Metrolinx Meeting for February 2012 (Updated)

Updated February 17, 2012 at noon:  The original article from February 13 has been updated to include additional information and comment at the Board Meeting.

The Metrolinx Board will meet on Thursday, February 16.  Among items on the agenda is a “Toronto Update”, but there is no published report.  Given recent events, I suspect this report won’t get beyond the draft stage much before the meeting.

Updated:  The Toronto report and discussion on it are covered in a separate article.

Other items include:

GO Transit Update

This report begins with a review of 2011 operations and updates on ridership to the end of November.

  • On the rail system, weekday riding is up by almost 6%.
  • On the bus system, weekday riding is up by over 6%, and weekend riding is up by 18%.
  • Total weekday ridership is now 243,600, up 13,600 from November 2010.

Looking ahead, GO expects rail ridership to grow by 22% over the next five years while bus riding will go up by 30%.

Although the presentation does not say this explicitly, one constraint on rail growth is the limit on peak capacity GO can provide.  This shows up in GO’s continuing inability to meet its target for passenger comfort with 80% or more of rush hour passengers getting seats on trains.  The number today is 64%, and there is little hope of this improving with demand growing faster than GO can provide capacity.

Updated:  Director Lee Parsons asked where there were capacity constraints in the network.  GO President Gary McNeil replied that demand was high on all corridors, but that Barrie has the strongest growth.  Milton is running at 110-120% of capacity.  GO will put additional trains wherever there is an opening in network schedules because there is strong demand everywhere.

Director Richard Koroscil asked what problems are at the top of GO’s “worry list”.  McNeil replied that the greatest need is for Federal and Provincial support for infrastructure.  Demand for GO service is there whether governments provide funding or not.  Planning where to spend is complicated by the need to keep activity going in many areas at the same time lest riders feel that their part of the network is being ignored.

Director Rahul Bhardwaj worried that people might feel that transit growth has stalled, and asked how GO could get more positive stories out.  McNeil replied that the magnitude of the Toronto debate has overshadowed GO even though they have good news in the 905.  Chair Rob Prichard noted that Metrolinx has to make the same progress in Toronto as they do elsewhere in the GTHA.

I could not help thinking back to the departing remarks of just-retired Director Paul Bedford who, among other parting comments, noted the relative size of the TTC and GO’s operations.  What is big news in the 905 and for GO itself would be small change on the scale of the TTC because GO is, comparatively, such a small operation.  Simply publishing sunny press releases (something GO is very good at) will not make up for the lower presence and mode share that transit generally has in the 905 compared to the 416.

Changes to Ticket Cancelling on the GO System

The title of this report is somewhat misleading as this is actually a report on the phase-out of paper 10-ride and 2-ride tickets and completion of the system’s conversion to Presto.

After May 31, 2012, the 10-ride and 2-ride tickets will no longer be sold.  Those remaining in circulation will be valid up to July 31, 2012 after which they will be refunded or converted to Presto.

Monthly, daily and group passes are not affected by this change.

Presto Update

Presto continues to gain users with a 22% growth in the number of cards issued over the November-December 2011 period.  About $14.4-million in fares were paid using the fare cards during the same period.  What has not been reported is how this lines up against overall fare revenue on GO and on participating regional transit systems.

A major new market for Presto will arrive in June 2012 with the rollout in Ottawa with the “Presto Next Generation” (or “PNG”) card.  PNG will become available in the GTHA in late fall 2012.

Concurrent with the rollout of PNG, the Presto website will be revised with added functionality and an improved layout, according to the report.

Meanwhile on the TTC, Metrolinx expects the Commission to grant authority for a contract with Presto at its March meeting.  Notable among the features to be included will be “Open Payments” allowing cards other than Presto and mobile devices to be used.  However, the exact details are not explained and it is unclear whether this will simply provide the ability to pay a fare with a credit card, or whether that card can be used as an alternative to Presto and receive discounts such as multi-trip incentives or equivalent-to-pass functionality.

A long section originally this article related to questions about Presto arising from the January Board Meeting.  This has been moved to a separate article.

Updated:  Director Rahul Bhardwaj asked how many “free rides” are taken thanks to the discounting system of Presto.  Staff pointed out that there are “free” rides on passes by design, but they are not counted or reported as there is no mechanism to capture pass use comparable to the Presto readers.

Director Lee Parsons noted that a commuter line in New York City saw a jump in counterpeak and weekend demand when it moved to all day service, and a fare tariff that allows for extra trips at little or no cost helps drive this demand. 

A view of transit riding as “free” and somehow undesirable is troubling because it implies that encouraging use through lower “frequent flyer” fares may not be a good idea.  This is the basic philosophical problem of fare structures:  do we purport to charge people for what they use, or do we encourage higher utilization through fares that reward frequent travel.  Is transit a service we wish to make as attractive as possible through the perception that it has a low marginal cost just as autos are thought to be “cheap” until one pulls into a gas station or receives an insurance bill.

After the meeting, I sent questions to Metrolinx asking how the two generations of Presto cards and supporting systems will interoperate.  For example, what will happen if an Ottawa user with a “PNG” card comes to Toronto and attempts to ride GO Transit?  I await answers to my questions.

10 thoughts on “Metrolinx Meeting for February 2012 (Updated)

  1. HHmmmm…. Go bus ridership is up to the end of November, but I note that the York Region strike started October 24. I wonder how much of that increased ridership was of people who otherwise would be on YRT?


  2. How much of the ridership growth do you think is attributable to the extension of train service to Guelph and KW? It would be nice if the ridership was broken down by line or origin-destination pair to allow some analysis.

    Steve: Only a bit comes from KW. Reports have pegged riding at a few hundred each way per day, although if anyone at GO wants to give me updated info, please do so.


  3. Any update on the electrification of the lakeshore GO line? Would that help address some of the capacity problems that are/will be prevalent?

    Steve: No word at all. It’s not a priority for GO or for Queen’s Park. It will address some capacity problems, but there remain issues of how many trains will fit through the Union Station corridor per hour as well as passenger congestion in the station.


  4. Over at they’ve asked GO for ridership figures for Kitchener and Guelph:

    GO Transit has answered questions regarding average daily ridership, between December 19, 2011 and January 27, 2012 the average daily ridership was 150 persons. Divided as follows:

    * 85 passengers per day from Kitchener (With about 100 parking spaces provided by the City of Kitchener)

    * 65 passengers per day from Guelph (No parking provided by GO, riders have to use City of Guelph parking options)

    According to The Record, these numbers were in line with GO’s estimates for initial ridership, and GO expects ridership to continue to grow.

    For comparison, The Barrie expansion in 2007 within 2 months saw ridership numbers of 400+ people, and provided free parking. GO has since re-opened a second station in Barrie (Allandale) and added parking.


  5. Somewhat related to the topic of electrification, I just found out that Metrolinx has decided to go ahead with the “Full Build” option of the sound-barriers on the Georgetown South corridor by 2015. They claim this would still be necessary if much of the corridor service were electrified while at the same time saying actual GO service would not increase significantly until 2020. The statement that electric trains would make anywhere near the noise of even the older GO diesels is troubling.

    What bothers me specifically in my neighbourhood is the horrifying prospect of a five metre-high wall along the stretch of Dundas Street West bordering the lines and other walls turning large portions of the West Toronto Railpath into dark, narrow ‘hallways’. These walls will be a visual blight on the community for a generation and may also amplify noise from the large amount of street traffic along this stretch. They claim to have reached their decision based in part on “community consultation”.


  6. Director Lee Parsons noted that a commuter line in New York City saw a jump in counterpeak and weekend demand when it moved to all day service, and a fare tariff that allows for extra trips at little or no cost helps drive this demand.

    I have to wonder how much of this jump in demand is from those with a pass whose additional use is essentially free and how much is from others traveling with them who pay an additional fare.

    I say this because back when I lived in West Hill and commuted during the week downtown using GO, almost all of our family outings to downtown on the weekends would use GO. Back then, an adult monthly pass allowed TWO adults to travel on the weekends. This started for GO’s 25th anniversary and was extended for a number of years (when did this get cut?). Why travel on the TTC with the family pass or even drive downtown when it just made more sense to purchase one child’s return fare for our son while my wife and I were covered by my pass and my daughter was free at the time as she was under 5. Even if the second adult fare had to be paid, the faster trip over the TTC would have made GO a preferred choice over the TTC.

    Off peak service combined with ‘frequent user’ benefits often act together to draw in more paid ridership.


  7. Steve said: Milton is running at 110-120% of capacity. GO will put additional trains wherever there is an opening in network schedules because there is strong demand everywhere.

    All I can say to that is wow. The Milton line is running 12-car trains and it is still over capacity. And the numbers are not going to go down at all. Milton is the fastest growing area in the GTA meaning more and more passengers for GO right from Milton all the way downtown.

    Indeed, I wonder how many passengers are boarding in Milton right now and how much GO sees this number growing in the near future.

    I’m also wondering what more can be done for the Milton corridor. CPR is probably not going to make room for more trains on the Milton corridor.

    Then there is the question of the Crosstown rail corridor which is still up in the air. I doubt that service on the Crosstown rail corridor will do much to reduce demand on the Milton line.

    Cheers, Moaz


  8. GO still allows monthly pass holders to take someone on weekends with them. It is not advertised much, but you can still do it.

    Steve: Are you sure? There is no mention of this on the GO tickets page.


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