Categories
Brampton Ontario Transit Travels

Stranded at Bramalea GO: Metrolinx’s missed connections

Temporary bus terminal, Bramalea GO Station
The inhospitable temporary bus terminal at Bramalea GO Station

On Tuesday, August 25, I paid a visit to Kitchener.

Greyhound suspended all operations in Eastern Canada on May 13, 2020 due to low ridership during the COIVD-19 pandemic. Meanwhile VIA Rail reduced its operations, including Train 85, which departed Union Station at 10:55 AM for Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford, and London. Therefore, GO Transit became the only way to get between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo for a day trip without a car.

From boarding the 11:53 Kitchener Line train from Union Station, it should have taken just under two hours to get to Downtown Kitchener. Instead, because of a minor train delay, and a failure of the connecting bus to hold for transferring passengers, it took me three and a half hours.

If we value transit users, passengers must not be left behind when making these transfers, especially when connecting between posted connections.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

A sudden drop in transit usage across the Toronto Region

IMG_6299-001Last week, I wrote about how several TTC routes were facing overcrowding, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and a severe drop in system-wide ridership since early March. I shared this analysis on Spacing’s website, and Ben Spurr at the Toronto Star reported more about the story this week.

Though detailed ridership data is not freely accessible, I wanted to see how ridership on the TTC, GO Transit, and other Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit agencies was faring. Helpfully, the team behind the Transit app, a trip-planning smartphone tool, made their usage data available to transit agencies, journalists, and data nerds to track transit demand during the pandemic. Although there are some limitations to using this data (more on that later), it’s an excellent metric for tracking transit ridership for dozens of major transit authorities across Canada and the United States, representing nearly every major metropolitan region.

The numbers used to determine transit ridership demand is based on usage of the Transit app. (While Transit is one of several apps that can be used to plan trips, including Metrolinx’s own Triplinx app, Transit is my favourite). Normal usage is defined by Transit as app sessions observed on the same day of the week one year ago, averaged over three weeks and corrected for yearly growth in the corresponding transit agency. Hence, a rapidly-growing system, such as Brampton’s, can be represented accurately by the app.

Data was available for every transit agency in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, apart from paratransit services (e.g. Wheel-Trans, Transhelp, DARTS, etc.) and Milton and Caledon Transit, the smallest fixed-route services. The graph below shows the how the usage of the Transit app fluctuated based upon the expected value, reflected as a percentage.

GTHA Transit app usage from Feb 15 2020
Transit app usage compared to expected for GTHA transit agencies, February 15 to April 6, 2020 (click for larger image)

Note how the actual Transit app usage dropped by over 40% for every transit agency on Monday, February 17, which was Family Day, a provincial holiday in Ontario. Most transit services were operating on a weekend or holiday service, while students and many workers did not take transit. This was likely compared with normal Mondays, hence the one-day drop.

It wasn’t until the second week of March that ridership began to decline as the number of COVID-19 cases began to surge in Canada and the United States, and governments began announcing new measures to reduce the rate of infection. On Thursday March 12, Ontario announced that public schools, scheduled to close for March Break, would stay closed for two additional weeks (the shutdown has since been extended). That day, the National Basketball League suspended the season, followed quickly by all other sports leagues. Employers began to implement contingency measures, such as work-from-home arrangements. By Monday the 16th, all restaurants were closed to sit-down clientele, and most entertainment venues closed.

By the week of March 29, transit demand was down by 75 to 82 percent across the Greater Toronto Area. Although many workers were either laid off or were sent home to work, employees in the healthcare, personal care, logistics, essential retail service (i.e. grocery workers), and food manufacturing industries remained on the job. This is evident in the difference between the demand for the subway (-81%) and the surface network (buses and streetcars, -76%) as they serve very different employment centres. Transit’s numbers are comparable to the TTC’s own ridership estimates.

GTA_Ridership_COVID
Map depicting estimated drops in transit demand for GTHA transit agencies compared to expected use for week of March 29 to April 5, 2020. Data from Transit app.

Brampton Transit had the lowest estimated reduction in demand, at -75%. This could be for the same reasons that several bus routes in Toronto saw crowding despite a system-wide drop in ridership. Brampton’s population is relatively lower-income than many other suburban municipalities in Halton, Peel, and York Regions. Brampton also has many large food processing employers, such as Maple Lodge Farms, and many warehouses and distribution centres, including two major Amazon Fulfillment Centres. Brampton Transit connects to other major manufacturing and logistics employment areas in Mississauga, Vaughan and Toronto, including Pearson Airport.

Oakville Transit had the greatest drop, which can be explained by two factors. The first is that Oakville, is a relatively more affluent municipality, with fewer logistics and food industry employers. Secondly, its bus network is designed entirely to connect with GO Transit’s Lakeshore Line, which feeds Downtown Toronto. Therefore, the ridership dependent on Oakville Transit is more likely to be working from home than Brampton’s.

It must be noted that Transit’s figures are not the same as detailed ridership numbers collected by each transit agency. For example, Metrolinx cited a 90% drop in ridership across the GO Transit train and bus network, compared to Transit’s 79% estimate drop. Nonetheless, Transit’s data is a valuable metric.

With the sudden drop in ridership, there’s also a sudden drop in revenue. While many systems, including Brampton Transit and GO Transit have made service reductions, they have been careful to ensure enough capacity remains to safely meet demand. Every system has also increased vehicle and station cleaning, and most have stopped collecting fares to protect both passengers and operators. Just like laid-off employees, students, and freelance workers, transit too will need a bailout of some kind to rebuild lost ridership and maintain safe and healthy services.

Transit projects such as the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, the new relief transit service for central Toronto (be it the Relief Line or Ontario Line), and GO Transit expansion must go on, as does the progress made in building ridership at suburban systems such as Brampton and Durham Region.

Categories
Maps Toronto Transit

Mapping TTC crowding during a pandemic

IMG_6314Rear door boarding on TTC buses is just one measure the TTC has taken to address the COVID-19 crisis

Note to readers: I have since written an updated version article (with a revised map) on Spacing’s website.


While most people are urged to stay home as much as possible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are those who must carry on. These include health care workers, staff at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses, and others who can not work from home. There are also those who continue to require transit to undertake essential errands, such as medical appointments.

Thankfully, most transit systems have carried on. Through GO Transit has experienced an 80% drop in ridership since the beginning of March, it continues to operate all rail lines and most bus routes, providing fewer trips, but maintaining the same span of service hours. The TTC discontinued most express routes, but it maintains a grid of frequent bus and streetcar services.

However, the TTC and Brampton Transit continue to struggle with crowding on certain routes. Brampton Transit — which has resorted to an “enhanced Saturday service” level –will only carry half a bus’s seated capacity to enforce social distancing, which has resulted in “closed-door” situations where buses won’t stop for waiting passengers. As a result, several routes are now discontinued during peak periods so that buses are sent to address crowding elsewhere. Brampton Transit serves many shipping warehouses, including two Amazon fulfillment centres, which remain busy during this time.

Meanwhile, the TTC is struggling with morning rush hour crowding on ten bus routes:

  • 29 Dufferin
  • 35 Jane
  • 41 Keele
  • 44 Kipling South
  • 96 Wilson
  • 102 Markham Road
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood
  • 119 Torbarrie
  • 123 Sherway
  • 165 Weston Rd North

These routes, mostly clustered in the city’s northwest, are illustrated below.

TTC_COVID_CROWDSMap of overcrowded early morning TTC routes during the COVID-19 pandemic
(click for larger version)

Routes 117 and 119 are industrial services, connecting warehouses and food service plants. These industries — like the infamous Fiera Foods plants served by Route 119 — rely on low-paid, often temporary workers, with early morning starts. Certain warehouses and many food-service plants also have very early starts to the day. It would be tough for workers to accommodate the TTC’s request to travel at later times. Routes 96, 102, and 165 also extend into major industrial areas. Route 123 serves the Metro supermarket chain’s distribution centres on Dundas Street and The West Mall.

Many of these routes run through Toronto’s neighbourhood improvement areas, which are identified by the city as those requiring additional investment due to issues such as poor access to services and higher concentrations of low-income families. In addition, routes 41, 96, 119, and 165 serve the Humber River Regional Hospital, one of Toronto’s largest health care facilities, while the 96 Wilson also directly serves Etobicoke General Hospital.

Though it would be best for private essential employers to stagger shifts during this unprecedented time, there may be a need for the TTC to redirect some resources towards these parts of the city.

Categories
Ontario Politics Toronto Transit Walking

The consequences of losing the GO-TTC discount

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When the Toronto subway system was extended by six stops to York University and Vaughan, it marked the first time the TTC’s rapid transit system extended beyond the city’s boundaries. But it also exposed a major failing of the Golden Horseshoe’s transit structure: the complete lack of fare integration.

In 2017, the provincial government announced a new fare discount between the TTC and GO Transit, which operates the region’s commuter rail and bus network. This $1.50 fare discount, available to Presto card users, was funded by the previous Liberal government’s fledgling cap-and-trade carbon pricing scheme, with the promise of further fare adjustments (such as discounts for transferring between the TTC and other suburban transit agencies, such as York Region Transit and Miway) to come.

With the election of the Progressive Conservatives in 2018, the cap-and-trade scheme was cancelled, and with it, the continued funding for the GO-TTC fare discount. That discount is set to come to an end on March 31, 2020. Neither the cash-strapped TTC or Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit and transit planning, will step up to make up the difference.

IMG_7865-001GO Transit buses used to stop right in front of Vari Hall, in the heart of York University’s campus

Though many regular GO rail commuters will feel the impact of the loss of the fare discount, the impact on York University students and staff will be especially felt. That’s because the new subway extension was planned to remove GO Transit buses from the heart of the campus to a purpose-built terminal at a remote new subway station next to Highway 407. I recently wrote about the problematic fare structure on those GO buses serving Highway 407 Station. Now, those commuters going two more stops will pay $6.40 a day in TTC fares on top of those expensive GO fares.

Unless they decide to walk to campus.

On Thursday, March 5, I tried do just that. It was not a pleasant experience.

Highway 407 Station features a large bus terminal for GO Transit and YRT buses, a passenger drop-off and pick-up area, and a commuter lot. But it was not built with pedestrians in mind. That’s understandable. The only places within a few minutes’ walk are Beechwood Cemetery across the street, a warehouse, and the employee entrance to a major UPS parcel centre.

The main — and only authorized — entrance is on the opposite side of Jane Street, facing the passenger drop-off/pick-up area and the parking lot. It is quite clear in the design that most passengers would be transferring between bus and subway, perhaps with the idea that the fare boundary issue would be resolved by the time the station was open.

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Jane Street, with the entrance to Highway 407 on the right, and Beechwood Cemetery on the left

The vertical circulation prioritizes bus-subway connections. At the bus platform level, I spotted a sign that said “to street, subway” leading to a downwards escalator. But it led me past the mezzanine level straight to the subway fare gates. I had to climb halfway up to get to the entrance doors.

IMG_7848-001The stained glass at Highway 407 glows in the late afternoon sun. But it doesn’t take away from a poor user experience.

Once outside, I noted that the pedestrian path between the parking lot and the passenger waiting area was completely covered by a giant dirty snow pile. It’s clear that pedestrians are not welcome here.

Snow left on the only legal sidewalk leading out of Highway 407 Station

The circuitous route is designed to keep pedestrians out of the way of the buses entering and exiting the station. But I was left wondering why a shorter, direct, and snow-free route was not designed into the station plan at the beginning. It would have cut a few minutes from my efforts in leaving the station.

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Pedestrians are barred from the more direct route into the station, even though the bus terminal is not a TTC fare-paid area.

Eventually, I made it to Jane Street, and began walking south towards Steeles Avenue and campus. The narrow sidewalk hugs Jane Street, and right into a splash zone under the CN Railway underpass.

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An unpleasant walk along Jane Street

After twenty-seven minutes, I made it to Pioneer Village Station, which was designed with two separate bus terminals. YRT buses use the smaller bus loop on the north side of Steeles Avenue, outside the fare-paid area. TTC buses use a larger terminal south of Steeles Avenue, on the York University lands. YRT passengers headed to campus must cross Steeles Avenue at grade as the mezzanine level underneath is fully within the TTC fare paid zone. Technically, one could transfer from GO to the YRT 20 Jane bus at Highway 407 Station (with a Presto card, it would cost only $1 each way with the YRT-GO co-fare). But it would still only get you part of the way to campus.

IMG_7863-001

After 35 minutes, I made it from the GO bus platform at Highway 407 Station to the Life Sciences Building at York University, on the northwest corner of the central campus, with another 5-10 minutes to major buildings such as Vari Hall or Scott Library. This was at a relatively quick pace (I’m an able-bodied thirty-something man), in quite pleasant weather. A rainy or bitterly cold day would be quite a different matter. Therefore, most will be forced to pay $3.20 each way (the current TTC Presto fare).

The subway, with the major GO and YRT terminals off campus, was designed for a new fare structure where students and university staff wouldn’t be penalized for having to transfer one or two subway stops to get to the middle of campus. The most we got was a fare discount for GO Transit riders, with nothing for YRT commuters. (Only Brampton Transit continues to directly serve York University.) And now that meagre fare concession is going away, because no one wants to pay for it.

Sadly, this is just further evidence of how we get transit so wrong in the Golden Horseshoe, despite it being the country’s economic heartland.


Transit advocacy group TTC Riders, along with allies at York University, have been calling on Queen’s Park to continue to fund the fare discount. You can find out more here.

I also expect that the opposition New Democrats will submit a motion in the legislature to maintain funding for the discount next week. I’ll update this post as necessary.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

Disappearing GO-TTC fare discount a major blow to regional transit in Toronto

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Updated January 22, 2020

The TTC-GO fare discount will officially come to an end on Tuesday March 31, 2020, with the TTC and Metrolinx unable to come to agreement to keep the fare subsidy going without provincial support.

As I argue below, this is a major blow to any hopes for an integrated regional transit system throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Subsidized transfers reduce the need to build expensive parking lots and garages, encourage more passengers to ride transit, especially in off-peak periods, and reduce the potential of major GO Transit expansion projects planned or underway.



Originally published July 12, 2019:

Earlier this week, transit riders learned that the fare discount for connecting between GO Transit and the TTC would soon come to an end.

The provincial Liberal government introduced the discounted double fare in 2017. It reduced the cost of a trip taken on both GO and TTC by $1.50 if the fare was paid on a Presto fare card. For many years, there were discounted transfers between GO and suburban transit agencies, but this was the first time such a discount was offered to TTC passengers.

The Liberals also planned discounts for transferring between suburban bus systems such as York Region Transit and Miway, subsidies that would have been covered by the provincial carbon pricing scheme. This would have reduced the impact of another fare barrier. (A short bus trip across Steeles Avenue costs nearly $7.)

When the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government was elected, the provincial climate change plan was scrapped, along with those planned fare changes. Now, the province will not renew the $18.5 million annual subsidy for linked GO-TTC fares, though it did introduce free fares for children on GO Transit.

This will especially affect commuters to York University, who previously enjoyed a one-seat ride to the heart of the campus on YRT and GO buses. When the subway extension opened, YRT retreated to terminals north of Steeles Avenue, forcing a transfer to the subway or a long walk across six lanes of traffic and campus parking lots. GO Transit, too, moved to a new terminal at Highway 407, two subway stops from campus. While GO commuters at least saved $3.00 a day with the discounted double fare, YRT commuters got nothing. (Of all the suburban agencies, only Brampton Transit continues to serve the campus.)

This is also a blow to what’s left of SmartTrack, Mayor John Tory’s signature transit plan that was once pitched as “London-style surface rail.” At first, SmartTrack was a 53-kilometre heavy-rail line, mostly piggybacking on existing GO Transit corridors, but including a problematic western branch to the Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga, all on an integrated TTC fare. Eventually SmartTrack just consisted of more frequent, electric GO service, along with additional station stops and fare integration. This was much more realistic, but it distracted from other needs such as the Relief Line and GO’s own RER regional rail plan.

Lower GO fares for short trips and the TTC-GO fare discount were all part of this scaled-back version; as late as last year, Tory called additional fare integration a “critical component” of his pitch. Eliminating the fare discounts is yet another blow to SmartTrack.

As Jonathan English points out in Urban Toronto, the GO rail network represents “tremendous infrastructure that could greatly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Torontonians.” But it lies “letting it lie mostly dormant because we won’t make the comparatively small operating funding investments required to improve the service and make the fares fair.”

The $18.5 million annual cost is a small price to pay for improving transit accessibility and utilization of our existing corridors. Increasing that annual subsidy to reduce the cost of transfers between the TTC , York Region, Brampton, and Mississauga would, too be a worthwhile investment.

Sadly, the current provincial government does not see the value in promoting fairer fare systems, nor regional transit in general. In response to budget cuts, Metrolinx reduced or eliminated service on five GO bus routes last month, and more may be to come. While there may be enthusiasm for building a new “Ontario Line” and a subway extension to Richmond Hill, there’s little regard for the actual transit rider.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

Unfair GO fares on the Highway 407 Corridor

GO bus with bicycle

Since 1967, GO Transit’s primary focus has been its commuter rail lines radiating from Downtown Toronto, sometimes to the detriment of other transit needs in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, with bus routes complementing and supplementing that rail network. But twenty years ago, the regional transit service launched a new bus route that connected York University with suburban GO stations and bus terminals, filling in a gap and setting a precedent for expansion to other university and college campuses.

Late last year, I analysed the GO Transit rail fare structure that centres on Toronto Union Station, following up on previous work. GO Transit claims to operate on a fare-by-distance structure, this is not quite the case. Generally, the longer one travels, the less the passenger pays per distance traveled. 

Though the GO Transit fare structure was recently improved with new lower fares for short trips, there are still significant fare inequities and discrepancies, with Barrie and Richmond Hill Corridor passengers paying the least per kilometre traveled, and Kitchener Corridor passengers paying the most. 

The fare discrepancies on the Highway 407 corridor — which is made up of eight bus routes that serve the Highway 407 bus terminal and TTC subway station in Vaughan — are even greater than that on the rail network. A passenger going from Markham GO Station, 27 kilometres from Highway 407 Station, will only pay $3.70 with a Presto card. A passenger from Bramalea GO Station, just 18.7 kilometres from Highway 407 Station, will pay over two dollars more. 

Categories
Ontario Transit

Going for a ride on the Bolton Bus

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Caledon, a town of 66,000 located northwest of Toronto, is known for charming villages, fall colours, and horse farms. Its most popular landmarks include the waterfall at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, the unique Cheltenham Badlands, and the vast Albion Hills Conservation Area. Much of the municipality lies within Niagara Escarpment and Greenbelt protected areas, with lands set aside for farms, estates, parks, and golf. That’s how many Caledonians like it.

Despite its green reputation, Caledon is urbanizing its southeastern quadrant, filling it up with warehouses, truck terminals, and low-density residential subdivisions, all adjacent to the built-up areas of Brampton and Vaughan. Bolton, once a small village, now has a population of 20,000. New subdivisions north of Mayfield Road are indistinguishable from Brampton’s residential development.

Though two GO Transit bus routes ran through Caledon, it had no transit system of its own. This was becoming more of a problem as new warehouses employing thousands of workers opened GO Transit’s buses were scheduled to connect with trains to and from Downtown Toronto, not to serve reverse commuters. Though Brampton Transit operated several routes close to Caledon’s borders, it could not extend north of Mayfield Road without an agreement with the town.

Despite Caledon’s historical resistance to public transit, its attitude slowly changed for the better.

In May 2010, Brampton Transit’s 30 Airport Road bus was extended to the AMB (now Prologis) warehouse complex just north of Mayfield Road. This was done at the request of AMB, though the Town of Caledon had to agree to the request for service.

In 2015, Caledon began to study the need for a local transit system, retaining consultants from Steer Group to evaluate and develop options for new transit services, including routes, operators, and service hours. In April 2019, the report to council recommended starting with a route on Kennedy Road in Mayfield West (contracted by Brampton Transit) and a route connecting employment areas in Bolton with Brampton Transit and YRT at Highways 7 and 50 (contracted to a third party), with a demand-response service within Bolton and an extension of a future Brampton Transit route along Mayfield Road provided within a second phase.

Meanwhile, GO Transit announced the abandonment of Route 38 in June, citing the planned new local transit service as justification for the cut, even though it wasn’t yet setup. Though GO partially restored the service (two daily round trips to Malton GO continue, for now), it remains a short-term solution.

The Mayfield West service — Brampton Transit Route 81 — began in September, connecting with the 502 Züm at Sandalwood Parkway. On Monday, November 11, 2019, the Bolton Route began service, contracted to Voyago. Both routes operate on 30 minute frequencies, weekday peak hours only.

IMG_4900-001.JPGNew Brampton Transit stop on Kennedy Road in Caledon

The two separate agreements don’t work that well for creating a unified transit service.

Though Route 81 and the Bolton Route both have a $4.00 cash fare, the Brampton Transit-contracted service operates on that agency’s fare structure. There’s a discount for Presto card users and a two-hour transfer valid on any other Brampton Transit route. The 80 cent co-fare to and from GO Transit also applies (Route 81 connects with the frequent 502 bus to Downtown Brampton). It’s a good deal for residents in west Caledon.

However, the Voyago-contracted buses serving Bolton are only equipped with a fare box, and only accept $4.00 cash fares. There are no free transfers to or from connecting buses at Highways 7 and 50. (Brampton Transit routes 501 Züm, 1, 23, and 36 connect there, as does YRT route 77. It’s a few minutes’ walk to BT routes 31 and 50.)

Last week, I took the new Bolton bus to get a feel for the new service. The Bolton line operates with two minibuses with twenty seats each and a spot for mobility devices at the rear. Within Bolton, the bus makes a long loop, primarily serving the industrial area in the southwestern quadrant.

I boarded an afternoon bus from Highway 7 at 3:26 PM and rode to Downtown Bolton. I returned on the bus leaving Bolton at 4:30 PM. I was the only passenger each way; I was told by one driver that was typical. By riding the bus, I was able to learn about some of Caledon’s challenges.

Transit options from Caledon council reportCaledon Transit high-priority route options from the April 2019 council report

If the Bolton Line were integrated with York Region Transit and Brampton Transit and made more stops within Brampton. There are several major employers on the Vaughan side of Highway 50, including XPO Logistics, Home Depot, and the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard. Additional stops at Major Mackenzie/Coleraine, Rutherford/Castlemore, Trade Valley/Bellechase, and Zenway/Cortrelle would make the bus more accessible and useful to residents and employers. Another stop at Queen Street (Highway 7) and Gore Road would improve connections to Route 50, which serves Humber College.

Those additional stops would likely require a third bus, but the current route struggles to maintain a 60-minute round trip even with the limited stops currently in place. But with fare integration and local service, it could then attract more passengers, defraying the cost of the additional vehicle and operator.

In the long term, it would be good to see more cooperation with Brampton Transit, especially as Brampton continues to develop new subdivisions and industrial lands in the northeast, in the areas bordering Caledon and Vaughan. If GO Transit goes ahead and abandons the remnant of Route 38 an express route between Bolton and Malton GO will still be necessary; ideally, that would would be a partnership between Brampton and Caledon.

Hopefully, Caledon will continue its commitment to building a transit service within its urbanized area. Despite very low ridership at present, the potential is there as population and employment continue to grow. It will take time to tweak the service, improve connections, and build ridership that can count on affordable, reliable transit.

It’s also time for Halton Hills — now the last GTHA municipality without local transit — to step up and follow Caledon’s lead.

Categories
Maps Toronto Transit

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.

Categories
Cycling Travels

Biking off to Buffalo

IMG_6241Tondawanda Rail Trail

Back on Victoria Day weekend, I biked down to Toronto’s Union Station, loaded by wheels onto a GO train, and headed for Niagara. I have biked through Niagara before, and it is a very pleasant place for cycling, with many paved paths, quiet roads, and paved shoulders and bike lanes along many busier roads. Charming towns such as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Port Colborne offer many places for cyclists to eat, drink, and stay. If you haven’t yet done so, GO Transit’s bike train is worth checking out this year.

It is also possible to cross the border by bike as well, where there are many great bike routes and parks worth exploring. On my last trip, this is exactly what I did.

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GO Transit’s bike train at Union Station

Officially, cyclists may cross at three of the four bridges over the Niagara River. To the north, cyclists may cross at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, which connects Ontario Highway 405 with Interstate 190. However, cyclists must cross with traffic (there’s no sidewalk, and pedestrians are prohibited), an unappealing option.

The Rainbow Bridge allows both pedestrians and cyclists, though cyclists can not use the sidewalk (which offers great view of the nearby falls),but must also ride with traffic. But the Rainbow Bridge prohibits trucks; it is easy to access from city streets in both Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.

The Peace Bridge, at the end of the Queen Elizabeth Way in Fort Erie, also permits pedestrians and cyclists, though cyclists must walk their bikes on the sidewalk. A multi-year rehabilitation project closed the sidewalk, but work was recently completed and the sidewalk will open shortly. In the meantime, the Peace Bridge offers a shuttle van (I called on July 1 2019 to confirm its operation, the representative I spoke to advises to call the Peace Bridge office to request a pick up). The Peace Bridge’s website offers detailed instructions on how to access the crossing on both sides.

The Peace Bridge is free to pedestrians and cyclists in both directions, though cyclists on the Rainbow Bridge are charged $1 (US or Canadian) to travel to Canada.

I chose to take the Rainbow Bridge both ways. It being a long weekend, I had to wait in traffic both ways, but at least the views are decent, and it’s a flat bridge deck.

IMG_6166Crossing the Rainbow Bridge by bike means waiting in traffic…

IMG_6169…though at least the view is nice

Once across in Niagara Falls, New York, it is easy to access Niagara Falls State Park, which offers great views of the Falls, and is free to enter (though there are charges for parking and for accessing the viewing tower and lower gorge trails). Cyclists are asked to dismount and walk in sections of the park, though it is a reasonable request due to the crowds.

I then biked along the Niagara Scenic Parkway upriver towards Tondawanda. The parkway was formerly named the Robert Moses State Parkway, but it has since been tamed to improve pedestrian and cycling facilities along the Niagara River, with the road closed completely at the Rainbow Bridge, and narrowed elsewhere. I doubt the Power Broker would have approved.

1-IMG_1624.JPGAbandoned section of the Robert Moses State Parkway under the Rainbow Bridge

South of Tonawanda, I chose to follow a new rail trail that followed an old interurban line that connected Buffalo with Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. The International Railway Company once operated a large network of street railways in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, as well as rural lines leading as far as Hamburg and Lockport. It also once operated a tourist trolley along both sides of the Niagara River tourist trolley along both sides of the Niagara River, making it a truly international operation. Interurban service ended in 1937, while the last streetcars ran in 1950.

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Tonawanda Rail Trail guide sign

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the public successor to the IRC, retained ownership of the Tonawanda corridor, planning a spur line of the new Buffalo Metro LRT. But local opposition and a lack of funds derailed those plans; happily, it is now a wonderful trail with safe, signalized crossings at every major cross street.

Once in Buffalo, there are many bike lanes, and lower levels of traffic. Not once was I honked at or felt threatened by motorists. The city is mostly flat, and there are many neighbourhoods and landmarks worth checking out, with great restaurants, bars, and breweries. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts in Downtown Buffalo and in the Allentown area.

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Bike Lanes on tree-lined Richmond Avenue

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Symphony Circle, one of many traffic circles as part of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s parkway system developed for Buffalo

Visiting Buffalo on a Sunday/Monday of a Canadian long weekend also meant being in town on normal working day on Monday, where commercial and institutional buildings are open to the public. The view from the observation deck at Buffalo City Hall is fantastic, while the Council Chamber is an art deco masterpiece.

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I had lunch in the Ellicott Square Building, which, when completed in 1896, was the largest office building in the world. The building was designed by Charles Atwood of Chicago’s D.H. Burham & Company, and its interior courtyard is spectacular. Several food vendors operate weekdays.

1-IMG_1570-001Courtyard, Ellicott Square Building

Buffalo is an attractive cycling destination because a back-up option exists. The NFTA buses are all equipped with bike racks; the Route 40 bus runs direct from Downtown Buffalo to Downtown Niagara Falls, New York. The Monday was cool, wet, and windy, and I was tired (I later found out I was coming down with a bad cold), so I opted to spend the extra time cycling around downtown and the Erie Canal Harbour area and take advantage of the bus service back.

The GO Niagara bike train operates every weekend until Labour Day, and again during Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend. The Buffalo-Niagara region has a lot to offer cyclists, and it is worth your consideration.

Categories
Brampton Development Transit Urban Planning

The future of Downtown Brampton

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Metrolinx-owned houses on Railroad Street, Brampton

Over the last three years, I have been following developments in Downtown Brampton, especially lands surrounding the Brampton GO Station. In April 2016, Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit, began buying properties in the northwest corner of Brampton’s downtown core, including twelve houses and two low-rise office buildings. The land assembly was for a new surface parking lot, an odd choice for a transit agency that was otherwise interested in promoting compatible land use and transit connections in designated urban centres.

It was later revealed that Metrolinx, Ryerson University, and the City of Brampton were working on a new downtown satellite campus, with the main academic building to be constructed on part of the GO parking lot, north of the rail corridor. While the construction of more surface parking in a downtown core was still a bad idea, at least there was a reason behind the land assembly. The new Ryerson site would make use of other city resources, such as the Rose Theatre and the planned Centre for Innovation (CFI). The CFI would include academic space and a central library, to be built on city-owned land south of the GO station and bus terminal.

university mapPrevious plans for Downtown Brampton, including the Centre for Innovation and the Ryerson campus on the GO Transit lot. Replacement parking would be built on land assembled south of the rail corridor. 

In October, the newly elected Conservative government cancelled provincial funding for Brampton’s Ryerson campus, as well as other suburban satellite universities planned in Markham and Milton. While Brampton and Ryerson decided to continue working on a scaled-back development including a new centre for cybersecurity, a new plan was developed for downtown revitalization. Details are available in the May 15, 2019 Committee of Council agenda.

Here’s a simplified summary of the new plan:

  • The CFI will now be built on the north side of Nelson Street West, between Main Street and George Street, on the site of the existing downtown bus terminal, a 6-story office building constructed in 1989, and an older two-storey commercial block. The office building, though only thirty years old, is reported to be in poor condition. The new 15,700 square metre (170,000 square feet) CFI will include the central library, education space, event space, and retail. It may also include additional floors for offices.
  • The bus terminal will be expanded, as the existing facility is too small to accommodate GO and Brampton Transit buses. There will also be room for a new third track through Downtown Brampton, essential for frequent two-way GO service between Toronto, Brampton, and Kitchener.
  • The City of Brampton will likely build a temporary terminal on the south side of Nelson Street to accommodate the demolition of the existing structures and the construction of the CFI and terminal. This land, also owned by the city, is currently occupied by a surface lot and an old commercial building that was originally a Loblaws store. Retail tenants are being evicted from all of the above properties.
  • The city is also interested in using the two office buildings purchased by Metrolinx for short-term academic and administrative purposes as the new CFI is being built.
  • The houses on Nelson, Elizabeth and Railroad Streets acquired by Metrolinx will still be torn down, but without the imminent construction of the Ryerson building, a new parking lot is no longer planned. It is possible that the block will see transit-oriented development in the long term.

IMG_6155-001Vacated office buildings at George and Nelson Streets that may see new life under the city’s new plans

The map below illustrates the revised downtown plans.

It remains a shame that Metrolinx decided to buy up a whole city block and displace dozens of residents (among the properties it acquired were two heritage houses and a rooming house), especially now that the Brampton Ryerson campus is being scaled back. But the city desperately needs a central library, and happily, Ryerson remains interested in partnering with Brampton. It’s good to see that transit expansion, including a larger bus terminal and GO rail expansion, are part of the plans.