When Is a GO Train not a GO Train? When It’s UPX!

Among the mysteries of the internal organization at Metrolinx is the presence of separate “divisions” for GO Transit (the commuter rail service), Presto (the fare card service) and UP Express (the premium fare airport shuttle service).  Rather than using the GO brand for the airport service and integrating its operation and fares, Metrolinx treats UPX as a completely separate entity, no doubt so that it could isolate the operation as a profit centre on the books. We now know that “profit” is the furthest thing from a UPX future where just finding riders now takes precedence.

Soon, fares on UPX will be much lower and this might encourage some to incorporate the UPX into their journeys. However, there are two glaring holes in the new arrangement.

UPX, being a separate operation, does not have fares integrated with connecting GO services at Union. Riders transferring between these services will pay separate fares for each leg of their journey. Presuming that UPX fares stay low, this should be corrected, at the latest, in the next annual review of GO’s tariff.

But the really bone-headed decision (or lack of decision) lies with the TTC. Although GO fares discourage “local” travel within the 416, there is a legal transfer move a rider can use called TTC Times Two. A trip can start on the TTC, transfer to GO, and then back onto the TTC again using the original TTC transfer.

With UPX moving to lower fares and the likelihood that it will attract commuter trade within the city, the question becomes “is TTC Times Two valid for UPX”? I asked the TTC’s Brad Ross and Chris Upfold this question at the recent TTC Board meeting. Their answer? “No” because (a) UPX is not a GO train and (b) a TTC policy change would be required.

The irony, of course, is that GO operates in the same corridor as UPX, and it would be impossible to distinguish whether a traveller with a transfer from the Lawrence 52 bus arrived at Union Station via GO or via UPX, except of course that GO service only runs in the peak period.

During the March 1 subway shutdown thanks to a power vault fire, TTC riders travelled on GO and UPX for no extra charge. The reverse courtesy has been extended to GO riders on occasion. This did not require a formal meeting and policy decision, simply the recognition that there is one transit network regardless of the logo on the train.

How riders get from one connection point to another should not matter. Between now and March 9 when the new UPX fares take effect, can someone at the TTC show a small spark of initiative and decide that a traveller on either a GO or UPX train can use TTC Times Two? Or will we continue to have an artificial distinction between two services provided on the same track by the same agency?

26 thoughts on “When Is a GO Train not a GO Train? When It’s UPX!

  1. Thank you for telling us about the TTC times Two policy. This is the first month in a couple of years that I have not bought a Metropass. That might save me a lot of walking.

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  2. “GO service only runs in the peak period.”

    No it doesn’t…

    Steve: Yes, but … Service through Weston is every 90 minutes midday until 1534 which is the last inbound train. Outbound service ends at 1900. There is no weekend service. I think it would be a reasonable assumption that someone arriving at Union with a transfer from a Weston Station feeder route used UPX, not GO, for most hours on most days. That’s my point.

    Also: although the fares between Union, Bloor and Weston are identical to GO fares (both cash and Presto), the lack of integration means trips from elsewhere in the network will cost more. For example, a GO ticket from Guildwood Hill to Weston is $8.30 (cash). However, a GO ticket from Guildwood to Union is $7.05, and a UPEx ticket from Union to Weston is $5.65, making $12.70 total.

    Steve: That’s why I mentioned the need for fare integration between GO and UPX in the article.

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  3. I totally agree that Metrolinx’s organizational structure doesn’t work.

    For me, the GO Stouffville line is an ideal urban line within the City of Toronto, and should have equipment that provides headways of 2.5 minutes. There is no one at Metrolinx to talk to. The GO people say Stouffville is railroad line, period. The urban people at Metrolinx don’t even know they should provide the light rail equipment to meet the headway requirement. They aren’t in tune with TTC Resource Planning, nor City Transport Planning, nor the public. They play second fiddle to the GO management within Metrolinx. They truly have no idea of the demand flows in Scarborough and have the key right of way (the GO Stouffville line) to unlock Scarborough’s transit woes.

    The split-up structure of Metrolinx makes it particularly hard for City Transport Planning as witnessed with the SmartTrack “negotiations”. GO Metrolinx owns the show, they wouldn’t meet the City needs for the Stouville line. Very likely the urban part of Metrolinx fails to understands the problem and is totally helpless in contributing to a solution.

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  4. Why did fares become such a complicated issue in Toronto? Is it a process of change? i.e. the TTC can no longer be considered as the monopoly for public transit in the 416? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

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  5. But Steve, if they make UP Express part of GO how can they justify the existence of a president for UPX Kathy Haley and all their other board members: a president and CEO for Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig; a president for GO Transit, Greg Percy; an Executive Vice President for Presto, Robert Hollis; an Executive Vice-President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Mary Martin; a Vice-President, Strategic Communications, Judy Pfeifer; a Chief Human Resources Officer, Helen Ferreira-Walker; a Chief Capital Office, John Jensen; a Chief Financial Office, Robert Siddall; and a Chief Planning Officer, Leslie Woo? Do they really need all these fancy positions, especially 3 presidents and 3 executive vice presidents? I believe that they like impressive titles for their business cards.

    As found in the Metrolinx website of senior management:

    “Kathy M. Haley joined Metrolinx as the inaugural President of the Union Pearson Express in July 2011. With a proven track record in customer service and operational excellence, Kathy is charged with delivering the highly anticipated express rail service to link downtown Toronto with Canada’s largest and busiest international airport, Toronto Pearson. Under Kathy’s leadership, and with her customer-focused drive, the project will be delivered on time for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

    “Kathy’s pedigree in Customer Experience Transformation includes leading enterprise-wide initiatives at Royal Bank of Canada, Canada Post and internationally for Allianz Group AG, headquartered in Munich. At Imperial Oil Ltd. she changed the face of petroleum retailing through the development and launch of Esso Tiger Express and On the Run retail operations.

    “Kathy’s deep understanding of the customer has provided her with the vision and insight to anticipate market needs and deliver new and innovative services that elevate the entire customer experience.”

    Looking at the last paragraph I think that Kathy needs new glasses, at least ones without the rose tint. I would think that anyone connected with this abomination of bad design, planning and marketing would be dusting of their resume and looking for a career switch before the door knob hits her in the *** on the way out. She will probably get a very good severance package though. I know it’s not her fault because she was given bad information from which to plan. Too bad it was done on her watch.

    How come UPX gets a president while Presto only gets an executive vice president? Presto had the possibility of being a viable product if they only started 25 years ago. The only president they need is for GO transit. Get rid of this money eating bureaucracy.

    Steve: To be fair to Kathy Haley, that whole business of designing UPX on a break-even basis rather than with fares at GO levels they will now adopt was not something she would have done on her own. Somebody on high said “it should not lose money”, and from that flowed a scheme to justify high fares even though the fact a private builder walked away from the idea should have been a huge red flag. I want to know who made that decision, and when they’re packing up their office.

    That said, UPX and Haley are notable for pretentiousness, for vastly overselling their product, and for thinking that an industry association award for a concept actually means anything.

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  6. I asked the TTC’s Brad Ross and Chris Upfold this question at the recent TTC Board meeting. Their answer? “No” because (a) UPX is not a GO train and (b) a TTC policy change would be required.

    Very good to see an actual quote of that in print. It’s a crucial point since the press has been reporting (gist) “UPX now match the GO fare” (on the paralleled route travel possible).

    The actual Metrolinx press release states: “Cost of fare” (is matched). There’s a crucial difference, for both ‘travel through’ TTC/Metrolinx/TTC and for *onward ticket price* on GO itself.

    Semantics are not going to save UPX! It’s hard not to be cynical on this, this forum and others work best when the facts are presented to make a case, but I think we all feel lied to and cheated, only to have weasel words thrown back at us, after our being proven right, as if somehow it would repair the wrong.

    The bottom line is that we’ll be satisfied once UPX honours GO fare (not just price, “fare” means also the terms you get for that ticket) or better yet, just fold UPX into GO, and stop playing games. The working staff should be offered positions in GO’s expanding operations. The executive? Perhaps they could be offered re-training as cleaning staff?

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  7. There is an internal conflict within Metrolinx between Urban planning Ontario and Urban Planning Toronto. Metrolinx has decreed standard track gauge for all equipment. It makes sense for GO and all cities in Ontario except Toronto, because Toronto runs a unique track gauge. If UPX and GO Stouffville were Toronto gauge and Metrolinx could purchase Toronto gauge LRT’s, all kinds of great route possibilities for Urban Toronto can be imagined. For Metrolinx to help improve transit within Toronto, they have to work with the Toronto infrastructure, which they currently are unable to. Metrolinx owns great real estate routes in Toronto which they only want to run their equipment on. This is a great source of frustration for Toronto residents.

    Steve: That horse left the barn a long time ago. The Transit City lines were originally going to be TTC gauge, but standard gauge was forced on them because, it was claimed, the use of a non-standard gauge would make the cars too expensive. This was nothing more than a sop to a bidder who did not get the contract anyway.

    There is a difference between the price on TTC and Metrolinx cars, but this relates to (a) features on TTC cars such as the wheelchair ramp that have no equivalent on the Metrolinx gear, (b) higher power requirements for hill climbing on the streetcar system, different accounting methods for stating vehicle price (TTC cites cost to completion with inflation, Metrolinx cites the base price), and inclusion/exclusion of spare parts, training, etc. from the base contract.

    By the way, this has very little to do with fare integration which is the topic of this thread.

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  8. There is now hourly daytime service to Bramalea on GO. How is anyone going to know whether I took the UPX or GO between say Weston & Union?

    Steve: Your point is taken, but I am looking at the schedule, and trains leave Union every 90 minutes: 0848, 1018, 1148, 1318, 1448. The last inbound train from Weston is at 1534. There is no weekend or evening service.

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  9. I think proper fare integration is too tough a pill for either GO or TTC to swallow. There is too much pride on both ends.

    TTC and Metrolinx could simplify these fare issues using the Tokyo (or Japan for that matter) model:

    – Create zones/distance fares
    – These zoned (by zone I mean, the station from where you start to where you end a trip… not a “downtown zone”) fares must start very low, and eventually move to moderately more expensive than the cash fare we see today.
    – TTC and GO zoned fares must follow a similar formula
    – For example, 1-5 stops on the subway (TTC) should be between $1.20 and $1.50. The longest distance on the TTC (Scarb-Miss) could be $4-5.
    – Go should follow the same pricing structure… from Weston to Scarborough could be $4-5. Stops in between would obviously be less.

    There is no fare integration here, so agencies aren’t fighting over who gets what when a rider transfers to another system.

    When a rider does transfer from GO to TTC, the incremental fare will be relatively low as the general idea is that GO will take you most of the way, then the TTC just needs to take you that little bit extra to your destination, keeping the added fare below $2 (most of the time).

    Fare gates that require tap-in and tap-out are required of course, and busses/streetcars will also need people to tap out (Maybe enter the back doors to tap in, exit the front doors by the driver to tap out.) This is surprisingly fast in Japan and bottlenecks are minor.

    Instead of presto riders requiring ridiculous paper transfers, make all inter-TTC transfers time-based.

    If you’re going from TTC-GO-TTC, 3 fares are required. Keeps it simple and all transit agencies feel like they’re getting a fair deal.

    But the only way this works is if a complete fare overhaul takes place. Lower fares across the board are needed… especially within the city (I’m looking at you GO!)

    Greater Tokyo has 3 subway companies, 24 train companies and dozens of bus companies using this model. It works because they’re very well integrated (stations on top of each other, or connected in some way), reasonably priced, and very simple to understand fare structures. There is no fare integration, with the exception of tourist subway/rail pass combos.

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  10. Steve:

    “Yes, but … Service through Weston is every 90 minutes midday until 1534 which is the last inbound train. Outbound service ends at 1900. There is no weekend service. I think it would be a reasonable assumption that someone arriving at Union with a transfer from a Weston Station feeder route used UPX, not GO, for most hours on most days. That’s my point.”

    That is only on today’s storm schedule. The regular day schedule is every hour starting 8:48 and running until 14:48 when the afternoon rush hour service starts. The inbound trains leave Brampton on the :09 from 9:09 until 15:09 with the train at 10 being at 10:04 for some stupid unfathomable reason.

    Steve: Thanks for pointing out that I am looking at the “storm” schedule even though there is no sign of a storm anywhere to be seen. My point remains: it is not an all day, seven day service, and it is less frequent than UPX.

    I cannot help wondering how GO will manage its own services including the RER enhancements, plus SmartTrack, plus UPX, any time a flake of snow falls on Metrolinx headquarters. Imagine the TTC putting out a schedule saying they would run less service on snow days.

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  11. The problem is that the UPX trains have a limited capacity and cannot accomodate everyone if fares are lowered too much. As it is, the price cut will encourage a lot of people at Weston to use the UPX to commute and may lead to overcrowding in rush hour. The only long term solution is to spend billions rebuilding the Pearson spur to handle regular 12 car GO trains.

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  12. @ Andrew | March 2, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    … or run UPX as an airport shuttle to a station at Woodbine or Weston or Black Creek.

    I’m not sure Pearson or Toronto will ever warrant a large Euro-style S-Bahn and long-distance station.

    Maybe Pickering airport😀

    /me puts away crayons

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  13. I kind of wondered if there was any fare integration back in December. I had to work out at the airport for two days right before Christmas because some equipment we’ve got installed out there broke down (as it has shortly before Christmas every year in a row for quite some time thus earning the affectionate nickname “The Grinch Machine”). Coming into Toronto on the Go train and then changing for the UP Express to get to Pearson, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tap off at Union to finish the Go train trip and then tap on again for UPX, or ride right through to Pearson and tap off the entire journey there. I ended up paying for the UPX trips completely separately to make preparing the travel claim easier.

    Metrolinx needs to sort out integrating UPX into the Go system first, before strongarm imposing some kind of fare by mode and distance nonsense on the TTC.

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  14. Andrew writes:

    The only long term solution is to spend billions rebuilding the Pearson spur to handle regular 12 car GO trains.

    NO! The answer is to run a shuttle from the Airport to the main corridor. At this point in time, it would take two trains (albeit with two tracks, they can still be single track running each, mainline considerations besides) and interchange at Weston. That should be moved to either Etobicoke North or the proposed station at Woodbine Racetrack (I believe it’s termed). The massive sums already sunk into the spur will almost inevitably never pay for itself, but losses must be cut to move this forward. If at such a time as demand proves the need for a direct train from the airport to Union, then so be it. And pigs can fly too.

    Meantime, the airport must be ancillary to the real need for that corridor: Common Commuter Carrier. Let the flyers interchange with the mainline, buy their champagne on the leg between the airport and the corridor.

    Half apologies for being so blunt, if rational ideas aren’t proposed for this, I have a very real fear this will degenerate in to the Rube Goldberg Memorial Train Set. (complete with batteries)

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  15. Steve, thanks for the article. Perhaps Ms. Haley will be offered a lower ranking job of ‘Executive Vice President, UPX’. Although there may be legal ramifications – although as part of the ‘restructuring process’, someone could be made Executive VP of the UPX, or something similar.

    The big problem with all this is that so much money has already been spent on this. And as Andrew pointed out earlier, if we start letting too many commuters onto the train, the UPX will not be able to provide space for those going to the airport – the whole point of the operation. Of course, the UPX is generally operating with only two cars but is designed for three cars, so if all three cars are used, it would help. Even increasing to 10 minute service would help, but would require more equipment than the UPX has at the moment.

    As for interlining, perhaps the GO fares should be interlined with UPX, but only for those going to the airport, to encourage people using the service to the airport, again the original intention of the service.

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  16. Stephen Saines said:

    NO! The answer is to run a shuttle from the Airport to the main corridor.

    That doesn’t work without matching 15 minute headways on Bramalea GO, and current GO rolling stock isn’t designed for luggage. We are at least a decade away from that.

    There are no good short term fixes. And if we’re talking long term, we should fix the other problems. The existing UPX is such a poor fit that almost nothing would remain the same.

    – More frequent, 10 minute service. (this is possible with the shorter route, GO electrification)
    – rolling stock on Bramalea GO with luggage capacity, perhaps dedicated cars.
    – For a spur service, serve T3. Double transfer with luggage from T3 to Union doesn’t wash.
    – probably should meet the corridor at the International Centre (Malton GO), for better service of T3, airport environs and conventions;
    – extend Crosstown West, Finch West, Mississauga BRT to airport (primary means of commuting for airport workers)

    And since this is a laundry list: Better connection at Bloor. Pull a Daly and bulldoze The Crossways. 😉

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  17. “The only long term solution is to spend billions rebuilding the Pearson spur to handle regular 12 car GO trains.”

    This is not necessary because Metrolinx is shopping for EMUs, which may be 6-coach EMUs to allow double-berthing at Union Station.

    For 10-minute electric GO service (whether called RER, SmartTrack, ACME Train), 6-coach trains will move an awful lot of people. Using 12 coach trains is OVERKILL offpeak for 15-min-and-better.

    There are many lightweight 6-coach EMUs that can run on the existing spur, although not all of them have the bend radius.

    Assuming Metrolinx selects 6-coach trains, we can simply open only the front 3 coaches at the existing Pearson UPX stations (with only minor modifications). This would allow a reduced-cost save-face of a merger of UPX and GO RER.

    The system could behave exactly like Paris RER B airport spur, where 1 in 2 trains or 1 in 3 trains go down the airport spur instead of to Brampton.

    Steve: I think that the crossover is too close to the station for a six-car train to fit.

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  18. Steve says

    “I cannot help wondering how GO will manage its own services including the RER enhancements, plus SmartTrack, plus UPX, any time a flake of snow falls on Metrolinx headquarters. Imagine the TTC putting out a schedule saying they would run less service on snow days.”

    They could do what Washington DC does and cancel all surface rail when they get 4 cm of snow. When I was in Baltimore I asked on of the transit workers if they shut down the Baltimore subway when Washington did and he said no. I asked him how they managed to keep the service running and he said they had a special device called a snow plow.

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  19. Mark Rejhon asks

    “Why is Presto $5.02 instead of $5 for Weston-Union?”

    Because, as with every project (fiasco?) similar to this one, with its cost overruns, bad/slow/no decisions and constant changes along the way, the last person involved had to add his/her 2 cents in!

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  20. Anyone know what’s the story on progress on the pedestrian connection between UPX and Dundas West TTC station? No sign of any activity on TTC property.

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  21. Steve:

    Yes, but … Service through Weston is every 90 minutes midday until 1534 which is the last inbound train.

    Minor clarification: Every 60 minutes. This change occured during the 2015 schedule change to begin hourly midday 2-way service to Brampton.

    The May 2016 GO schedule change is strongly rumored to extend the hourly service thru the evening, completing weekday “hourly all-day 2-way” train service between Brampton and Union. Unconfirmed if weekend service will occur.

    Steve: As has already been pointed out by someone else, the day I checked the schedules they had the “storm day” schedule posted, hence the confusion.

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  22. (Albeit I’m late, I noticed things I should have checked and replied to earlier)

    “NO! The answer is to run a shuttle from the Airport to the main corridor.”

    One theoretical concept is whatever future LINK overhaul/refurbish/replacement (e.g. 20 years from now, in the high speed train era) is run an upgraded LINK all the way to the GO corridor, connecting a theoretical future Woodbine station to both Terminals 1 & 3 (and any theoretical Terminal 2 rebuild). In theory, it could either reuse a modified version of a discontinued UPX spur, or a separate spur.

    LINK runs as frequent as every 4 minutes during peak, so it wouldn’t necessarily need to be fully synchronized to the rail corridor services, and it would conveniently serve all services on the rail corridor (VIA, HSR, GO/RER/ST…), while serving both terminals.

    Given the high speed train study has a Pearson stop, and is bound to happen sometime later this century, an enhanced LINK would be much cheaper than trying to divert the railroad through Pearson.

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  23. Mark Rejhon said:

    Given the high speed train study has a Pearson stop, and is bound to happen sometime later this century, an enhanced LINK would be much cheaper than trying to divert the railroad through Pearson.

    Which HSR study would that be? London-Kitchener-Toronto or Windsor-London-Toronto? I expect quantum teleportation to be viable before the stars align on a new 200mph subdivision between London and Kitchener (the Kitchener-Toronto segment would not have any improvements over the current upgrade of the Guelph subdivision between Georgetown and Kitchener).

    This British team don’t have their heads around the GTA costs or the complexity of the USRC and other legacy issues.

    Steve: Your description of “the British team” does not begin to describe my contempt for them and the damage they did both with their advice to the former Minister and to the mayoral campaign.

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  24. Try to access the UPX from the Dundas West subway station: Go outdoors, drag your bags across Dundas and a half block down Bloor Street. Get in an elevator and pay more.. World class? That UPX has no direct connection to the TTC lines is a travesty and shows what a second-rate city Toronto has always been when it comes to transit planning.

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