Intercity Rail Maps Ontario Transit Travels

Ontario intercity transportation at the end of 2022: More choices, fewer routes

A Red Arrow coach lays over at a Harvey’s restaurant in Kingston on the way to Ottawa

On December 7, I took a trip out to Kingston to ride the newest coach operator to arrive in Ontario: Red Arrow. A division of Pacific Western, Red Arrow is the latest carrier to stake a claim to the busy Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa route, which is now served by five private companies.

Between Toronto and Ottawa, five intercity coach carriers–Megabus, Rider Express, Flixbus, Book-A-Ride, and Red Arrow–compete for the same passengers, along with VIA Rail and three airlines (Air Canada, WestJet, and Porter).

There is also fierce competition for the Toronto-London route. Passengers have the choice of taking Megabus, Rider Express, Onex, Flixbus, Book-A-Ride, VIA Rail, or a very slow weekday-only GO train. Along with VIA, Flixbus also continues west, to Windsor (where the Tunnel Bus connection to Detroit has finally been restored). The Toronto-St. Catharines-Niagara route is also served by multiple bus and rail services.

Red Arrow coach seating

Despite new intercity coach players like Red Arrow (which provides a high-end coach service, with comfortable seating in a 2+1 arrangement, along with complimentary soft drinks and light snacks) and Book-A-Ride (which operates like a charter airline, with schedules that change frequently based on demand), many other routes still have limited or no service. Flixbus quietly dropped its Kitchener-Hamilton-Niagara route earlier this year, eliminating service on a corridor that once had frequent Canada Coach Lines buses; that route had been sold in 1990 to Trentway-Wagar/Coach Canada. Flixbus also ended service to Guelph, instead concentrating on its other corridors. Early next year, Megabus will end its route between Toronto, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.

The deregulation of motor coach services within the Province of Ontario may have made some sense. The old bargain of providing exclusive franchises for busy, profitable routes made sense when operators would use those cash cows to help subsidize less-trafficked rural services. But as Greyhound, Stagecoach, and other large companies bought up smaller carriers (such as Gray Coach, Canada Coach Lines, and PMCL) in the 1980s and 1990s, they were allowed to slowly abandon the smaller routes. Greyhound itself divested most of its network before disappearing altogether. As the franchising scheme didn’t work, there was no point keeping it.

But now, there’s the absurd situation where there are up to 25 daily buses and trains between Toronto and Ottawa (see table below). In contrast, there is not a single daily bus service connecting Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo–two urban centres of over 500,000 people each, just an hour apart, with three large universities (Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier, and McMaster) and two major colleges (Conestoga and Mohawk) between them.

Available trips from Toronto to Ottawa, December 2022, with times for Kingston and Peterborough. Bus and rail tips to Montreal via Kingston are not included.
A PDF version can be found here.

Elsewhere, where GO Transit and government-subsidized regional connections have filled gaps, the services are often slower and less direct than the old coach bus service. PMCL used to operate daily bus service between Owen Sound and Toronto via Collingwood and Barrie. Today, the same trip is possible via Grey Transit Route, Colltrans, Simcoe County Linx, and GO Transit, but the trip will take the better part of a day. Meanwhile, other gaps remain. Elgin County (Aylmer and St. Thomas) and Haldimand County (Caledonia, Dunnville, Hagersville, and Jarvis) are left without any outside connections.

Such is the state of the intercity transportation network (if you can call it that) in Ontario.

Though I enjoyed the trip on Red Arrow to Kingston (especially as I took advantage of a special $25 fare), I wondered how well the service will do here in Ontario. Its base price is over $100 one-way to Ottawa, more expensive than other coach operators and priced more like VIA Rail, which itself is slightly faster (as long as CN freight trains do not get in the way). Red Arrow uses the same locations in Ottawa (the VIA Rail Station itself) and Toronto (Union Station Bus Terminal) as the train. Red Arrow does well in Alberta, where there is no useful passenger rail service (Pacific Western also offers a no-frills coach bus service on the same Calgary-Edmonton route).

The latest version of my interactive intercity transit map is below:

Link to the newest version of my map of Ontario’s Intercity bus and rail connections

5 replies on “Ontario intercity transportation at the end of 2022: More choices, fewer routes”

[Flixbus quietly dropped its Kitchener-Hamilton-Niagara route earlier this year, eliminating service on a corridor that once had frequent Canada Coach Lines buses…Flixbus also ended service to Guelph, instead concentrating on its other corridors]

The promise always seemed to surpass the reality. Flixbus was very brash in promoting how ‘green’ the are/were, but bicycles were not carried on any of the routes mentioned, at least not from my looking intently for it in their published materials.

For some reason, the gaping hole of service between Guelph and Hamilton especially seems to swallow many attempts of a service. The last to try was very handy, albeit a single cycling partner and I did it some five years or so back. It was pricey, and barely used.

I did get to try the Guelph to Owen Sound GOST service late Summer this year, albeit just Guelph to Fergus as a test. (I have a massively torn irreparable rotator cuff) and loading my bike onto and from the GO 29 from Kipling went fairly well unassisted, but when the driver of the GOST ‘airport van’ saw I was struggling to lift above my waist with the bike to get it into the back door, he jumped to help.

The price to ride GOST is incredibly affordable, and the van rides like a much larger vehicle. Suspension and power have been tweaked on it.

I’m ready for Spring to do more miles on GOST with bike and cycling companions!

The prior post had run out of permitted characters.

An important point on GOST: From GOST reps I’ve spoken to, the Province has agreed (hopefully committed!) to finance the endeavour for ‘a couple of years’ so they aren’t overly concerned about a slow start to building up ridership. This is incredibly important, as it takes almost a year for the word to get out that such exists.

Of all the folks in Guelph I’ve spoken with, none were aware of the service. This is as much a fault with the Province, on this and any other routes similarly subsidized.

To be a success, the Province (and perhaps GO Transit, as many of these are complementary extensions to GO service) must start marketing them.

Or these, like those before them, will also fail.

The City of Owen Sound has the subsidy from the Province to operate/contract, set fares and promote the service. The whole point of the Community Transportation grant program is to make these routes sustainable.
Inputting the schedule/route and coordinating schedules with GOTransit’s Kitchener rail line is overdue and would be a start to making this service sustainable.

Megabus/Coach Canada/Trentway-Wagar dropped KW-Hamilton when deregulation hapenned. The Hamilton-Niagara route came to an end once they could not compete with GO Transit on the same corridor.

Chris writes:
[Inputting the schedule/route and coordinating schedules with GOTransit’s Kitchener rail line is overdue and would be a start to making this service sustainable.]

This is an incredibly valid point, save that GO trains out to Guelph, until further improvement on the line allows all-day two-way, means having to take the #29 bus from Kipling for Torontonians headed west, which does now mesh with the morning run north from Guelph. (I don’t have the schedule handy, from memory, it’s the #29 bus from Kipling 08:55, which when arriving at Guelph *if it is on-time!* allows a five minute overlap on the northbound GOST.

I call that a start! I’m led to understand that attempts are being made, especially at the Owen Sound end, to facilitate further timetable integration.

I fully believe it should be in Metrolinx’ mandate to indicate on their timetables when interconnections can be made, and even further, for dispatch for both orgs to communicate as much as possible (it can even be passive text or access to each others’ operational status) to hold a bus for at least a few minutes if the connecting one is running late.

GO already does this with their own trains and buses, that ‘where-with-all’ should be furthered to other bus services, *especially* provincially subsidized ones running in lieu of Metrolinx’ limited reach.

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