Train.

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Trillium Line DMU train approaching Carleton University

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O-Train and bus rapid transit map from the OC Transpo website. The Confederation Line is marked on maps and signs as Line 1; the diesel Trillium Line as Line 2.

The first phase of Line 1 replaces the busiest section of the Transitway, including the congested on-street downtown section on Albert and Slater Streets. Though most sections of the Transitway are grade-separated — following the Queensway (Highway 417) on the east end and an abandoned railway corridor on the west end — the downtown section was the weak link. As OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit agency operated dozens of suburban express routes into the Transitway during weekday peak periods, lines of buses would often stretch for blocks, an especially inefficient transit operation.

6205682867_7d38a920b6_o.jpgBus congestion on the Mackenzie King Bridge in Downtown Ottawa in 2011

With most buses gone from the downtown core, the LRT allows for much more efficient operations, even if many commuters no longer enjoy a one-seat ride to work.

At several stations, including the Transitway connections at Blair, Tunney’s Pasture and Hurdman, fare-paid areas allow passengers to move between bus and train without having to tap at faregates or show fare payment to the bus operator, like many TTC subway stations. This helps to ensure the LRT is a backbone to a strong feeder bus network, rather than a stand-alone operation.

Most stations are equipped with escalators as well as multiple stairways. There were two side-by-side elevators at most points, providing the necessary redundancy to ensure full barrier-free accessibility. Access is controlled with fare gates like those in Toronto, where Presto cards, paper tickets, and transfers provide access to platform level. All O-Train stations are identified by a simple red circle at each entrance that looks similar to a Lifesaver candy.

IMG_4483-002.JPGDowntown entrance to Lyon Station, with the O-Train “Lifesaver” totem

Unfortunately, some of those rail-bus connections require a long walk outside, such as at Hurdman Station. This was probably the greatest flaw I experienced during my visit last week. Though it was tolerable on a sunny September afternoon, it would be extremely unpleasant in winter or during a rainstorm. It’s unfortunate that the bus terminal was not better thought out to minimize distances between buses and train platforms.

Ottawa - Hurdman Station
Bus bay E at Hurdman Station. The bus in the distance is in front of the entrance to the train platforms

A long-term challenge for the Confederation Line is the ability to direct transit-oriented development around many of the new stations. Though Hurdman Station is major transfer point with the Southeast Transitway, it is located in a floodplain next to the Rideau River. Iris and Blair Stations are located within highway interchanges. There is more potential around Pimisi Station (in the Lebreton Flats, which are already seeing new urban development), St-Laurent (where a second-tier mall could be urbanized), and possibly Cyrville. But all east-end stations are limited by the Queensway.

These bus transfer and land use concerns were also raised by Alex Bozikovic at the Globe and Mail.


Vicinity of Hurdman Station
To the west, however, there is lots of potential for the government office complex at Tunney’s Pasture, which is surrounded by thousands of surface parking lots, as well as eastern Phase 2 stations, which will follow former railway and streetcar corridors, allowing for infill development and urbanization.

IMG_4502-001Train arriving at the Tunney’s Pasture terminal

Light rail transit is misunderstood in Toronto, where it is often equated with streetcars, rather than a flexible rapid transit solution. Indeed, light rail covers a wide spectrum, from traditional streetcars, like the TTC’s legacy street railway, to fully grade-separated high-speed LRTs, like Ottawa’s new line. (The Waterloo ION LRT, with a mix of reserved lanes, median operation, and off-road segments, fits somewhere in between.)

The Confederation Line’s average speed is 31 km/h, with a top speed of 80 km/h. In comparison, TTC Line 1 has a weekday average speed of 28 km/h, and the 501 Queen Streetcar has an average speed of just 9.9 km/h during the morning rush hour. The Waterloo ION LRT currently has an average speed of 21 km/h.

It is worth noting that the Scarborough RT replacement, once fully funded and ready to start construction six years ago, would have been just as fast and smooth as the Confederation Line. Instead, our local and provincial politicians continue to spin their wheels on planning a subway extension that’s going nowhere. Meanwhile, Ottawa has already started work on Phase 2 of its light rail network.

IMG_4493-001The end of the beginning: the old Transitway is visible west of Tunney’s Pasture, where Phase 2 of the Confederation Line will continue towards Baseline and Moodie Stations

The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT will have a long underground segment, with two-car LRT trains similar to those used in Ottawa. When that opens — planned for late 2021 — Torontonians will finally get a taste of high-order light rail transit.

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