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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.

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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 Toronto Transit

How YRT service cuts at York University demonstrate a failure of regional transit

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York University Subway Station, opening day

On Sunday, December 17, 2017, the TTC opened the long-awaited $3.2 billion Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension to York University and the City of Vaughan. The extension of Line 1, which included six new stations, opened over two years behind schedule largely due to construction-related delays. It was the first subway to extend beyond Toronto’s boundaries; York Region is now pushing for another subway extension up Yonge Street to Richmond Hill.

Unfortunately, fare integration between the TTC and suburban transit agencies was never completely worked out, despite many years’ notice that this would be an issue once the subway extension was opened. A new GO Transit terminal was built at Highway 407 Station, meant to handle GO Transit’s many buses currently serving York University. York University and York Region Transit (YRT) signed an agreement that YRT would remove its buses from campus after the subway opened. There was an assumption that transit riders destined for York University would simply transfer to the subway, but measures to prevent those riders from paying a second fare were never worked out.

And now York Region is withdrawing its buses from the campus as of September 2, 2018. While Brampton Transit won’t be withdrawing completely from York University, it will reduce some of its service. For now, GO Transit will not be making any changes to its bus routes serving the campus, and will continue to serve the York University Commons.

Many YRT passengers will have to pay the whole $3.00 each way, or be required to make a new transfer and/or walk a farther distance from the north terminal at Pioneer Village Station.

The fact that there’s no fare agreement to allow YRT passengers to ride the subway from Vaughan Centre to York University without paying a full TTC fare is indicative of the failure to fully coordinate regional transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. And York Region’s complete abandonment of what used to be one of its most important hubs is indicative of that region’s lack of commitment to funding transit operations adequately, despite its ambitious capital spending and lobbying for subway extensions.

Categories
Infrastructure Toronto Transit Urban Planning

New TTC subway stations have great architecture, but they may not attract enough riders

IMG_4071-001.JPGVaughan Metropolitan Centre Station

On Saturday, October 28, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) held open houses at three of the six new subway stations set to open on December 17, 2017 when the Line 1 subway is extended to York University and Vaughan. It was a fun afternoon with friends, checking out the architecture and the layout of Vaughan Metropolitan Centre,* Highway 407, and Pioneer Village Stations.

Some of the station architecture was stunning, and I came away feeling much less skeptical about Vaughan’s commitment to building a new urban district around its station. Most stations along the subway corridor will be well-used. However, I remain critical about the issue of transfers between transit agencies, and the usefulness of at least one station.

Categories
Infrastructure Transit

Some answered questions about Toronto’s next subway extension (updated)

36354175911_632dc72411_o.jpgYork University Station, August 2017

Updated October 10, 2017

Ten months ago, I wrote about some of the unanswered questions about the Toronto Transit Commission’s Line 1 subway extension to York University and Vaughan. At the time, I was concerned about fare integration once the subway opened, especially if suburban GO, YRT, or Brampton Transit passengers headed to York University were required to make new transfers to the subway at Vaughan Centre or Highway 407 Stations.

We now know the day the six new subway stations will open: Sunday, December 17, 2017. We also know how the TTC, York Region Transit, and Brampton Transit will serve the new extension and York University. And today, we also have some indication of how GO Transit passengers will be affected by the changes.

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How YRT and Brampton Transit will serve the Line 1 subway extension
(from the YRT website)

On Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transportation Minister Stephen Del Duca will announce a new co-fare between the TTC and Metrolinx services (GO Transit and Union Pearson Express), to take effect in January 2018. (The Star previously reported that the fare change will take place as soon as the subway extension opens.)

Transfers from GO Transit or UPX to the TTC will cost $1.50 for passengers using Presto cards, a 50% reduction from the full adult fare of $3.00. Passengers transferring from the TTC to GO or UPX will get a $1.50 fare discount. It is expected that the new co-fare subsidies will cost the provincial government $18 million a year. The fare discount will not apply to passengers using fare media other than Presto cards, including TTC tokens, Metropasses, or paper one-way tickets or day passes.

These are similar to the co-fares offered between GO Transit and transit agencies outside the City of Toronto, including MiWay, York Region Transit, Brampton Transit, and Hamilton Street Railway. However, these co-fares are generally more generous — ranging from $0.60 in Hamilton to $1.00 in York Region.

There was no news on reducing the fare penalty for transferring between the TTC and connecting local bus systems such as York Region Transit and MiWay.

For many commuters, the new TTC co-fare is great news, and it represents a good first step towards proper fare integration. It helps to make GO Transit more useful for trips within the City of Toronto, and it helps suburban commuters who use the TTC for part of their trip, such as University of Toronto students, who are located too far a walk to Union Station.

(John Tory is also claiming a victory, calling it “a step in the right direction” for his SmartTrack proposal. At this point, “SmartTrack” is little more than a GO/TTC fare agreement and a few new proposed GO stations.)

However, this could also affect York University students as well. Previous plans for the Line 1 subway extension saw GO Transit buses serve the Highway 407 station, requiring a transfer to the subway to get to campus. York University has been long eager to remove the buses from the York Commons area, which GO and the TTC use as their campus terminals.

York Region Transit will continue to operate many bus routes into York’s campus, on the Ian Macdonald Boulevard ring road, and Brampton Transit’s Queen Züm bus route will remain on campus. Their university-bound passengers won’t be required to transfer to the subway and pay an additional fare. But it appears, for now, that GO Transit passengers will have to make a connection, costing $1.50 each way. (This will not be the case for in the short term, see update below.) This will also apply to GO train customers on the Barrie Line who currently use York University Station, if that station closes as planned when the subway connection at Downsview Park opens.

This will be a blow for GO Transit customers who commute to and from York University, accustomed to a one-seat ride direct to campus. But it will be an improvement for GO operations on the Highway 407 corridor, with buses no longer stuck in traffic in the Keele Street and Steeles Avenue area. It will also benefit GO Transit passengers who aren’t headed to York University. Providing good public transit is not be about giving everyone a one-seat ride.

Despite these benefits, if GO Transit serves Highway 407 Station as planned, it will impact many passengers with a new transfer and an additional $3.00 cost per day. I’m curious what GO Transit’s messaging and final plans will be, because they have yet to communicate their new schedules and connections when the subway extension opens. Hopefully, we will learn the answers to the rest of those questions soon.


Update: According to the CBC and Metrolinx’s Anne Marie Aikins, there are now no immediate plans to re-route GO Transit buses from York University. at least in the short term. This is a short-term solution, however, because the Highway 407 station was designed with a large terminal for GO Transit buses, and York University has been vocal about wanting the hundreds of GO and TTC buses a day out of the York Commons area.

I don’t see this as a long-term solution, however. Hopefully Metrolinx and the TTC can figure out how to best serve York University passengers, though that should have been figured out a long time ago. After all, the subway was originally supposed to open by the end of 2015.

Categories
Brampton Transit

Unanswered questions about Toronto’s next subway extension

IMG_4677-001.JPGPioneer Village Station under construction, August 2016

Note: I posted an update to this article on October 4, 2017 

By the end of next year, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Line 1 subway extension to Vaughan will finally open, two years later than originally planned. The line will provide relief for thousands of York University students and employees and improve service to transit-starved northwest Toronto. It will terminate at Highway 7 in Vaughan, at the ambitiously (and in my view, ridiculously) named Vaughan Metropolitan Station, posing a challenge to cartographers and designers everywhere.

When the $3.2 billion subway extension begins operating in December 2o17, it will be the first new major subway project since the opening of the five stop Sheppard Subway in 2002. It is also the first subway line to cross the City of Toronto boundary. (Coincidentally, this subway extension will cost the same as the proposed one-stop extension of Line 2 to Scarborough Centre.)

Aside from the delays, the big price tag, and the silly Vaughan station name, there are two more issues that will arise, and which have yet to be completely figured out: how four separate transit agencies will re-route their buses once the subway opens, and the necessary question of fare integration once that happens.