GO Transit Contemplates Customer Satisfaction and Station Design

Today’s GO Transit board meeting (yes, that Board still exists) included presentations on two related items:

  • Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty Survey
  • Station Access Strategy

The link between these, although they were separate items on the agenda, is that people who cannot conveniently get to GO services won’t use them.

Board members were in a chatty mood, and asked many questions of the presenter, a Transportation Planner from GO’s staff who acquitted herself well on a variety of topics.  I could not help noticing how many questions with a direct relevance to customer experiences, to feelings people have about GO, to problems of convincing more people to use the system, came from the politicians on the Board.  These are members who have a direct relationship with GO customers and potential new riders.  Other members spoke too, but the preponderance of questions informed by a direct link to constituents and municipal issues was quite striking.

All of this will be lost on the new consolidated Metrolinx board where, we are told, politicians would just get in the way.

Customer Satisfaction & Loyalty

According to the survey, the overwhelming majority of passengers think think GO is doing a good job, that they will remain on GO and that they are likely to recommend GO to their friends.

It is worth noting that this survey was not conducted during bad weather, although GO’s take on things is that in bad weather, the roads are even worse.  That may be, but it does not excuse problems that might have been prevented.

Looking at a finer-grained level, GO scores well on their train and bus services, but fare structure and “payment services” rank poorly (they are sensitive issues for riders, and they rate below average performance). GO station parking lots rank particularly badly, although intriguingly they are not regarded as having as high an effect on riders as fares and service.

The number of surveyed customers was 974 out of nearly 3,000 who were recruited from a variety of routes, time periods and usage patterns to be representative of GO’s clientele.

Customer satisfaction surveys were conducted in 1999 and 2004, and a consistent item for all surveys is the reliability of service showing up on slightly more than one third of responses as a “best thing” about GO.

However, this area has been growing as an area needing improvement to the point where about one quarter of respondents flag this issue.  Passengers may think well of GO generally, but they also know that it’s got problems.

GO customers also want more service.  42 percent list more service as one of the top three areas for improvement.  They want more frequent service at all times, later evening service and more express trains, in short more of everything.  About half of GO’s riders are “choice” riders who could travel by another mode, but who prefer to use GO.

For too long, GO has been starved for expansion and operating funding, and this shows up in a pent-up demand for much better service.  This brings me to the question of station access and design.

Station Access Strategy

Over half of GO’s customers reach the service by driving, and this proportion has been growing since 1999.  Two thirds of GO riders now drive to the station.

This is good news in the sense that those are avoided road trips on the highway network, mainly into the Toronto core area, but the bad news is that this type of access cannot be sustained as GO evolves to serve all day demands and much more dense urban areas around its stations.

The Station Access Strategy aims to meet the GO’s 2020 objective of 35% of station access by walking, cycling and transit.  Some of the needed changes are under GO’s direct control including provision of:

  • better pedestrian amenities (sidewalks, isolation from parking traffic, bridges, stairways and ramps),
  • improved stations (washrooms, vendor kiosks in waiting areas),
  • facilities for secure bicycle storage,
  • snow clearing for cyclist and pedestrian pathways,
  • priority access for local transit services to reduce schedule problems induced by parking traffic,
  • better service (frequent service minimizes the anxiety of catching the only train of the day, or of having to wait an extended period in a station with minimal creature comforts).

Each station has its challenges depending on both the site and the pattern of development around the station.  An example shown was Ajax Station. (Sorry about the resolution.  This is scanned from a rather small reproduction.)

The green rectangle is the station building.  It is cut off from the residential neighbourhood to the north by both the rail corridor and the 401.  Even those who try to cycle or walk down the nearest road face two crossings (red circles) with expressway ramps.

Once they get across the 401, they cannot take the shortest path into the station because there is a grade down from the road to the parking lot (orange arrow) where a stairway could greatly shorten the path.

To the west of the station, a golf course blocks the route for a potential bike path (green dotted line).

At each station, GO will undertake detailed reviews of access for non-drivers to determine what changes might be undertaken, and a selected group of stations will be used to showcase what can be done.

One important issue related to both cycling and pedestrians is development patterns.  Some GO stations lie within areas that have been flagged for high growth by Queen’s Park.  If the population density near stations goes up, proportionately more people would regard walking or cycling as a viable access mode provided that a friendly path is available.

GO has five design principles for station redesign:

  • Prioritize access by non-car modes including local transit at all GO stations
  • Improve the convenience of walking and cycling routes
  • Improve the attractiveness of and integration with local transit
  • Encourage cycling with secure parking and amenities
  • Manage parking areas to optimize sue of space and minimize traffic delays

The last point, of course, is aimed at those who will still drive.  As GO’s parking capacity expands, the time needed to get into or out of the parking lot will rival the time actually spent on the trains.  There are limits to the amount of parking capacity that can be provided at any station, and long-term growth must come from other access modes.  A 35% target average implies a much higher modal split for non-car access at some locations.

Integration with local transit remains the real challenge in this whole exercise because local transit has two constraints:

  • Local services are funded locally.  Even if GO subsidizes the fares for 905 bus routes, the local municipalities must build and operate the service.  Moreover, as GO becomes an all-day operation and parking declines as the mode of access for new users, the scope of local services will also have to grow.
  • GO Stations (or “Mobility Hubs”) do not necessarily exist in areas that suit the demand pattern for other local riding.  Everyone does not want to go to the train, and a transit service gerrymandered to serve GO will be inconvenient for many other trips.  Again, as local transit services in the 905 grow, it will be important that they serve non-commuting demands well.

The GO Board endorsed the principles of the Station Access Strategy, and I can only hope that enough common sense from this board continues into the new Metrolinx.  GO, and particularly its political members, recognize the changing character of travel demand in the 905.  Whether the new Metrolinx will bother to listen to them remains to be seen.

22 thoughts on “GO Transit Contemplates Customer Satisfaction and Station Design

  1. Is there actual bike storage at these stations already? I guess what I want to know is why GO is spending $3 million on 100 bike lockers. If we don’t have bike parking there at all, then we should spend money on that first.

    If you look at this blog post (from the Netherlands), you’ll see that they are installing 800 new bike parking spaces at the local train station (in Assen), and it’s only costing them €200,000.

    If people bought sensible bikes, then it would be no problem to leave it at the station unsupervised and outside because the wheels don’t just come off (more secure) and all the components are enclosed (so weather doesn’t matter).

    Steve: Bike parking at GO is in its infancy, but it’s being designed with rather more generous space (and security) than the Dutch examples.


  2. One item of curiousity in all this is how parking structures fits into all this. One would think it would go directly against the principles outlined.

    There’s another issue with the average of 35% non-driving access to stations, and that is time frame. The modal split before 7:30 and after 6:00 would certainly be much different than the modal split between 7:30 and 6:00, assuming all-day (and hopefully reasonably used) rail service.

    Steve: I don’t explain the contradictions in government announcements, I only report on them (grin). Far be it for me to argue that the Premier and the Prime Minister are more interested in, literally, digging holes in the ground to build parking lots because it something they can fund quickly, even though it’s counterproductive.

    GO passengers value parking highly because this is the only way they can reliably get to the trains thanks to the general lack of local transit service. Nobody at Queen’s Park wants to talk about all the extra local service we will need to funnel passengers into all the upgraded GO lines. This short sighted attitude condemns the 905 to traffic jams, even though a primary goal of Metrolinx was to address gridlock.


  3. “passengers value parking highly because this is the only way they can reliably get to the trains thanks to the general lack of local transit service”

    AMEN! It’s about time we realize things like this and started to fund transit as a seamless whole. Parking structures are a necessary stop gap measure, not a be-all-end-all solution to the problem.


  4. The growth trend in driving access to stations (and the declining trend in other travel modes) does suggest on the surface that people are driving more than they used to, but I interpret GO’s station access graph differently.

    It reminds me of similar trends I have seen in various municipal transportation plans, where data are presented showing a declining percentage in the transit modal split and the conclusion is that people are turning away from transit. In fact, the problem is that more population and/or employment growth is occurring in areas not served by transit or conducive to transit use. Transit use may be remaining steady in more central areas, but it would need to increase in order to offset the newer outlying residents that might ride a bus if their car is in the shop.

    That is what I see in GO’s mode split graph. A lot of the 905 population growth over that period occurred in areas that are farther from GO stations and not as well served. My suspicion is that people in the 1995 catchment areas are, on average, still walking and taking the bus to the station as much as they did, but that the trend is being brought down by new residents outside the catchment area.

    This is an important distinction to make because it affects the nature of the solution offered and the solution’s effectiveness.

    GO’s points on the Ajax slide also miss the boat on two instances.

    First, GO needs to identify what distance people will typically walk to a station, determine the station’s catchment area population by plotting this walking distance on all available sidewalks and paths, determine whether any improvements to these paths could be made to reduce walking distances, and, if so, how much additional population would be brought into that station’s catchment area.

    For the Ajax example, there is likely a fairly small catchment area because a lot of land within a certain radius of the station is taken up by uses that don’t generate riders for GO (the 401; low-rise suburban industrial parks; open space/golf course; etc.) There is one example that would actually shorten walking distances significantly — direct pedestrian connections to Westney Road from the neighbourhoods northwest and northeast of the neighbourhood. (Not only are these neighbourhoods cut off by the 401, they are cut off by Westney. One is separated by a chain link fence, the other by a noise barrier.) Then the next question is how many new potential riders are within the increased catchment area that would result from those improvements.

    Secondly, they don’t appear to have recognized that the damn 1,840-space parking lot is in itself a barrier! (Not to mention that it takes up a prime chunk of that catchment area radius.)

    Steve: I probably did not go into enough detail from the presentation to cover the point that GO is well aware of the problems caused by actual walking distances as compared with crow-fly measurements. Where possible, they seek to at least identify them if not fix them (some of the changes are not in GO’s power).

    Your point about the changing makeup of GO riders based on growth into territory that is comparatively poorly served by transit is a good one. Thanks for pointing this out as it begs the obvious question of having GO disaggregate the stats to track well-established “urban” stations separately.


  5. I am not too familiar with Ajax’s GO Station parking lot layout but I do know that their Durham Region Transit buses operate nowhere near the frequency that the TTC buses operate on. I was told that during rush hour the DRT buses operate with a 1/2 hour frequency! I wouldn’t expect too much GO transit ridership from public transit with the transit service they are getting on that end.

    Are there any plans to connect Toronto’s own GO Oriole Station with the nearby Leslie Subway station? The connection could be something like Kennedy Station’s connection to the GO station next door. I think if GO’s Oriole Station were connected to Leslie station, via a sheltered walkway the two transit services would complement each other well-increasing transit usage on both lines.

    Steve: This is mentioned from time to time, but it never seems to actually happen. The recent funding announcement included only the rehab of thte pedestrian bridge at Oriole, but nothing regarding actually moving the station.


  6. Further to George S.’s post above, I recall stumbling across something from a Junction-area neighbourhood association or similar a few months back that indicated that a direct connection between TTC Dundas West and GO Bloor has received the go-ahead for construction. Can you shed any light on this, Steve?

    While the Oriole/Leslie non-connection tends to attract the majority of the disdain whenever the subject of poor TTC-GO connectivity comes up, to my eyes the Bloor/Dundas W. gap is considerably more egregious—the number of potential trips that could flow through these stations were they connected presumably dwarfs Oriole/Leslie by a huge margin… and that’s not counting what could occur once all-day GO Brampton service and the ARL come online, or if platforms were added for GO trains on the Milton line.

    Steve: Yes, it’s an obvious one, but I have yet to see an actual funding announcement, station design or tender award. Possibly now that GO will own the rail corridor, and once the actual track usage by various services is sorted out, GO will be able to finalize a station and connection design. Don’t forget that Blue 22 wasn’t going to stop there originally.


  7. Most of the new stations that GO builds are not in areas served by public transit nor are they in built up areas that support walk in traffic. Also their schedules on lines except lakeshore are not always on a nice round and even headway that will match what the local transit operator will match. The Milton Line runs trains on a 25, 20, 15, 15 and 20 minute headway in the morning. This may match their demand but it does not match the local transit services. Georgetown does not have a transit service other than GO and I am not sure about Milton. The Lincolnville station is in the middle of a farmer’s field with no public transit but lots of land. The Barrie South station has nothing around it but I believe that there is some bus service to it. Many of the stations on this line are in out of the way locations with little access except by driving.

    On the Georgetown Line the Mt Pleasant Station has 11 bus bays and lots of development going up nearby but unless you live in the new houses going up to the north it is not a pedestrian or bike friendly approach. Acton has no public transit so it will be a mainly drive to station. The Station in Guelph will only have 210 parking spots but will be close to the downtown bus loop. The Breslau Station will have 610 parking spots in phase 1 and 8 bus bays. Kitchener will have no new parking stops and will eventually move to the new transit terminal on King Street. GO recognises the need to get more people to use public transit but they do not control the local transit. (Will Metrolinx?) At least they are building bus bays so that if it does develop they can have a space to loop. They are constrained as to station location as they need vacant land near the right of way or an existing station that they can expand. All of the new platforms will be 315 m long or 12 car lengths.


  8. For The Record:
    Acton is in Halton Hills (municipality) as is Georgetown. Should Georgetown ever get it’s own public transit, it would have the legal right to also serve Acton, should it chose to do so.

    Areas that GO goes that have no public transit:
    Georgetown – as explained above
    Caledon (Bolton etc)

    Word is GO also plans to extend to St.Cathys with a stop in Grimsby, which would be another municipality which has no local service.

    Georgetown is in the Halton Region, along with Milton, Oakville, and Burlington. There is the potential for a Halton Region Transit.

    Caledon is in the Peel region, along with Mississauga and Brampton; but due to the extreme size differences, a “Peel Region Transit” is less likely.

    All other “border areas” of the GTA have transit. Kawartha Lakes has transit in Lindsay. Peterborough, Brantford, Orangeville, Barrie, Orillia, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Midland; all have their own municipal systems. Guelph has a very successful and well planned transit system as does Kitchener, Cambridge, and Waterloo (Grand River Transit)

    Of the places without transit:

    Bolton tried it in the past (late 90’s) and it failed, mostly because it was a private venture and the municipality did not assist.

    Bradford hugs the York Region, and much as the TTC used to run so-called “York Region” routes (and still does) before the local cities had Transit, there is the possibility (though as of yet, not discussed) for YRT to run a route in Bradford.

    Georgetown also hugs another city, in this case Brampton. A similar arrangement could be worked out, but as above, it’s not even in discussion at this point. There have been past rumblings about creating a Halton Region Transit, and we will likely have to wait for this before Georgetown has it’s own buses.


  9. Would it be possible to fund the construction of multilevel parking garages near some of the GO Stations outside of Toronto? The GO stations wouldn’t be surrounded by an expansive parking lots and would free up some of the nearby land for development of infrastructure that would be more compatible the regional rail system that GO provides.

    Steve: This is part of the recently announced parking construction funded by Ottawa and Queen’s Park. There are, however, three major problems with parking structures. First, although they occupy less land per space, they are far more expensive to build. Second, unless careful thought is given to the overall development pattern of a station site, the structure may be placed for the convenience of motorists (that’s the idea after all) rather than the future land use scheme. Third, even with structures, the amount of parking required to serve future planned service levels is simply beyond the capacity of GO’s budget, available land and the congestion problems at stations generated by waves of drivers timed to train schedules.


  10. I was just watching a special on CTV called “Gridlock” which surprisingly was talking about gridlock. There was one driver that they followed that said that she would love to take Go Transit since it is “such an attrative environment” but she can’t deal with all the delays associated with it. Whcih brings me to the question why doesn’t GO Transit use the money that there using on attracting more riders by building more facilities to using the same money to improve what they already have. I think if GO ever resloved there problems with their delays, it would be THE most attractive form of transportation in the city.


  11. You ought to see the Parking deck at South Hills Village Station outside of Pittsburgh. They built this nice 4 storey structure and can only fill the first two levels or so. The rest is leased out to another party. The transit authority (PAT) really made a major booboo on that one. Parking decks really aren’t a bad idea but any rail transit operator had best think through the need for them extra super carefully even moreso than rail transit lines themselves.


  12. Ideally what Brent is talking about ie. determining maximum walking distance and then trying to increase ridership by connecting to areas within that distance that make sense financially should be paid for by GO if it can’t be done through other means (parks and rec etc.).

    This should also be done for any locations that don’t have good local transit (either because of lack of local transit, or poorly served areas or routes to the station) by either contracting with local services, or by using their own busses (Ontario should give them the ability to run local service in the event that the local service declines).

    Also, they should be helping other organizations that provide cheap transportation to and from stations (taxi companies, zip cars (both located in stations, and at locations further from the station) either through discounts (2$ discount when you ride a taxi to or from the station?) or making it simpler than parking.

    All of the above should factor in not just the ticket costs but the hidden costs (highway costs, parking lot costs, etc.).

    Any new parking structures built should be cost neutral, either by incorporating mixed use, ie. stores, office, residential or by charging for parking.


  13. Could GO reasonably consider leasing/granting the parking lot land to high-density developers in exchange for having the parking structures’ construction costs offset/covered by the developer?

    Steve: Yes, this is an option, but it only works if the station is already in an area where development is likely. Some of them are in the middle of nowhere, at least today, and even so may not be suitable locations for high (as opposed to medium) density development in the future. Having done such a deal, the problem will remain that parking capacity is fixed but ridership grows.


  14. It’s really heart-warming to know that GO users are so well taken care of.

    Does the TTC conduct independent customer service surveys? I can’t find evidence of it on their website.

    Steve: Occasionally, but not recently.


  15. Re: Tom’s comment:

    It is interesting to note in the detailed corridor documents that there are no plans to have platforms for the Milton Line added at the Bloor GO Station. Ironically, the two extra tracks allowing the Blue 22 service to make this stop at the existing platforms (which will become double-sided) force the Milton Line tracks to swerve out of the way to the extreme west side of the corridor thereby eliminating any possibility of fitting in an additional platform for the Milton trains. No crossovers are shown either and the capacity of the Georgetown/Airport tracks will already be consumed by the planned service expansions. I assume GO Transit sees Kipling as an acceptable substitute stop, but this assumes that the operational mindset is still based on the old commuter model.

    Amazingly this seemingly huge corridor will end up filled across its entire width at this point with six tracks, two island platforms, the bike path and its access stairway. A last resort might be building just enough extra platform space inside the rear of the Crossways complex, which might actually be welcomed by the owners given their apparent difficulty in leasing all of their vast commercial/office space.
    The problem with capacity at this stop is actually to do with the types of trains we run though. More trains could share fewer platforms if GO finally moved towards electrified multiple unit cars which have faster acceleration/braking and don’t need freight-train-length signal blocks. With GO buying trackage they have the opportunity to change the operating environment to suit their trains, rather than putting up with the huge timing and distance buffers currently in place for freight trains. Whether diesel, electric or dual-mode, we should plan on moving towards a fleet of married-set self-propelled trains like those serving London, England’s commuter region. It is very unfortunate that our infrastructure is still being expanded based on the requirements of long, heavy, slow and infrequent diesel push-pull trains.


  16. I live near Scarborough GO station and I haven’t used this station yet. I use the nearby Warden Subway station since my wife and I moved here a month ago from the Victoria Park area. One thing I notice on my bus ride to the subway station is that I see some GO riders waiting for a train and are standing along side of the track exposed to the elements open platforms. Are there any plans to construct sheltered waiting areas like a lot of the bus platforms are at a lot of subway stops. I think if were made more comfortable for us transit users I am sure it would increase GO ridership.

    Steve: GO seems to treat some of its “in town” stations as second class because they are focussed on customers from the 905. This must change if GO is to become an all day, regional service handling traffic everywhere to everywhere, not just to Bay and Front.


  17. re: George S: Yes, DRT operates buses half-hourly – but they sensibly time them to meet the (half-hourly) trains. What will happen when GO increases servcies further remains to be seen. (DRT’s main issue is generally with the quantity of service, rather than quality.)

    Steve: An important change will come when both the trains and the buses run no less frequently than every 15 minutes. At that point, rider psychology starts to change and the need to catch a specific train/bus pair is less critical. This will be a vital change for GO, its passengers and the local operators from a commuter mindset to an all day transit mindset.


  18. I’d like to see the GO ramp up parking enforcement. I use Rouge Hill station daily, and there are dozens of people who park in places that are NOT parking spaces, blocking emergency vehicle access and greatly exacerbating traffic congestion issues. Threatening signs are posted, but as I walk past these cars at 6pm I have never once seen a ticket on their windshields.

    Since the lots are filled by 9am, one or two parking enforcement officers could easily pass through every station on the Lakeshore East line every day, issuing ten of thousands of dollars in tickets. I appreciate that the GO doesn’t want to harm customer goodwill for a little bit of profit, but when someone dies because emergency vehicles can’t get into the station they will have to answer for it.


  19. I was driving around some of the Milton Line stations today killing time waiting for a root canal to provide space for the Swan boats. I ran into a GO supervisor at Cooksville who told me three interesting facts:

    1 GO has bought the large vacant field on the south side of the roght of way.

    2 The number of people getting on at the station has increased since the TTC implemented parking charges on April 1.

    3 There will be a seventh train added each way in June that will run after the service in the morning. He is not sure when it will run in the evening.

    GO runs a half hour or better TRAIN BUS service from the Milton lines stations to Union Station. There seems to be three different routes that all serve Union but do no one route serves all of the stations on the line. Great if you are going down town but not to go from one station to another.


  20. Well, I think there is a very obvious solution to GO’s parking problems: GO charge for parking. If the TTC can do it so can GO.


  21. I read the entire “GO Access Strategy” report and still confused where & how GO transit derived these numbers. Modal split numbers are not based on any existing or future forecasting model (or at least follows basic trend graphics). Secondly, how these modal splits will be achieved. For instance, bike, walk or transit mode improvements require a stronger coordination with city/town/regions. I have not seen any evidence/data/supporting analysis in this report. I talked to several city or agencies and they no idea how they will achieve the target set by GO transit. Finally, this report does not contain any basic analysis to conclude the modal split numbers. I guess, this is just another GO transit’s long-tern wish-list without understanding the real concerns.

    Any idea/comments on the subject of aforementioned topics?


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