Rocketing to the Airport

In the thread “We Get Letters”, a discussion arose about handling airport traffic.  I have split this off into a separate thread here. 

It started off with my remarks:

Service to the airport needs to address the GTA, not just downtown which originates a paltry 17% of the trips to Pearson. Assuming any of various options, people arriving at Pearson can:

  • (a) take the bus to Kipling Station assuming that they can find it,
  • (b) take the Eglinton LRT to Eglinton West Station and then the subway downtown or continue east in the Eglinton LRT subway to the Yonge line,
  • (c) pay through the nose and take Blue 22 or whatever its successor is direct to Dundas West or Union,
  • (d) take a GO service or even an LRT in the same Weston corridor downtown for a reasonable fare and probably a few more local stops,
  • (e) connect with the Finch/Etobicoke LRT and go across the top of the city, or
  • (f) take a limo or taxi.

People who have a lot of stuff will generally fall into (f) unless they have a friend to drive them or drive themselves or are fit and on a budget in which case they may use transit.

Note that we have not said a word about the many, many people who go to the airport from places in the GTA that are not on the current or proposed rapid transit network.

Although Transit City does not provide the ability to whisk people from Pearson Airport to the every corner of the GTA, it does this a lot better than Blue 22 or any other rapid transit scheme that we’ve seen. The last time I looked, Pearson isn’t a major source of congestion or travel relative to the other demands in Toronto. Why can we starve our surface routes, but we mustn’t put on a poor show at the airport?

Brent replied:

In talking about service to the airport, it’s also worthwhile to note that there’s a good deal of travel to the airport area that isn’t bound for Pearson specifically, but for surrounding employment areas. Blue 22 would do nothing for these trips, partly because it goes to Pearson and nowhere else, but also because, as you say, you’d be paying through the nose. GO might address some of them, but the Eglinton LRT (or, an LRT in the Weston rail corridor) would – connecting a much higher number of origins and destinations and for a reasonable fare.

mobius replied:

My feeling is that Pearson linkage should not be neglected. We need to consider not just local and regional transportation concerns, but, as the financial capital and largest city in the country, also how it fits in nationally and internationally.

Downtown may not account for the majority of Pearson traffic but my guess is it’s the largest chunk.  Most business and pleasure air travellers will be staying at the downtown hotels and they are the ones who are less likely to have family here to pick them up or drop them off at the airport. And any link to downtown should ideally connect with intersecting TTC lines to serve other areas as well.

Also, the lack of an airport link was a major problem with our olympic bid. Most self-respecting large cities have a direct airport link, including the one we so often compare ouselves to — Chicago.

So I’ll take options b or d, please.

The 17% figure I quoted comes from studies of Pearson-bound traffic done as part of the Blue 22 proposal.  The big problem with a downtown-oriented line is that it serves less than 1/5 of the people going to the airport.

The situation in Chicago is much different because O’Hare is so far out of town.  The ride there on the subway takes close to an hour one way.  By the way, that “subway” is on the surface for much of its length in the middle of an expressway.  The same option is not available in Toronto, and that’s why alternate schemes like the Eglinton or Weston lines are proposed.  Indeed, the Transit City network, with extensions beyond the 416, would make the airport far more accessible by transit to a wide market than a purely downtown line ever can.

I’m not opposed to Airport service, but it’s not the centre of the universe and there are far more pressing transportation problems in the GTA.

28 thoughts on “Rocketing to the Airport

  1. Odd you think ORD (Chicago) is farther from downtown than YYZ (Toronto). It is 17 1/2 miles from the Loop to ORD, and 16 1/2 miles from Bay/Bloor to YYZ.

    The reason the blue line in Chicago takes an hour to get there is because it is a pokey subway designed for local service, not direct service to the airport. Because it is such a local type service I rarely (if ever) use it.

    Right now unless you are willing to spend 40+ dollars on a town car, it takes over 1 hour from downtown to the airport (by TTC or Airport Bus). No wonder people want the Island airport open!

    As one of those nearly 1 in 5 people who use the airport regularly from downtown, I would be more than willing to pay $15-$20 for a fast, consistently performing, (nearly) dedicated train trip — sure beats $40-50 for a town car stuck on the Gardiner!

    If it is premium service (which Blue 22 would be), I am more than willing to expense/pay premium cost – especially when it is actually better than the more expensive Town Car! But if it is a pokey local service with crowds of commuter that takes as long as the above mentioned Town Car — why bother taking it over a car?!

    I know when I am in other cities with similar dedicated services (London UK, Philadelphia &c) I generally only pay the premium over the local pokey transit option, or take a cab if the other option is sitting on a stuffed subway into the CBD.


    Steve: Good point about downtown to airport distances.

    I was more interested in the huge number of airport-goers who don’t originate downtown. One I noticed at O’Hare was that the trains were not exactly packed.

    I would far rather we concentrate on a network of “pokey local services” that provide many ways to get to the airport from all over the region than spending a lot of effort on one line. At the end of the day, we have to accept that providing an express trip for every possible origin-destination pair is not going to happen.

    Indeed, someone trying to get to the airport via a “Blue 22” service only would have a fast trip if they lived right beside one of the stations. Otherwise, they have to get to Union or Dundas West and then transfer. The relative travel times via express and local services get a lot closer together if you have to go a long way out of your way just to ride the express service.


  2. The development plan for Pearson calls for a level of 55 million passengers (currently 31m) when Terminal 1 is built out and Terminal 3 is extended. This is a substantial contributor to gridlock in northwest Toronto and it’s only going to get worse with airfreight contributing as well as passengers.

    There are some ways to slow it down –
    1. Pave over farmland and other greenspace in Pickering – in a way, their Spadina Expressway
    2. Introduce hourly, highspeed interurban rail and put a crimp in air travel to Kingston, London, Ottawa and Montreal.
    3. Enact traffic caps and divert regional traffic to the existing airports on Toronto Island and in Hamilton.

    In the end, however, that 55 million figure will be hit and none of 1-3 above is in Toronto’s power anyway. As it stands, nearly 100,000 people pour into and out of the airport daily, not counting airport workers and the nearby industrial and hotel sites. Apart from the downtown I’m hard pressed to think of a bigger trip generator.

    Given its position at the juncture of Peel, Toronto and York the GTTA should be all over Pearson transit and the solutions proposed should take in all of the catchment, not merely downtown Toronto.


  3. What should have been done with the Pearson Link is that it should have been constructed up to Malton GO station, rather than having to build a separate spur line to the current terminus. It’d be much cheaper as the Link ROW would be far less costly than a new rail ROW plus the transfer facility at Woodbine. Make improvements to Malton to turn it into a regional transit hub with feeders from MT, BT, TTC and YRT, plus GO and possibly VIA and you’ve got yourself a node that can disperse people across the entire GTA and southern Ontario.

    Mississauga is looking at beefing up service through the Airport area as a secondary corridor. The Toronto Transit City plan would probably tie into that as well. If the Link made an additional stop at say Orlando Rd., they could serve the industries in the area as well.

    Comparing this proposal to JFK’s AirTrain you have a similar setup with having to take either the subway or Long Island Rail over to Jamaica and then catching the AirTrain. Jamaica serves as a regional hub for Long Island. Malton could be the same. Plus it could help to make the International Centre a lot more convenient to get to, making a more competitive convention location.


  4. Thanks for the split-off, Steve.

    Let’s not forget that you and I are paying for those corporate types’ airport limos as it is now. That’s right, it’s all expense account/tax-deductible. So the citizenry at large is footing that bill. Then why not have something all of us can use while giving the expense accounters a cheaper option at the same time?

    ps. my support for a Pearson link is not meant to de-emphasize the need for multiple GTA-Pearson transit connections. Oh, and ideally it should strike a balance between “pokey/local” and express.

    Steve: We pay for the limos to the extent that the expense reduces a corporation’s taxable income. Only if the marginal corporate rate were 100% would we be paying the whole shot.


  5. It occurred to me one day while driving through Mississauga that there should be a rail link to the airport in the oddly vacant median on Highway 403. This is one of those precious-few remaining corridor allowances that we need to snatch-up before it simply gets filled with more highway lanes. It wouldn’t be much of a hop to link-up with the transit terminal at Square One where most Mississauga routes connect. Rather than try to bridge the 401/403 interchange it could reach the airport via already proposed dedicated lanes on the wide-open stretch of Eglinton nearby.

    Even BRT in the median with transfer platforms at major streets would be a bonus. This is a perfect example of where left-hand running would make sense because bus platforms could be single centre-islands perfect for conversion to right-hand running double-ended LRVs in the future.

    No one loses their precious highway lanes which should silence the politicians and the selfish percentage of the public, unlike those silly HOV lanes already installed. HOV lanes are a cowardly cheap subsitute for the real dedicated transit ROWs we need, but oh so easy for politicians to approve. Perhaps if we all tie the word “cowardly” to HOV lane-based BRT proposals more often then politicians will be less likely to fall back on them when money becomes an ‘issue’ (quotes intended!).

    Steve: The important point about anything in a highway right-of-way is that it’s a point-to-point service depending on whatever feeds it at the non-airport terminal. Stops along the way are possible, but they are constrained by having to fit within highway interchanges.

    Similarly HOV/BRT only works if the buses don’t actually stop anywhere. This is a fundamentally different type of service than, say, a “BRT” running on a local or arterial street.


  6. I must admit that I am a bit more committed to transit than the average airport traveller. When I visit La Guardia, I take the M60 bus and the N Train into midtown Manhattan in no time at all. (Don’t make the mistake I once made, however, of catching the M60 on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Harlem – congestion is rarely if ever done better than it is on Martin Luther King Boulevard).

    Last time I returned home to Toronto by air, I took the Airport Rocket to Kipling Station, the subway to Ossington and the Ossington bus south to King – all in 40 minutes or so. Mow I admit that this was with “perfect” connections – there was an Airport Rocket waiting and the Ossington Bus is always frequent – but still pretty impressive.

    What is less impressive is the total lack of signage in the airport to guide potential passengers to the Airport Rocket. Also, at some times of day the service on the Rocket remains poor. However, with a small federal subsidy to increase service and better signage, this is a viable way for the more adventurous or determined traveller to get into the City. (And of course from Kipling Station one can go anywhere – not just downtown.) I might also point out that I was returning from a business trip and the company would have paid for a taxi. I went on the TTC because it is “The Better Way”.

    Steve: The GTAA is more interested in collecting revenue from expensive limos that directing its customers to the cheaper TTC. Ergo, lousy signage.


  7. Steve, is the Kipling hydro corridor no longer a viable option for rail to the airport (not LRT, but GO)?

    With increased GO service on the Georgetown line as well as the planned new line to Bolton (not to mention whatever Blue 22 becomes), there is going to be a whole lot of extra traffic in the Weston corridor……I wonder if it will be too much for area residents?

    GO Trains on the Georgetown line could service the airport directly (not to the ticket counter obviously but connect with that people mover thing) and stop at Eglinton and Kipling subway station before continuing down to the Lakeshore corridor, serving stations to Union Station. A large number of people who work at Pearson live in Brampton, Mississauga and Etobicoke — this could be a very quick daily commute.

    (Admittedly, that corridor does look considerably narrower in Google Earth than other rail corridors in Toronto.)


    Steve: The Kipling hydro corridor is part of a possible Transit City extension, although recent attempts by Hydro to charge rent for the Finch corridor (as part of the York U busway project) make one wonder whether we should be so quick to embrace these lines.

    Because of Blue 22 and the delicacy of publicly assuming it won’t be built, there wasn’t much explicit put into Transit City for the airport. Some day, we will abandon this fiction (nobody takes this scheme seriously now, but nobody is willing to put it out of its misery). Once that happens, we can talk about integration of east-west service on Eglinton including the Mississauga LRT and something north-south from Kipling hooking up with the Finch corridor.


  8. I wouldn’t recommend riding the GTAA LINK with an open cup of hot coffee in your hand, even if it’s only 1/4 full. If you think the PCCs rattle bad, that thing registers 8.9 on the Richter scale when you’re in it.

    If the Eglinton and Finch light rail lines merge at the airport, and I mean right inside the terminals, that would be perfect. The number of transfers should be minimized. When the Eglinton subway was on the table, there was a proposal to eventually extend it out to the airport with a fork near the end, and with a Y interchange at the Spadina line (which allowed Eglinton trains to run downtown direct). That was quickly killed off though. We would have been much better off with that line instead of Sheppard.


  9. This seems to come back to the ‘why isn’t someone looking at the big picture’ problem. I’ve got to agree with Mark and Gil. People go to Pearson from all over the place. There should be (at least) a major bus terminal that would take you to Barrie, Cambridge/Kitchener/Waterloo, Kingston, etc. I suppose that to some extent the various airport shuttle services fulfill that role, but they’re quite expensive (it’s about $50 to take the airport shuttle to Cambridge vs. $25 to take the Greyhound from downtown) and they probably don’t appeal to a wide variety of people.

    From Heathrow, you can take a direct bus to just about anywhere in the UK or, if you prefer, a bus into London, tube into London or an express train in London. Charles de Gaulle has a TGV station to whisk you away to the med, Bordeaux, or to Lille where you could connect into the UK. Even in Ottawa, the bus from the airport takes you straight downtown. If PacWest can do it with their airport express coaches, why can’t Go or the TTC figure something out.

    And if 20% of airport users come downtown – aren’t we talking about nearly 20,000 people/day? Maybe the numbers less than that, but I’d be surprised if it were less than enough to support a dedicated fast train service as PART of a proper transit solution for the airport. The lack of useful transit service to an obvious target like Pearson is just another example of squandered opportunity. This country’s transit is full of them and it’s far past time it changed. Hell, maybe there’d be money in decent transit – the shuttle and cab operators seem to charge enough that maybe a piece of that pie would be worth grabbing and putting into the general transit coffers.

    Steve: You can get some idea of how little of that 20K/day we are handling with transit right now by looking at the combined capacity of the Airport Rocket and the express bus from downtown. By the way, the TTC, through its subsidiary Gray Coach, used to run the express bus, but got out of the business because they couldn’t make it pay. Now they are more than happy to take busloads on the 192 from Kipling, a much less expensive proposition than trying to run all the way downtown.

    20K per day, assuming an average load of say 25 per trip (more on some, less on others), means 800 trips. If these occur between 6 am and 8 pm (a 14 hour interval), you are looking at an average headway close to one minute to handle this with buses. (60 buses per hour with an average load of 25 over a 14-hour period gives us 21K passengers.) You can scale that up or down depending on what modal split or load factor you want to assume. (Note that airport connectors only handle one type of trip — point to point — and cannot benefit from the passenger turnover enjoyed on routes providing local service. Therefore one trip only handles one load’s worth of passengers, not many.)

    The problem, of course, is that people paying for a premium service want a seat and our average load factor is correspondingly low. There’s also a lot of time spent loading, unloading and circulating at the airport making the round trip, from a transit operator’s point of view, much longer than just “there and back again”.

    That is actually one big advantage of a dedicated rail service going right into the airport. You can get higher capacity per train, even with generous space for passengers, loading time is much faster, and you don’t have your vehicles spending half their time driving around the airport from terminal to terminal.

    The examples you cite of European airport connections neglect one important thing. When the airport service gets to its destination, it connects with an intensive network of local, regional and national services. Contrast this with what someone coming to Union has on offer: GO trains that run mainly in the peak, and a handful of Via trains.

    Whatever is done for the airport, it must be part of an overall regional design for better transit, not just a flashy service that doesn’t address most of the problems.


  10. We live downtown – St Lawrence Market – and almost always take the TTC to go to and from the airport. Though we now know where to go, the first ‘problem’ is at Kipling where the signage is up to the TTCs usual high standards (!) but the 192 Airport Rocket runs fairly often and is pretty fast once it turns onto Dundas – transit priority anyone?. It would be more useful/comfortable – though doubtless complicated – if the buses used on the 192 route had better storage for luggage but in general the service is good – especially when one remembers it all costs only one TTC fare!

    The GTAA signage at Terminal 1 (and doubtless Terminal 3) is not good but it IS improving. The TTC now has a (small) System map at the (poorly illuminated) bus stop and has posted information on fares and I gather they have, at last, recruited a ticket vendor at Pearson. (Installing a ticket vending machine would surely be better, most visitors have only paper money and once they reach the bus stop are not going to be happy to return to the terminal to search out this vendor.)

    Though a faster or more direct route to/from Pearson would be great it is, as has been pointed out, only useful if you are starting/ending your trip where the train does. If you must take transit to get to transit you will probably just use your car or take a taxi! Many people work at Pearson and they do not all live near Union Station or Dundas West – and even if they did are unlikely to be attracted to “public” transit at $20 a trip. We need better “regular” public transit to Pearson – if it’s planned properly it will appeal to those who work at/near the airport as well as SOME passengers. Many passengers with luggage or tight deadlines will always be prepared to pay $$$ for faster and more ‘personalised’ service – taxis!


  11. In response to mobius’ comment, “Let’s not forget that you and I are paying for those corporate types’ airport limos as it is now,” Steve noted, “Only if the marginal corporate rate were 100% would we be paying the whole shot.”

    I would argue that taxpayers are paying practically ZERO of these costs…

    Setting aside the whole point that the cost of doing business is not counted in taxible income, there is this belief that all business travel is expensed against CANADIAN income for tax purposes. Most of the travel I do is expensed to our customer who, in turn, use it to reduce their corporate income tax, but most of our customers are not Canadian. I would speculate that a significant amount of airport-related expenses are ultimately “subsidized” by taxpayers in other nations.

    Furthermore, these expenses ADD to the corporate and personal income taxes paid by the Canadian companies and Canadians who provide the services. Much, if not all, of the Canadian taxes saved by those who can deduct the expenses is made up for by taxes collected on the income generated by these operations.

    Now to return to the discussion of a decent public transit airport connection…

    I have to shake my head at how we like to think that Toronto is world class when a small city like St. Louis can have excellent LRT service to their airport. On one trip, a manager from my company was grabbing a cab from Lambert to downtown and I joined him. It took exactly the same time as the LRT would have, but cost $40 compared to $3.50 per person.

    Steve: The root of the problem with Blue 22 is that it was a scheme for a private company to make a mint, in theory, from all those passengers desperate for a quick ride to downtown. It was never designed as an integrated part of the transit system, and survived for years only because it was a pet project of the former Minister of Transportation. The economics didn’t work out quite so well once reality set in, and I wish that everyone associated with Blue 22 would formally kill it off so that we can get on with a decent service integrated into the transit network.

    As long as we expect to get services like this built “for free” by someone else, we won’t be building the network we need.


  12. Steve,
    I would like to clarify a couple of the comments from above. The blue line also picks up passengers from the feeder bus lines that don’t originate downtown. The reason it takes a hour on the Blue line to go from airport to downtown is because of the condition of the track and sleepers. There are sections were the train can not go above 5 mph. However, once the repairs have been completed the blue line will be back to it 45 minute scheduled time (still faster than a car in traffic).
    The mayor is talking about starting a Blue Line express that would originate from the new State street station (Block 36), make one stop at the Metra station (halfway to the airport) and go on to the airport. I’m not sure how they would do it with the existing track configuration and condition.

    There is also talk of extending the ORD people mover to the remote parking lot F and the Metra station on the North Central Service (18 minutes to downtown). That would offer service to both downtown and north west suburbs. If the people mover at YYZ was extended to the Milton line, it would be very similar to what is planned at ORD.

    In the long term, when the Western Terminal is built they would like to integrate Metra and Amtrak into it. This would be similar to what Amsterdam has.


  13. One thing that should be considered here is the cost of operating out of Pearson. (Please correct me if this wouldn’t apply to public transit.) Pearson is the second most expensive airport to operate out of in the world (to the best of my knowledge). So any service provided to and from has to cost a premium because of the good ol’ airport tax.

    I do agree that something needs to be done to better integrate regional/local transit at the airport. One can dream up a great scheme but good luck dealing with the GTAA.


  14. As you said earlier, they could take the 192 Airport Rocket, if they can find it. In that case, I think we need a specialized bus terminal to handle local connections to the GTA transit services that is easily accessible from both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3. Such a terminal should be made easier for airport patrons to find.

    I also think that we need more routes to connect from the TTC to the airport. Since the 192 Airport Rocket is pretty much a success, the TTC should build on this and provide a similar service from Yorkdale and York Mills stations. Remember the Gray coach services from these stations? The 58 Malton route does a horrible job of connecting to the airport. Certainly a new set of rocket services from these two stations are in order.


  15. Steve, I read with interest your discussion regarding the TTC bus service from Terminal 1 to Kipling Stn. and the lack of signage and promotion of this service.

    I decided to contact the GTAA and bring this to their attention and ask them that as an interim measure until such time as the downtown rail service in up and running, why not add prominent directional signage and other promotional material that would be viewed by passengers immediately upon exiting the baggage claim area. If Pacific Western objects to this as favourtism to the TTC’s service, then signage and promotion could be included for their service as well.

    Not being sure how responsive the GTAA would be, I was pleasantly surprise that I got a call back from a customer service rep. within a few hours of sending my e-mail and she said that this issue would be forwarded on to senior management for further review and consideration. We’ll see what, if anything, happens next.

    I did explain to the GTAA rep. that I was speaking also on behalf on the City of Toronto’s Tourism Department’s Premier-Ranked Tourist Destination Project (which I am currently working on as a Researcher/Analyst) and that the feedback on our survey of tourism industry stakeholders and their customers often referred to deficiencies in public transit serving Pearson Airport as a negative in otherwise glowing reviews for the new Terminal 1.

    Keep up the great work, Steve!


  16. I have to second what Gil said about Malton. Although it’s true that the Doppelmayr system would probably need replacing for this long a line, it would be a system much better fitted to Pearson’s needs. Forget about Blue 22 in the short term and build a new people mover. Honestly an expandable system is needed at Pearson anyway, given that at some point it will need a to be extended to the various long term parking, and Mississauga is going to want terminal access from the West side of the airport at some point (which I can only see being possible with a people mover, short of building a branch of the 403 under the airport).

    Steve: It is ironic that with all the pressure to retain and expand the RT technology, that’s not what was used at Pearson as the basis for local shuttle service that can be expanded both for greater demand and for additional coverage. We can never provide circulation to all of the stops within Pearson that need service with any frequent, medium capacity route regardless of the technology, and we need a separate circulator that would connect with a regional transit terminal.


  17. I was wondering if that 20k takes in to account the modal split that can be obtained. If it doesn’t that number can quickly be knocked down by people who won’t take the service anyway. I feel that most of the low hanging fruit would be picked by any future Eglington LRT and a connection to the Georgetown GO Line.

    The passengers who might use a dedicated line but not those other services listed above are also the most likely to: drive, get picked up, take a cab/limo, or rent a car, no matter what direct options are provided.

    Steve: Don’t forget that the 20k is for trips that actually originate downtown. People in the Eglinton corridor (or others) are not included. My point was to say “this is what you would need to carry all of the demand, scale according to the modal split you expect to achieve”. Even a 25% modal split requires a very frequent bus service unless you really pack them in, something that doesn’t fit with an “airport express”, premium fare type of operation.


  18. Steve,

    You’re quite right that european airport connections tend to be part of an integrated network. You can get from Charles de Gaulle to Versailles or Berlin in one transfer. I doubt that we’ll ever get to that level of integration here, but one can dream.

    Furthermore, while geography will always be a factor in travel modes, after all no one is likely to take the train to Vancouver for a business meeting. I suspect that the problem is more a misunderstanding on the part of our various and sundry levels of policy pushers of what public transport could be than any major geographic hurdle. You say that a flashy train to Union does no good without decent links onward, but at what point does someone have to bite the bullet and put in a service that could beget other routes.

    I’m sure that if there were a single kingpin route, a catalyst for a transit renaissance if you will, that someone would have spotted it by now. Actually, I’m pretty sure from your writing that you’d know exactly what it was – so is there anything you need to get off your chest? Is it swan boats? Is that the big secret? We get swan boats on the Don then in 6 months there’s a high speed train to Montreal twice an hour.

    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that a flashy train to the airport will solve all (any) of our transportation woes. In fact, talking about a train to the airport when there isn’t even local Brampton transit service seems a bit perverse. Pearson seems to suffer the same short-sighted approach to transportation that GTA suffers from, namely a lack of cohesive services to cater to the different people who use the airport and an indifference (ignorance) on the part of government to actually solve any of these problems.

    Steve: Although I sit on the Union Station Revitalization Public Advisory Group, I am doubtful that my influence will extend to a Swan Boat Terminal in The Moat.

    When I think about what an airport-to-downtown service would connect with, there are two important components. The first is a good, all-day, bidirectional network of GO Trains radiating out of Union Station. The big problem with Union is that it is not really a regional terminal, it is a commuter terminal and that is a vital difference. Unless there is good, fast, frequent service out of Union, there is no incentive for someone to go out of their way to come there from the airport.

    Second, services need to radiate from the airport to serve other parts of the GTA, and a network of LRT lines would do nicely. They won’t handle the person who wants to get to Oshawa from Pearson, but they certainly can be a way for people to reach more destinations than the corner of Bay and Front.


  19. I think the technology in use at the airport was chosen because it is all-weather capability.

    Steve: Are you suggesting that the fine technology we use on the RT might have problems with bad weather ?


  20. With all this focus on getting to and from Pearson airport, I think we are missing out on another airport that isn’t so far away: Hamilton.

    Why not extend the GO Lakeshore West line out to the Hamilton airport? Once frequent train service extends all the way to Hamilton, would this be all that difficult to accomplish? If it would require digging a tunnel through the Hamilton mountain, then understandable, but certainly the Hamilton airport could be part of the solution. As mentioned in other comments, Pearson is one of the most expensive airports on earth, in terms of landing fees etc. Besides that is the fact that it is extremely busy.

    Certainly diverting some Pearson bound travellers to Hamilton through decent transit connections could both help to alleviate congestion in and around the northwest corner of the city, and also help to spur development in the Hamilton airport area. If not for Toronto commuters, then certainly for travellers coming from Halton region.

    Or (dare I mention it) what about the Toronto Island airport? An expansion of capacity by Porter, or maybe the return of Air Canada Jazz, could help to take some of the burden off of Pearson. I know that the Island Airport is much maligned by many many people, but personally I don’t see the big problem. After spending some time on the islands last week, the airport is barely a bother, and it certainly isn’t unsightly… It actually makes a pretty good photo-op from the top of the CN tower. Residents of Lakefront condos or the islands might complain that the ‘serenity’ of the lakefront is ruined by a couple of airplanes coming in now and then… But what would they say to the tens of thousands living in the flightpath of Pearson who live with constant traffic by much larger, and louder, aircraft. The island airport should definitely be retained as a viable alternative to the behemoth that is Pearson.

    Sorry for the length of the comment… and thanks Steve, for your unending insight on transit issues!

    Steve: Hamilton airport has a major problem that it is even further from the centre of population of the GTA than Pearson. This would give two problems: an even more dispersed set of origins and destinations for transit/airport trips plus a long transit trip from downtown Toronto or any points further east or north. If there were so much demand that we could have two airports offering comparable services, and those living further west could simply use Hamilton for convenience, life would be wonderful. Alas, the carriers want to consolidate flights and passenger operations, not split them up.

    As for the Island airport, it is missing two vital things as a Pearson offloader: Longer runways (for larger planes) and bigger passenger handling capabilities. You are not going to make a dent in Pearson travel without a very large increase in capacity at the Island. The bucolic settings in which a Porter Air flight takes off now and then would quickly disappear with frequent service of significant capacity. My comments above about split operations also apply.

    Travel from the Island is a niche market.


  21. Oh my, so many points to address.

    First, Calvin, if I understand his post, says that since SOME business travellers expense their airport limos to companies outside Canada and the limo companies’ income is taxable that somehow reduces the write-off to near ZERO! This must be the modern Enron/Arthur Anderson accounting so fashionable in business of late. The fact is these limo fares are subsidized by the general populace when it should be public transit we are subsidizing. Tax policy as it relates to transit is a whole kettle of fish perhaps worthy of deeper investigation as it relates to transit.

    Second, people seem to lump a downtown/union to Pearson link with Blue 22 and GO. Where does it say that any such line MUST be an express premium service? It should simply be one of the several lines that would form an LRT network and, as such, it should have stops at the obvious points along the line (i.e. Eglinton, St. Clair, Bloor, College/Dundas, Queen and King) to interconnect with other lines and allow a multiplicity of traveller options. Just because it’s going downtown to Union doesn’t mean it has to act like Blue 22.

    Third, the airport signage for existing TTC does suck. I need to allow at least a couple hours to get me there from downtown by TTC. It’s often packed and you have to climb over luggage. Last time I took the PacWest bus but it stops at a half dozen hotels before getting near my area so it’s not much better.

    Fourth, just because Union may not have tons of intercity traffic and we don’t have a european-grade intercity rail system is no reason to quash an airport link. We have to start somewhere and if we keep quibbling about which piece to put in first we just fall further and further behind other countries.

    Steve: The basic point about tax write-offs is that they are against income, not against the tax. If I write off $1 as an expense, this reduces my total income by $1, but my taxes only by the amount afforded by my marginal rate. A similar situation exists for corporations. We subsidize limos through the tax system, but we don’t pay the whole shot.

    I agree that the line to the airport should be part of the local LRT network. You should talk to the proponents of Blue 22 and convince them to give up their project so that we can get on with a reasonable alternative. Nobody at the political level seems to want to take this on, partly, I suspect, because there is still pressure from Ottawa for it. And we all know how much Ottawa knows about transit.

    Finally, my point about Union is that if we argue for an airport link on the grounds of its role connecting with intercity trains, you would be laughed out of the room by any even moderatly competent critic of wasteful public spending. We need to recognize Union Station for what it is and can reasonably be — an interconnection with the local transit system and with good regional services. If and when VIA runs hundreds of trains a day, then we can talk about a wider role for Union.


  22. For the larger picture, may I suggest that climate change concerns and peak oil will at some point make large airports like Pearson absolutely foolish monuments to our excesses. Read Monbiot’s HEAT – a good chapter on air.

    In the meanwhile, the Weston Community Coalition has been suggesting a conversion of the Blue 22 to a rapid transit line – and while we can’t do a subway, we could do an LRT or a busway with subway-spacing stops on the major carterials if we could get the rail companies on side, which is a major impediment tis true. So we should contemplate an expansion of the corridor, especially on the east side in the core, though such options are getting limited thanks to the OMB and a lack of vision for transit like the Moving To 2011 project in 1985(?).

    However, the Front St. Extension road project will muck up this possibility by occupying a critical piece of land just past Bathurst St. We still have a chance of getting a surface transit vehicle up to grade level on Front St. via a remnant piece of the Lands and Gardens trust to get a more useful and cleaner/separate link to the core and its destinations to relieve Union.


  23. Hamish wrote:

    “…climate change concerns and peak oil will at some point make large airports like Pearson absolutely foolish monuments to our excesses.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    Indeed. I note that per passenger-mile, air transportation requires 60% more energy than rail and that there are no current alternative fuels for airplanes.


    In the time frames that we are talking about to construct LRT or heavy rail transit systems to Toronto International Airport, we will be well over peak oil production and the number of air passengers will have undergone a dramatic reduction. This suggests that in terms of transit planning, the airport should be a very low priority.

    To quote from George Chilson, President of the USA’s National Association of Railway Passengers, “In the near future, road and air congestion, worldwide competition for oil, and growing environmental concerns will make $4 a gallon gas seem cheap, today’s traffic jams modest, and affordable flights a distant memory”



  24. To further clarify my earlier comment on tax write-offs…

    The argument is often made that taxpayers are subsidizing the operation of taxis and limos. On the surface, this sounds reasonable because there may be a tax write-off for business expenses (and it is more often than not a business-expensed ride that is taken that way). So, if the fare were $100 and the marginal tax rate of the company paying the fare were 25%, then then the government collect $25 less in taxes from this corporation since their taxable revenue is reduced by the $100 expense. What the government does not collect in one place must be made up in another, so either the rest of the taxpayers have to pay $25 more, or something else (like spending on public transit) receives $25 less.

    The impact of this argument is falsely sharpened by ignoring the fact that the $100 charged by the taxi or limo firm is also taxable. If that income was also subject to a 25% marginal tax rate, then the impact is ZERO, because the “subsidy” the corporation that claims the expense is made up for by the taxi/limo firm who must pay taxes on it. I would grant the argument the concession that in looking at what happens to the $100 received by the taxi/limo firm results in perhaps a lower marginal tax rate than the 25%, so there would appear to be a subsidy.

    The other point I made was that often, these expenses are ultimately charged to foreign customers. If I use a limo for $100, the expense is reimbursed by the customer who may be in the USA, Argentina, Australia, Germany, or any number of other countries. They pay the shot and there is no reduction in taxes collected by the Canadian government. At the same time, the limo firm must pay taxes on the $100, and there is a net gain in taxes collected due to this expense.

    I would argue that in the big picture, when all the situations where there is a taxpayer subsidy to these expenses, and where there is a net gain in taxes by others, there is very close to ZERO effect on the overall effect on the tax revenue. If not zero, then I believe it is more likely that the Canadian government receives a slight GAIN in taxes collected.


  25. As Steve points out, the development of Blue 22 was in no way connected to building an integrated transport network.

    Although it is nice to tell ourselves that we would have a real (rail) connection to the airport, a project like Blue22 would not have helped much.

    I wonder what things would be like if the Scarborough RT had been built westwards along Eglinton from Kennedy to Renforth drive…Then certainly an extension into the airport would have been an easy and logical plan… (of course this would probably be better and easier to do if the RT had used streetcar technology).

    Instead we now have two independent “toy trains” in two different parts of the city, neither of which would work very well….and Blue22 if completed would have been the 3rd “toy train…”

    Yes, if connections to the airport are a priority we should build through GO and Transit City and forget about everything else.

    regards, mya


  26. Calvin has convinced me, by merely repeating his argument. Only now it’s gone from a near zero subsidy to a net gain to the federal government! Let’s forget altogether about public transit. After all private enterprise, as he points out, transports people to and from the airport at virtually no cost to the taxpayer, and in comfy limos no less! And in doing so they are actually contributing to the federal coffers! Isn’t that wonderful? Why, the government should double the write-off so that businesspeople would be encouraged to do even more good works than they already do! Then all our problems would be solved.

    Sarcasm aside, what Calvin fails to note is that, for every trip expensed to a customer outside Canada there is a foreign trip expensed to a Canadian customer AND limo company income is indeed taxed but their expenses are written off as well.


  27. First, let me point out that we have created a lot of artificial demand at Pearson. A high-speed rail link to Short haul destinations like Ottawa and Montreal would take off a lot of pressure. Also, any rail-link or LRT should not terminate in the terminals. Rather, lets build a terminal in the industrial area by a highway or two with a separate LINK extension into Pearson proper. This way, GO Transit’s Brampton, Milton/401, and Oakville/403 buses would not waste much time being through-routed via Pearson. Voila! With some additional service hours, we have just linked Pearson to Brampton, Oakville, Mississauga, Milton, Yorkdale, and Finch Station. Wasn’t that easy?


  28. Nowhere did I say we should forget public transit.

    I am merely pointing out that the argument relating to taxpayers somehow “subsidizing” the taxi/limo operations is weak, at best and marginalizes any advocacy of transit issues, at worst.

    There are far more issues that can be directly and effectively attacked and we should be focusing on them. Hopefully, this non-issue can be put to bed once and for all.


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