GO Transit’s 15-Cent Solution

Sean Marshall wrote in with the following comment in another thread. I’m putting it in its own post so that replies can be kept in the appropriate area.

… at GO Transit, they’re planning to increase fares again by the flat $0.15 rate. Of course, this is a disproportionate fare increase for those who make shorter trips (say within the 416 or from, for example, Georgetown to Brampton) yet almost insignificant for someone coming in from Barrie. And GO also has to fix the problems with its fare structure, where, for example, a bus trip from Square One to York U is the same price as from Bramalea to York U, about half the distance.

Anyway, my sense is that GO will always take the easiest route (requiring the least thought) to fix a “problem”. Service crowded? Tack on more cars. Issues with parking? Build more spaces. Crowding at platforms? Remove the escalators. Raise fare revenue? Make it a flat fare increase so we don’t have to work out what the new fares should really be.

This is not the first time GO has done this, and I can’t help worrying just a bit in anticipation of a smart card system that can do everything but make passengers’ breakfast, lunch and dinner, but might wind up supporting a fare structure more appropriate for conductors and ticket agents. Will GO continue to penalize short-haul riders with disproportionate fare increases?

9 thoughts on “GO Transit’s 15-Cent Solution

  1. As someone who uses go transit to go downtown and someone who loves the comfort of go transit, this 15 cent price increase is a slap in the face. What I miss the most was the Twin pass, unlimited travel on the TTC and Go Train within the city limits. I found the twin pass six months before they got rid of it, and when I told people about this pass they wanted to buy it. But the pass was removed and the people who were attracted to the prospect stayed in their cars. Go Transit wants more parking spaces but these kinds of passes can save Go Transit in the long run, another stupid mistake by the mighty.


  2. I certainly agree that a flat hike on fare-by-distance based system has the notional impact of hitting shorter-distance commuters more on a pro-rata basis than longer-distance ones. The math’s undeniable there.

    But seriously–and here I feel mildly precocious enough to call Sean out by name, because this certainly isn’t the first time he’s given the dead horse a few whallops–can we please, please as transit activists drop this kneejerk schtick about big bad GO robbing from the the enlightened little 416ers and giving to the evil SUV-loving Morlocks of Oakville and Barrie?

    In this specific case, it’s especially frustrating to see this argument shoehorned in because these short-haul trips occur in parallel to local transit systems that have seen larger absolute (and much larger proportional fare hikes in recent years). I’m certainly no fan of fare hikes on any system, but surely what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. And this is a 15 cent fare hike for GO after a time lag where fares have gone up 25 cents or more in most overlapping systems.

    Lets say it’s back before the last TTC fare hike, and you’re at Kipling, and you want get to Union. It’ll cost you $2.50 to take the subway, or if the timing’s right, you can pay $1.15 more and get there on the GO train, albeit with a direct run and faster travel time.

    Now, let’s fast forward to a few months from now. Now it’ll cost you $2.75 to take the subway, but the GO train “luxury” surcharge is down to $1.10.

    I recall Steve’s rather eloquent evisceration of the case for fare-by-distance on the TTC at the Transit Summit some time back, and how I found myself broadly in agreement. Despite the higher operating costs of carrying a rider on a longer distance, an effective transit system must (at least in part) reward that rider for enduring the widely-perceived discomfort and inconvenience relative to the private automobile, which grows disproportionately as trip distance increases. Surely GO’s decision to apply the fare hike in this fashion is, at least broadly, in keeping with philosophy? This does have the net effect of “flattening” the fare structure, albeit by a fairly small amount.

    As I think most of us would agree, GO and the TTC are apples and oranges, and fully flattening GO’s fare structure probably isn’t tenable. But how can those of you who support flat fares take issue with this hike on a theoretical basis?

    No matter how much we may wish it otherwise, we have sprawl in this area, it isn’t turning back into farmland anytime soon, it isn’t going to become any less car-friendly in the medium term, and it without some incentivizing it will continue to disproportionately produce transport-related greenhouse gas emissions relative to the rest of the city. If every Nissan Murano in the Bronte GO station parking lot wasn’t there, it would be spewing exhaust on the Gardiner instead.


  3. GO is a regional bus service. Places like Mississauga, Brampton, and especially Toronto have large successful local networks in place. Even the York Region has done an excellent job, and Durham, despite troubles, is making progress. I’m not 100% sure as the laws are fuzzy, but it may even be illegal to take a GO bus from one point in Toronto to another.

    GO is designed to be a regional long-haul service. Other then the 407 line, the existing GO Bus “Network” is in reality just having motor coaches reinforce the rail lines. GO is based on and around rail and so long as it continues to be so, the fares will continue to reflect that. GO, as it is right now, doing the job it is doing right now, has in fact made the right decision to increase fares disproportionably on short trips. However, this brings up the question – Should GO continue to do what it is doing?

    I say no. I work at Yonge and Finch, and I absolutely hate trying to cram on the subway (which is Standing Room Only – SRO before it even pulls out of the station at 8am) Whenever I get the opportunity I try to take alternative routes. I’d love to be able to take a GO bus from Finch to STC, but I’m not always able to do so because some fare collectors tell me I’m not allowed. A direct connection between STC and Finch, or Yorkdale, would be useful to many. I’d certainly be willing to pay a few extra dollars per ride over a TTC fare to be able to ride the highway. GO should provide connections between locations or terminals that are not economical. The TTC tried to run a zoo express along the 401, but canceled it due to the cost. GO could do this. GO could run a bus route, non-stop from the Airport to both Square One and Union Station.

    In summary, this fare increase sits well with me considering the role that GO is expected to play, but the role that GO is expected to play needs to be changed.


  4. I think Nick is quite mistaken in the GO Transit role and limitations. You can definitely take GO from Finch to STC using the Oshawa 401 GO Bus. It’ll cost you $3.55, but its definitely legal.

    The regional network only works if it supplements local service. By connecting nodes within the TTC network (Finch, STC, Yorkdale, Union, York U, etc), the GO Bus network is doing its job. The trains however, seem to be designed for suburban commuting.

    The 15c flat increase is as regressive as you can get. I never understood the GO Fare structure. Having fares based on origin-destination do make sense, but the application seems rigid and even hostile. I should be able to use a monthly pass from, for example Union-Agincourt, on any line as long as the cost of that trip is less than the cost of a trip from Union-Agincourt. Why doesn’t GO have geographic fare zones regardless of the lines you travel on? i.e. Translink


  5. The problem is that GO needs to become a regional rail and bus network, and begin to adopt the mentality of one, if we are going to address the problem here of cross-regional trips that don’t have the bank towers of Downtown Toronto or York University as their destinations. Jobs have become more and more dispersed, yet GO has not begun to address reverse commutes or even trying to get people to their jobs if they aren’t downtown, never mind the rest of the 905.

    GO could also act as a limited rapid transit system for those inside the City of Toronto (as elsewhere, where commuter and regional rail systems are popular with city commuters), yet disproportionate fare increases punishes those who might try this. Places like Long Branch or Guildwood or Weston might have this chance.

    If Metrolinx could find the nerve to tackle head-on our archaic fare structure – with full penalty for crossing Steeles or Etobicoke Creek, and GO’s inconsistent and unwieldy fare structure, it alone would be a big step in addressing its mandate of regionalizing our transit network.


  6. The price of a trip on GO Transit should be equal to the price of the same trip on local transit. This, along with good GO and feeder bus service, could help relieve congestion somewhat on subways in areas where GO Transit is available.


  7. Sean: “The problem is that GO needs to become a regional rail and bus network, and begin to adopt the mentality of one, if we are going to address the problem here of cross-regional trips that don’t have the bank towers of Downtown Toronto or York University as their destinations. Jobs have become more and more dispersed, yet GO has not begun to address reverse commutes or even trying to get people to their jobs if they aren’t downtown, never mind the rest of the 905. “
    I certainly agree with Sean’s broad thesis here, although saying “GO has not begun to address reverse commutes” is taking things way too far. They’ve taken baby steps, and from what I’ve heard from them they certainly realize this is their new frontier. As I see it, there are two problems, though, when it comes to reverse commuting.

    The first is that these poorly-planned 905 office parks that are generating a lot of the reverse commuting are bloody hard to hit with transit, and while long-term land-use planning around GO stations can fix this, in the short term not much can be done. While old urban cores grew in the age of rail and hence happen to sit next to rail lines, 905 employment areas went in in an automobile-centric time and thus sit along 400-series highways.

    Assuming you’ve even got a GO station in roughly the right area, the next leg of the trip becomes a problem–stepping out of Cooksville station is not the same as stepping out of Union and walking to a bank tower or zipping up the subway to Queen’s Park station. Assuming you’ve managed to collect and move 1,500 workers onto the Cooksville station platform at 8:30 in morning, perhaps no more than two or three in the whole bunch would be going to any one shared place of work. Walking is out as on option for most of them, and municipal bus service mightn’t even be able to efficiently deal with the scale of the dispersal required. What you really need are their trusty SUVs there so they can make the last kilometer of their journey by automobile, but no, their cars are stowed in their condo’s underground parking in downtown Toronto or in the Old Cummer parking lot.

    Is GO still making some asinine decisions? Sure. In light of the employment growth in Liberty Village, it really is inexcusable that express trains on the Lakeshore West line bypass Exhibition station in the name of saving sixty seconds. They should really build a station in Concord where their Barrie line trains intersect with Viva’s east-west corridor along Highway 7, not because there’s much by way of residential near there, but because they can hit the nearby employment centres in concert with Viva. Bloor station is a disgrace, and a relatively modest investment could turn it into a really effective interchange point with the B-D subway.

    To GO’s credit, they’ve been throwing buses at a relatively good clip at Square One /Mississauga “City Centre” (roll eyes) in the last few years, but there you run up against the great fundamental modal law of North America, which is that trains whallop buses when it comes to making a convert of the car-based commuter. In fact, frankly I think GO’s planners don’t truly comprehend how big a deal moving from rubber wheels to steel is for prompting changes in commuting habits–ridership growth in the initial months after adding the Barrie train has caught them totally by surprise, and it’s almost as if they seriously expected that every commuter interested in taking public transit from Barrie had been previously braving 2 hrs or whatever squashed in a bus in the 400’s gridlock.

    That ties into the second problem, which is that GO still is culturally tied to the idea of being a business (albeit one allowed to run a 10% deficit) as opposed to being a public service. There’s a very, very limited appetite to introduce service at any higher frequency or at any higher quality than ever-so slightly above what present market conditions will support. Bus trips have to be absolutely bursting before they contemplate adding another train trip, because the idea of a rolling train cars around mostly-empty is a complete anathema to their present business model.

    While capital investment from Metrolinx is nice (and in some cases entirely necessary for this next step) what GO really needs more than anything is a boot in the ass to make peace with the idea of running some services as loss leaders to achieve broader public policy objective. To take one example, they should hand them a fist of cash, say go ahead, lose $10 million running counterflow commuter trains into downtown Hamilton. Yes, they’ll be mostly empty for the first few years, but the tens of thousands of empty square feet of office space in walking distance of the downtown Hamilton station will slowly fill, and the ridership will come and remain for years to come. That simply couldn’t happen with an incremental buses-added-as-they’re-needed strategy.

    I think this attitude problem probably also explains why GO doesn’t advertise. I bet if you’re merrily going about your business in 905-land, it’s entirely possible you haven’t even thought of anything other than car travel as usual. Why not plunk down a few bucks and run some TV commercials reminding people watching the suppertime news that commuting with GO more or less costs the same as what they’re spending on gas? Maybe also mention how by making that switch they’re probably wiping out their own one tonne of GHG emissions along with covering their neighbours’ tonnes on both sides partially down the street. Might do a bit more good then hearing about how the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation, um, exists.

    Sean: “GO could also act as a limited rapid transit system for those inside the City of Toronto (as elsewhere, where commuter and regional rail systems are popular with city commuters), yet disproportionate fare increases punishes those who might try this. Places like Long Branch or Guildwood or Weston might have this chance. “

    Punishment? In the realm of abstract theory, sure, there’s a microscopic shift in relative cost… were they to have applied a 2.5% hike evenly across all fares, it would change the Long Branch-Union cost from $3.65 to $3.74, rather than $3.80. So this “punishment” amounts to six bloody cents, or less than 1.6% of the total ticket price.

    Yes, that adds up over time, but if six cents/trip generates this sort of outrage, then I expect no less than four times the above amount of hair-pulling when the TTC fare eventually hits three bucks.

    I’m going to venture a guess that if these potential hybrid commuters in Long Branch are really making transit decisions on the basis of penny-pinching, the cost differential between GO service from there and TTC service from there is going to be the only statistic that matters. What some faceless suburbanite out in Barrie pays for his morning GO train is about as relevant to their mode selection as what it costs to ride the AMT in Montreal. And, to repeat myself, the cost differential between short-haul GO and TTC service has shrunk over the years, not grown.

    Again, we’re in the realm of pennies in those arguments, but my larger point is that all this nitpicky whataboutery about the relative shifts in burdens are completely overshadowed in terms of the sheer amount of money at play by those overarching questions about what is a just cost-sharing arrangement between provincial taxpayers, municipal taxpayers, gasoline consumers and the rider via farebox.

    First we need to answer the question if fares are 50 cents too high or 50 cents too low. Then we can fight over the last 6 pennies.


  8. GO Transit really needs to reform their fare structure. Having 91 fare zones is ludicrous. In another post there much simpler fare zone structures have been proposed.

    Furthermore, much better fare integration with the TTC is necessary. As is stands now, having to pay 2 separate fares when traveling on the GO & TTC is a major disincentive to taking transit. Isn’t taking transit the goal of both agencies?

    I fear any farecard proposed for the GTHA will only reinforce this existing fare double dipping. I’ve not seen any Metrolinx statement saying that traveling by GO and TTC within 416 will be just one fare. Sure, GO Transit is quicker. But most of the time you still need to take the TTC to complete your journey.

    Yes there are operational and capital issues with introducing such a unified fare scheme, as this will result in much less fare revenue initially, and will add alot of passengers to existing overcrowded services.

    However the overall vision of how to make traveling by transit as simple and efficient as possible for the user is missing. Not to mention using best practices from Europe of how to make taking transit simple.

    A driver doesn’t worry about which jurisdiction owns which roadway – it’s all seamless. A road is a road is a road.

    However, taking transit intermunicipally requires dealing with inconsistent fare schemes, dealing with completely different transit agencies for information, schedules, and service. It can be bewildering even for experienced transit users.

    London and Paris are ideal models of integrated transit. Fares are paid by zone, and it doesn’t matter what mode is chosen. Fares (with few exceptions) cover bus, tram, metro or tube, and commuter rail.

    Currently Metrolinx envisions maintaining the current patchwork of municipal transit fiefdoms, with a bandaid electronic fare card that reinforces the existing balkanized fare schemes. No thought has been given to developing a comprehensive system of revenue attribution for a zone fare system.

    Maybe it’s still too early for Metrolinx to be thinking of such things, but critical the long term vision of what we want transit to look like is definitely missing.

    It’s this vision that everything Metrolinx is doing should work towards. But I see none of that. All I see is a amateur website, ludicrously lame agency name, some bandaids, and business as usual. Their ‘Regional Transportation Plan Consultation’ page is blank.

    And to answer Nick J Boragina’s query and confirm Jay’s reply, it is not illegal to take GO Transit within 416. People take the GO Train from 416 stations to Union all the time. I take the GO Bus from York Mills terminal to 416 locations all the time.

    If a GO attendant gives you a hard time, ask them to show you where it says you cannot do so. The schedules show the stops, and obviously imply that service is permitted between 416 points. If an attendant continues to harrass you in this way, take their badge number, and make a complaint to GO Transit. Or buy a 10 ride from someone else, and avoid that person.

    Steve: I have already written about the need for a simple, integrated fare structure using, at most, a simple zone system or even a flat fare. If Metrolinx turns into a gigantic technology project, we will know that making transit actually work is way down on their agenda.

    As for fares within the 416, I just used the GO fare calculator, and it tells me that a trip from Scarborough Town Centre to York Mills or Yorkdale Stations will set me back $3.55 as a single fare, or $118 for a monthly pass.

    If I want to go from Agincourt out to Long Branch, it will cost $5.40 as a single fare, or $176 for a monthly pass.

    If GO’s own website has fares for trips entirely within the 416, they must be legal.


  9. In the last month, my regular train departing from Bronte to Toronto at 7:28 was cancelled 6 times. When this happens, the commuters who have the strength and are lucky enough to get squeezed in, like cattle, in the next train, departing at 7:38, make it to work (late though!) but there are many people left on the platform, in freezing weather.

    I fail to understand how the same train gets cancelled all the time while the next one runs on schedule all the time. Something is really wrong up there at the GO Transit.

    But today, February 27, GO Transit reached new heights of incompetence. After my 7:28 train was cancelled, as usual, and I manage to take the “cattle train” to arrive late at work, my son, who is a student and commutes to Toronto as well called me with the best GO Transit story so far. His train (which is in the afternoon) was cancelled as well and they were told that a bus will take them to Port Credit (which is 3 stations east, towards Toronto) where a train is scheduled to depart to Toronto.

    By the time they reached Oakville (which is the next station east, towards Toronto) they’ve been told to get off the bus because the train already departed Port Credit. The next train from Oakville to Toronto was scheduled one hour later and there was no train or bus back to Bronte for almost an hour either. As a result he was not able to drive to school (because the car was “parked” in Bronte) or get a train in time so he missed his class. Just like that!

    Speaking about parking – there is absolutely no parking available at the Bronte station if you use the service after the rush hour. Somehow GO Transit has
    sufficient staff to ticket the people for “illegal” parking, so on top of the regular daily fun, my son gets a parking ticket from time to time, as well.

    This is absolutely outrageous and something has to be done about it. Our family pays more than $4,000 a year on GO transit which is a huge amount of money,
    considering the quality and the reliability of the service. We are expected to pay our fare and we get fined if we don’t do so but there is no fine if GO doesn’t fulfill the duties that we paid for.

    The GO management is totally inefficient and the government of Ontario doesn’t seem to have a handle of the problem. Pumping money in the system is not enough. There are fundamental management problems, accountability problems, customer care problems and many, many problems that must be addressed. Otherwise we will keep ending up with 5 million (!) dollars locomotives that break down in the first day of service, with crews that don’t show up for work, insufficient parking and so on.

    Giving all that I am thinking that we, the commuters, who are actually penalized for using this transit system (rather than encouraged) should take the matter in our hands and pay for the service in the same way is delivered. We should not pay for our trips to compensate for cancelled trains, or pay another day for late trains, or pay a lesser fee to compensate for the overcrowded trains and so on. And in case we get fined for that we should send the ticket to the Go management and Queens Park along with our “apologies for the inconvenience this may have caused” to give them a taste of the medicine forced on our throats every day.

    I am sorry to be so bitter but I am tired of subsidizing the transit system of one of the wealthiest province of a G7 country, which delivers a service that is even below a third world country.

    Mike Serbanescu
    Oakville, ON

    Steve: Did I dream it, or wasn’t the problem with train crewing to disappear once that spiffy new private sector Bombardier management took over?

    This is the sort of story that enthusiasts for a provincial takeover of the TTC need to hear. GO Transit, that wonderful, 90 percent cost recovery or better apple of Queen’s Park’s eye, is seriously underfunded and doesn’t run what they do have now anywhere near as reliably as they should.


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