On July 30, Metrolinx announced that it will take over the Air Rail Link project — a premium fare service between Union Station and Pearson Airport — from SNC-Lavalin.
Metrolinx will build, own and operate the service through its GO Transit division.
While the province and the Union Pearson Air-Link Group (UPAG), a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin, were able to make significant progress negotiating, financial market conditions prevented acceptable terms. The government will continue to work with UPAG to build on the design and development work that has been completed to date.
This long-overdue change in the ARL scheme should bring the project into public view where all aspects of its design, financing and operation will be subject to the same scrutiny and openness as other Metrolinx projects. Issues such as service levels, equipment provisioning and, most importantly, electrification will no longer hide behind the veil of “commercial confidentiality”.
Fares will be part of the overall Metrolinx/GO network scheme, and the amount of any “premium” surcharge over comparable GO fares will be a matter of public record. The current one-way GO fare to the airport from downtown is $5.55, far below the $22 figure touted as a possible charge for the SNC-Lavalin operation. As a matter of public policy, Metrolinx should decide whether the ARL should operate on a full cost recovery basis, or like other transit services, be subsidized for the larger benefits of moving travellers without autos.
This change will affect the design of infrastructure and operational planning. If the ARL is priced and operates more like a GO service, it will attract riders such as commuting airport workers, and integration with through Kitchener-Waterloo line will be much simpler. However, the size of facilities now proposed for the ARL may be inadequate to a role as a major airport link. There may even be an option to rethink the technology choice for this corridor and the details of its connection at Union Station.
Today all we have is a press release, but Metrolinx must truly integrate the ARL planning into The Big Move. The ARL will not be a separate, privately-owned service whose business might cloud planning and implementation of “competing” routes. There should be one plan for the airport with regional bus and LRT services including the Eglinton, Finch West and Hurontario/Brampton lines.
The airport is a vital regional hub in The Big Move, and transit service to it must be more than a few lines sketched on a map. Metrolinx should launch planning — including public participation — for its airport services immediately.