The trouble with Trans-Cabs

In my last post, in which I discussed the gaps in the Golden Horseshoe’s transit network (and offered unsolicited advice to Metrolinx), I used the example of Milton, in which a carpool lot served by several GO Transit bus routes was largely disconnected from the rest of the local transit system, and located several kilometres from the main GO hub at Milton Station.

When I pointed out that Milton Carpool lot, at the junction of Highways 401 and 25, was only served by Milton Transit’s route 1A/1B, which runs only during rush hours, Twitter user YIGE corrected me:

YIGE is correct. Milton Transit does offer a Trans-cab service in the residential areas north of Main Street in Milton, as well as some of the institutional and industrial zones north of Steeles Avenue. I did not see it in the “System Map and Routes” section of the website; it has its own page elsewhere.

Trans-Cabs, are contracted taxi services that are intended to serve suburban or rural areas that would be inefficiently served by fixed bus services, but require a connection to the transit network. Several cities and towns in Ontario offer these services.

In Milton, Trans-Cab operates between 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM, and between 5 PM and 6 PM on weekdays, and from 7:10 AM to 7:40 PM on Saturdays,  times when route 1A/1B does not operate. The service requires a 50-cent premium on top of the Milton Transit fare, and the transfer point isn’t at the GO Station, where all eight fixed route buses connect, but at a point in Downtown Milton where only Route 2 connects. Anyone headed elsewhere must then transfer to Route 2 to the GO Station, and transfer yet again. It’s not at all convenient, and the service ends far too early in the evening, especially for commuters and students headed home from Kitchener-Waterloo or Guelph. And unlike connecting between GO and Milton Transits at the station, there’s no co-fare available to any other GO bus service.

Passengers must also request a ride at least an hour in advance if heading to the transfer point; passengers heading to the Trans-cab service area only have to let the Route 2 operator know they need the service.

Map of the Milton Transit Trans-Cab service area, original found here.

In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Hamilton Street Railway also provides a Trans-Cab service, serving exurban areas in Stoney Creek (Winona) and Glanbrook. Like Milton, the Trans-Cab service requires a 50 cent premium above the regular fare, and requires a transfer to a regular bus route. In Glanbrook, the service is offered Monday through Saturday from 6 AM to 7 PM, and in rural Stoney Creek from 5AM to 1AM. The HSR system map shows the Trans-Cab service areas. Like Milton, pick-ups have to be arranged at least an hour in advance.

Peterborough and Greater Sudbury also operate Trans-Cabs; again, in those cities, they serve outlying areas that are difficult to serve with fixed bus routes.

The Hamilton example illustrates where Trans-Cabs make more sense: in outlying areas where demand is low, the population density sparse, but there’s a need for transit access. In Milton’s case, operating a fixed route serving the urbanized area north of Main Street makes more sense, especially as it links to a major GO Transit connection;. In Milton, a Trans-Cab might be more useful, say, for serving areas outside the Milton urban area, such as Campbellville and Mohawk Racetrack.

Really, either the Town of Milton/Milton Transit, or GO Transit should work to get the gap between the Highway 401/25 carpool lot and the town transit system fixed properly. An inconvenient Trans-Cab service simply doesn’t cut it.

Toronto Transit

The Golden Horseshoe’s missing links

GO Transit bus at Uxbridge

Over the last 15 years, GO Transit has done well expanding its bus and rail operations. It opened up new stations, such as Mount Pleasant, Lincolnville, Barrie South, Allandale Waterfront, and West Harbour. It introduced the Highway 407 service, finally making York University accessible to thousands of suburban students. And it extended its reach to Waterloo and Peterborough, not only serving post-secondary institutions and residents in those cities, but also making it easier for cyclists like myself to explore new trails and destinations.

But as GO Transit expands, there are many gaps, large and small, that should be closed. Coinciding with GO Transit’s expansion, intercity bus operators have been cutting back; dozens of Ontario towns and cities no longer have any coach service, and many more have saw their service cut back. Several municipalities in GO’s service area have resisted operating local transit systems, and GO’s use of park-and-ride lots has made their bus services difficult to reach without a car. In this post, I discuss some of these challenges.


Maps Transit

Not so fair-by-distance: GO Transit’s problematic fare system

GO Network 2015GO’s bus and rail system serves 39 municipalities and reaches points over 130 kilometres from Union Station

In 1967, GO Transit started out as a simple commuter service from Oakville to Pickering (with two additional trains to and from Hamilton). In 1970, it started its first bus service, connecting Oshawa and Hamilton to the hourly train service at Pickering and Oakville. Eventually, GO expanded to other corridors, inaugurating the Georgetown service in 1974, and taking over former suburban Grey Coach and TTC routes in the 1970s. By 1981, GO was operating trains on all seven of its current corridors, expanding and extending its bus rail services ever since. As a commuter rail and bus system, GO Transit is a great success story, there were over 68 million boardings in 2014, and service continues to expand. Regular bus service goes all the way to Niagara Falls, Peterborough, and Waterloo, serving post-secondary institutions and long-distance commuters. But there are many ways in which it can improve; its fare structure is just one of them.

Previously, I explained why GO Transit should consider charging for parking at its commuter lots. GO Transit provides over 60,000 free parking spaces, but the cost of servicing those lots is borne by all passengers, whether or not they drive to the train or not. This isn’t terribly fair to those customers who arrive by foot, by bicycle, or are able to get a ride. In the suburbs outside the City of Toronto, most transit agencies offer a co-fare – a discounted fare for taking local buses to connect to and from GO Transit, but no such fare integration exists with the TTC. But the parking subsidy enjoyed by drivers is only part of the unfair pricing scheme levied by GO Transit.

GO Transit describes its fare scheme as “fare by distance.” And to a degree, this is accurate. Generally, the farther one travels, the more expensive the fare. So far, so good. But fares for short trips cost far more than longer ones per kilometre traveled, and fare increases for short trips have risen at a greater percentage rate than fare hikes for long trips.

Steve Munro wrote about the myth of GO’s fare-by-distance scheme last year. As Munro put it, “the fare structure is rigged against short distance trips, and this has been getting progressively worse for a decade.”

If GO Transit wishes to fully become a regional transit service, it needs to address both its unfair fare scheme and its lack of fare integration with the TTC.


I created a map of the full GO transit bus and rail system in CartoDB to illustrate GO Transit’s reach; all stations and major bus stops include some fare information (the distance and cash fare to Union Station) and the number of parking spots. 


GO Transit and the high cost of “free” parking


This is the first of a series on regional transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area

This may or may not come as a surprise to readers of my site, but the largest parking lot provider in Ontario isn’t the Toronto Parking Authority, nor is it a major real estate developer like Oxford (owner of Yorkdale and Square One malls) or Cadillac Fairview (Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens). That record belongs to a public transit agency.

Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), owns or leases 63,302 spots at 53 of its 64 GO Transit rail stations (not counting two stations served by seasonal Niagara trains), and offers another 4,186 spots at various park-and-ride and carpool lots served by GO buses. (Metrolinx is responsible for approximately 1,000 spots, the Ministry of Transportation Ontario and local municipalities are responsible for the remaining 3,000 spots).

Pickering GO Station, adjacent to Highway 401, has the most parking spots in the system, with 3,600 spaces in several lots and in a new parking garage. Clarkson comes in second with over 3,000 spaces. Acton, which sees only two trains a day to Toronto, has only 50 spaces. Eleven GO rail stations do not have any on-site parking: Union Station, Hamilton GO Centre, Hamilton West Harbour, Kipling, Exhibition, Bloor, Danforth, Kennedy, York University, Guelph, and Kitchener. With the exception of York University, all are either in urban downtowns (Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph, Kitchener), or are connections to the TTC.

All GO Transit parking spots are “free,” with the exception of reserved spaces that can be leased for $94/month at most rail stations and the Newmarket bus terminal. Reserved spaces are beneficial for regular passengers to guarantee a preferred spot on weekdays. This is in contrast to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), which charges $2 to $7 to park at any of its lots on weekdays, though there are no parking charges on weekends and holidays at most of its lots and garages.

The Toronto Parking Authority, the largest municipal parking operator in North America, operates 20,000 off-street parking spots in lots and garages across the City of Toronto. (The TPA is also responsible for 17,500 metered on-street spots.) Oxford Properties Group owns approximately 30,000 spots at five GTHA malls (Square One is the largest, with 8,700 spots), while Cadillac Fairview owns 26,671 spots at 7 GTHA malls. The TTC has parking facilities at 13 stations; Finch, with 3,227 spots, is the TTC’s largest, though Finch Station’s parking lots are within a hydro field.

The table below illustrates this comparison.

The GTHA’s largest parking operators

Parking table v2

I chose to include major shopping centres in this comparison, because as with GO Transit, they provide “free” parking to their customers, both surface lots and multi-level parking garages. The TTC does not charge for parking at most of their lots on weekends and holidays, while the Toronto Parking Authority charges competitive rates while returning a healthy profit to the City of Toronto.

This model of providing ample “free” parking made sense early in GO Transit’s history, when the provincial government created the agency (“GO” is short for Government of Ontario) to shift auto traffic off the Queen Elizabeth Way and other provincial roads as Toronto was growing rapidly, especially as a major financial centre. In 1967, GO operated only on the Lakeshore Line between Pickering and Oakville, with two trains continuing on to Hamilton. Public transit in the suburbs was almost non-existent; land at these new GO stations was cheap and plentiful. (Here is a fascinating history of GO Transit’s early years.)

But that model makes less sense nearly 50 years later, especially as GO moves towards becoming a regional rail operator, with more frequent services operating more like a metro than a commuter railway.

Canada Election Politics

Some thoughts about the 2015 election and Canada’s new government

My congratulations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. The Liberals managed to win a healthy majority government on October 19, 2015, defeating Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. I’m not completely happy with the election day results, but I think there is still plenty to be satisfied about. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic thanks to a clear Conservative defeat and the first few moves on the incoming Liberal government.