While travelling through the Northeastern United States this spring and summer, I found myself feeling lucky to be living in Toronto. Though the New York City Subway and the PATH trains between New Jersey and Manhattan were operating pretty much as I remember them, in other big cities, the mass transit systems were in rough shape. In Washington, underfunding and incompetence led to the long-term withdrawal of over half of its Metro cars. During our visit in April, we were treated to long waits and crowded trains, though at least the system was clean. When we visited Philadelphia in late June, it was clear that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) had given up: poor communications, lengthy waits, unsafe subway stations, and general apathy among staff and passengers made my spouse and I resort to driving on our last day there.
In Toronto, at least, the subway was still running frequently (with only minor service cuts due to the pandemic), the buses and streetcars as (un)reliable as ever, and despite more anti-social behaviour on some of its surface routes, I almost never felt afraid for my well-being when riding the Rocket, compared to my experience in Philly. GO Transit responded to the pandemic very well. Though it was forced to suspend many of its train and bus trips due to a sudden plunge in ridership, it maintained a basic service level on nearly all of its routes, slowly restoring certain services in 2021 as ridership slowly rebounded. Some corridors, like the Kitchener Line, had more service in the early Fall of 2021 than it did prior to the pandemic. As Metrolinx continued planning and construction of major transit projects like GO Expansion, the Ontario Line, and several LRT corridors, the future looked bright. In Spring 2022, GO Transit introduced a special weekend day pass for $10 per day or $15 per weekend, to help grow ridership.
Unfortunately by late June 2022, GO began to fall apart.
By July 2022, Metrolinx reported weekday ridership at 49% of pre-pandemic levels at GO Transit and Union-Pearson Express (UPX). Continued work-from-home in the corporate office sector that has traditionally been GO Transit’s bread-and-butter (given its focus on commuter operations to and from Union Station) is the simple explanation for this long-term trend. However, weekend bus and rail ridership skyrocketed: while the bus network has 88% of pre-pandemic weekend ridership, the entire system, rail included, is at 102.2% of Summer 2019. The return of traditional summer events, such as Pride and Caribana, concerts, as well as Blue Jays and TFC matches, along with weekend fare discounts, drove that increase.
This is despite the fact that Lakeshore West and East corridor schedules are only half-hourly, instead of every 15 minutes, and even UP Express is operating at half the frequency it did in 2019.
The weekend passes were a great way at attracting riders — provided you could use the reduced rail services, and that overcrowded Lakeshore trains were not a deterrent. With only half-hourly train service on the Lakeshore Corridor, overcrowded trains at Union and Exhibition Stations resulted in significant delays. Though GO Transit is able to offer limited weekend train service on the Barrie and Stouffville Corridors into York Region, it has yet to offer any weekend train service on the Kitchener Line, at least an hourly schedule similar to that offered on weekdays. Even though Brampton is now Canada’s ninth-largest city, GO only provides buses. The Milton Line, which serves central and northwestern Mississauga, is also served only by buses outside of weekday peak periods.
With the return of heavy weekend traffic into Downtown Toronto, the Milton and Kitchener Lines have become useless on weekends. As I wrote here previously, severe traffic congestion has forced GO Transit to reroute Milton and Kitchener corridor buses to a congested bus loop at Port Credit Station in Mississauga, and forcing bus passengers to transfer to and from already overcrowded half-hourly trains. With traffic congestion on the QEW between Highway 427 and Hurontario Street (thanks to construction projects at Dixie Road and the LRT work on Hurontario), the detour itself is frustratingly slow. The elevator outage at Port Credit GO, which lasted for weeks, made the transfer worse for anyone using a stroller or requiring mobility aid such as a wheelchair.
With the September changes (where GO usually schedules significant schedule improvements to coincide with the return of students and many office workers), only minor tweaks are made to the schedules. There is nothing offered to address train overcrowding or regularly-detoured buses to Downtown Toronto.
Until recently, I have been sympathetic to GO Transit’s predicament. It takes time to train rail crews and bus operators, and its funding is dependent on ridership (which remains low overall) and government transfers. But at this point, it is inexcusable that it can not have more rail crews ready to respond to ridership surges. Metrolinx has shown no resolve to fix the problems at the Union Station Bus Terminal after months of weekend detours, while the City of Toronto remains oblivious to the problem as well. The Province of Ontario, which controls Metrolinx, has been silent as well. Transportation Minister Carolyn Mulroney and the PC Government — should share much of the blame.
GO Transit is broken. So far, I have seen no initiative from Metrolinx or any level of government to fix it. That should outrage all of us.
In other news, TOK Coachlines (formerly Can-Ar), will be moving out of the new Union Station terminal to a new “Toronto” terminus at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station, while changing its service to just three days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) on its two routes. Interestingly, TOK was the first private coach operator to move out of the old Toronto Coach Terminal on Bay Street, using the old GO Transit Union Station Terminal. As its buses loaded during the evening rush hour, it was able to take advantage of the spare capacity when all of its rail corridors were operating. For it to abandon downtown Toronto altogether in favour of a curbside stop in Vaughan sets what might be a dangerous precedent.
Elsewhere in Ontario, there are few significant changes to note. In Chatham-Kent, a new local on-demand service was launched earlier this summer in Wallaceburg. In partnership with the Town of Amherstburg, Transit Windsor is starting a new route between the two communities, offering three trips a day. The new route originates at the Hotel-Dieu Grace transit terminal in the west end of Windsor, where transfers may be made to Downtown Windsor or St. Clair College.
In the GTA, while Brampton Transit partially restored direct Züm bus service to York University (saving many of its riders from paying to transfer to the TTC for two or three stops), it, like most transit agencies, are still only restoring more services, rather than expanding to attract new riders.
Only Milton Transit is offering something new. Route 21 Steeles will connect Milton with Miway and Brampton Transit at Lisgar GO Station, providing its first direct connection to neighbouring local bus services. The new route will allow Milton residents to reach Sheridan College in Brampton and major employers in northwest Mississauga and west Brampton, while also getting shoppers and retail workers to the outlet mall at Trafalgar Road.
These changes are reflected in my Ontario Intercity Transit Map.