GO Transit plans to raise fares in 2016. How about a better fare system?

Note: Updated in February 2016 due to a conflicting chart.

At Thursday’s Metrolinx Board Meeting, the Board of Directors will be voting on a GO Transit fare increase effective February 1, 2016. As has become common, Greg Percy, the President of GO Transit, will be recommending a tiered fare increase, and we should expect that the Metrolinx Board will rubber stamp this proposed fare hike, as it usually does.

Recently, I wrote about the many problems with GO Transit’s fare structure. It penalizes short trips, it does not allow for any fare integration with the Toronto Transit Commission, and many trip pairs (particularly the Barrie, Richmond Hill, and Stouffville Corridors) are priced lower than they should be compared to other stations. In another post, I suggested that GO Transit should seriously consider charging for parking at its lots, as constructing and maintaining parking lots is a major expense that all GO Transit users are paying for, whether they use them or not.

I was somewhat surprised to see that the fare increase will not apply to short trips, those currently costing between $5.30 (the lowest fare possible) and $5.69. This would freeze the one-way ticket price for trips such as between Danforth, Union, and Exhibition Stations. With a slight increase in the “loyalty discount” offered tot Presto Card users when they pay a GO fare,  from 10% to 11.15%, this results in a very slight fare decrease for short trips.

You can read the GO Transit report recommending a fare increase here.

The table below illustrates the proposed tiered fare increase for 2016. Note that the highest tier, where the base adult single will rise by 60 cents, applies to relatively short trips, such as Union Station to Brampton, a distance of 35.9 kilometres, and much longer trips, such at Toronto-Kitchener, a distance of over 100 kilometres.

Chart - 2016 increases

The new fare structure does not make many changes to the unfairness of GO’s fare structure, which I illustrated in an earlier post, showing the fare per kilometre traveled, based on an adult single ride:

GO Fares by Km 2

Here’s what the same graph looks like with the proposed 2016 fare increase:

GO Fares by Km 2016

Beaverton, the biggest bang for the GO passenger’s buck, goes up to $0.12 cents a kilometre (a proposed fare of $15.50 for a distance of 133.3 kilometres by rail and road). But the trip from Union to Exhibition stays at $1.66 per kilometre traveled.

A modest proposal for a fairer fare structure

I tried my hand at developing a simple, fairer fare structure. I obtained a copy of the Spring 2015 station ridership numbers (again, many thanks to GO Transit’s Anne Marie Atkins for her assistance). I wanted to make shorter fares much cheaper, while implementing an easily-understandable fare by structure equation. There were many limitations and assumptions, but this is what I came up with:

Fare = $3.50 + (kilometres traveled * $0.15)

The lowest fare – the base fare – would drop from $5.60 to $3.50, which isn’t much more than the approved 2016 $3.25 TTC cash fare. Any kilometres traveled, for trips outside the originating zone, would then cost 15 cents each. Here’s what the graph above would look like for adult single fares for trips departing Union Station:


GONewFareRevIt’s not perfect. With a base fare, shorter trips will still pay more for distance traveled, but this scheme is easy to understand, and is much more reflective of the actual distance traveled. Fare increases could then be levied on a purely percentage basis, rather than the lazy and problematic tiered increases. Since Bloor Station is, like Exhibition, located in Zone 2, like Union Station I applied the base fare, without the marginal distance-based fare of $0.15/kilometre. That’s why it looks a little bit odd next to Danforth Station.

To illustrate, here’s what the fares could look like between Union Station and points along the Lakeshore West Corridor:

LSW Fare Comparison
Oakville, the busiest station in GO Transit’s network outside of Union Station, would see its fare to Union stay almost exactly the same (and slightly cheaper for Bronte and Appleby). There would be minor fare reductions for all stations between Union and Clarkson, compared with the 2016 proposed fares, with the exception of Long Branch. Fares are higher than the 2016 proposed fares for travel beyond Appleby Station.

Similar results can be seen on the Kitchener Corridor.

Kitchener Fare Comparison

Assuming that all passengers boarding all stations outside of Union Station are headed to GO’s Downtown rail hub, and that fare categories are more or less uniform, GO Transit would stand to raise more money with this scheme than it would with the proposed 2016 fare hikes. Fares could be lowered even more by implementing nominal parking charges, at least at its busiest stations.

(The above scheme was just a quick alternative that I tried out. Feel free to contact me by leaving a comment if you’re interested in my math.)

Another option would be to implement a “City Zone” system, where GO Transit fares within the TTC’s service area would be, for example, a additional $1-$3 premium on top of the regular TTC fare, with transfers to and from local buses and streetcars, and the subway.

If it were up to me, I would also finally implement a TTC co-fare for transfers to and from GO Transit, such as those offered in the suburbs, a step towards proper fare integration. As the TTC slowly implements the Presto farecard, this is the right time to start.


GO Transit’s recommended fare increases for 2016 are a very slight step in the right direction by freezing the fares for the shortest distances traveled. But the tiered fare increase is still problematic, as it maintains GO Transit’s practice of subsidizing long rides by charging too much for short ones.

If GO Regional Express Rail (RER) is to become part of Toronto’s rapid transit network (never mind John Tory’s SmartTrack fantasy of operating frequent heavy-rail trains on Eglinton Avenue West, while charging passengers a TTC fare), GO fares must come down considerably for short-haul trips, and eventually fare integration between the TTC, GO, and other local transit agencies will have to be implemented.

4 replies on “GO Transit plans to raise fares in 2016. How about a better fare system?”

Seems like a sane, reasonable approach to me. In addition to what you’re suggesting, I would like to see the local transit co-fares dropped altogether (coupled with a parking fee). However, I expect the board will rubber stamp the proposal on the table and defer any radical change until the fare integration report is on the table.

I believe that the base fare should be higher or perhaps there should be a minimum fare closer to $4.50 to $5.00 because every rider needs two stations regardless of distance travelled and that GO should have higher fare than the TTC in order to keep the GO trains from being overloaded at the inner end, especially by outbound riders who would have equal access to seats as those travelling a longer distance. Otherwise a good starting point for a sane debate.

Hi, I’m doing some research on commuting. Would you happen to have fares from 2016 for the Lakeshore East corridor? Thanks

I do have the 2015 fares saved on a spreadsheet for all destinations from Union Station, but I do not have fares for other station pairs. I’ll follow up with you off-line.

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