Comfirm or Deny: Big Changes Coming to GO Bus Service

Over the past weekend, a post appeared briefly on Facebook describing proposed changes to GO Transit bus service that were presented to ATU Local 1587 members on Wednesday, July 17. Normally I would take info like this with a grain of salt based on decades of hearing various half-baked stories about TTC plans that pop up from railfan speculation and internal TTC rumours. However, this was too detailed a list and from a first-hand source, and it cannot be ignored.

Updated July 23, 2019 at 8:55 am: The following email was sent to me by ATU 1587 who represent the GO Transit Workers:

A.T.U. Local 1587 was not aware of a posting on social media of service cuts produced by Metrolinx. It was brought to our attention from you, Steve. Thank you.

Metrolinx has however, brought to the union, approx. a month ago, of service cuts in bus that affected Beaverton, Oshawa, Waterloo, Bolton, Cambridge.

Metrolinx is trying to reduce bus service, and force passengers onto trains, which means less local access for our passengers. If there is local transit, then they will have to take that system and  transfer once they are close to a GO station, if not then they will have to use their personal vehicle.

Our members provide an excellent service overall. We don’t however, create the schedules of where we go or don’t go. Our members have voiced their disbelief about the cuts to trips not only for our seniors that use our service for appointments, but our university students as well. Everyone who uses GO Transit/Metrolinx is using us for a reason. Our members are proud of what they do, helping those with disabilities, seniors, children, etc. The pride does not stop at our drivers. Everyone from plant maintenance to station attendants, to our coach tech’s (mechanics), transit safety officers, OFPT. We are all proud of the job we do for the public, our passengers.

Thank you,

Christine Broeze
President/Business Agent
A.T.U. Local 1587

Updated 4:44 pm July 22: Metrolinx claims that the information posted on Facebook is not true.

The rumours are not accurate.

Buses form a vital connection between trains and communities not connected to train service or with limited train service.

Buses will always be an important part of our regional transportation plan. In fact, we are actively recruiting bus drivers to join our team.

We currently have a fleet of 532 buses and approximately 420 are used for service. We have more buses on the road today than we ever have and every year since our existence they have increased.

We are always monitoring our services to ensure we are making the best use of our resources.

We are embarking on the largest expansion of rail service in our history.

At times, when new train service is introduced it makes sense to redeploy bus services to other communities. Trains can carry far more passengers and shorten the trip.

It is difficult for us to comment on the presentation made to union members as we were not there. [Email from Fannie Sunshine 4:35 pm, July 22]

Original post below:

According to the post, train service is now Metrolinx’ priority and all train-bus service will be eliminated during daylight hours. Buses will only operate overnight and some Sunday services when there are no trains. This is an intriguing starting point given that the full rollout of GO RER frequent service across the network is still years away.

Metrolinx took some well-deserved flak for recent cuts to Cambridge and Bolton services that entailed no public consultation and, based on comments at a Town Hall, no co-ordination with local transit agencies who might take over the service.

Pending cutbacks (with links to current schedules) include:

In one improvement, routes 25 (Waterloo) and 29 (Guelph) which now terminate at Square One will be extended to Kipling subway station bridging an annoying gap between the TTC and GO.

With the reduction in scope of operations, Brampton GO bus garage will close, and buses will no longer be stored at Barrie Transit, Canada Coach or the Ministry of Transportation. GO buses will continue to use host garages in Brantford (which offers free parking and bus washing) and in Niagara Falls where there is a contract in place.

GO Transit drivers will have to decide before October 19 to decide if they wish to stay as employees or not. The extent of the staff reduction was not included in the available information.

If this is an indication of where Metrolinx is headed, it is clear that they want to get out of the bus business leaving only their rail network which will be entirely contracted out under RER. Indeed, this begs the question of why Metrolinx needs to exist at all beyond a small planning and contract management function.

As a mark of Provincial commitment to transit, these cuts, if confirmed, show a government that really does not care about transit, certainly not about the role of a regional network beyond its own trains. Those who advocate a Provincial takeover of local transit should view these cuts as a cautionary tale.

I asked Metrolinx for comment on this story on Saturday, July 22. Their only response to date has been:

When is your deadline? Won’t be able to get you anything over the weekend. [Email from Fannie Sunshine, July 20 at 12:54 pm]

I advised that I would be publishing Monday afternoon, and have not heard back further.

I also await comment from ATU 1587, the GO Transit local.

48 thoughts on “Comfirm or Deny: Big Changes Coming to GO Bus Service

  1. Remember the memo from Rob MacIsaac that The Globe and Mail somehow got a hold of back around 2009? In it, he advised staff members to attend and “salt” public meetings so they could yell down opponents of their grand plans.

    This was the same guy who let his secretary act as the gatekeeper on the speeches I wrote for him. When I had enough of this moronic situation, I told both of them to stick it. I blew off some good-paying work, but I was glad to do so.

    Most recently, another Liberal Metrolinx hack with a big title arranged to get me blacklisted at The Red Star after writing for them regularly for more than 30 years. That’s fine by me, as the Sun has recently asked for op-eds, which I’m happy to provide.

    On the other side of my career, buried in the world of Hollywood history, I often have to deal with the damage inflicted by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Thanks to what I see going on at Metrolinx, I’m developing an even keener appreciation for the horrors of voice and thought control that saturated Hollywood in the 1940s and ’50s.

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  2. Perhaps Metrolinx has expanded service too far too fast. Here are a couple of examples:

    1. There are five 12 car trains to Kitchener carrying a total of 600 passengers according to this Metrolinx map.

    This is a seating capacity of just under 10,000 seats to carry 600 passengers on five trains with 15 crew being paid for at least 1 extra hour each not to mention the extra wear and tear on 60 coaches and five locomotives plus the track. These could be better used to increase the capacity on the inner service, from Mt. Pleasant to Union, so fewer people would need to stand with all the outer service , Brampton to Kitchener, running express on the inner end to reduce trip time by 25 to 30 minutes.

    When this service was expanded from 4 to 5 trains a local train was removed and gross over crowding resulted.

    2. The service to Niagara which carries 58 passenger from West Harbour and 18 from St. Catherines. They don’t give the daily totals from Niagara but say 25k annually which probably includes a lot of the summer weekend passengers. The problem with this service is the fact that there is not a through track at West Harbour. This means that the trains to Toronto has to run past the station then back up into the platform. The afternoon train has to back out of the platform. This adds between 10 and 15 minutes to the trip time.

    GO cannot be a replacement for rapid transit expansion in the 416, a commuter service in the 905 and a quasi inter city service in the far 905 and 509 regions. It has to make up its mind what it is going to be. Too many politicians, namely John Tory and Ford, are making recommendations based on political expediency and not on sound operational principles.

    The buses carry 22% of GO’s ridership and their removal would reduce train ridership because the provide a way for people to get home when the train is not running.

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  3. Robert:

    I couldn’t agree more. Another example of ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’ has been my subjective experience with the added ’15 minute service’ on the Lakeshore trains. I was on one mid-morning the last two days. I was the only passenger on the coach I was in both times! Before I boarded, since I had a bike with me both times, I purposely surveyed the platform at Union to get on a coach with least likelihood of competition for the vestibule seats, the designated place for bikes. I saw a total of perhaps ten to fifteen people getting on the train both times.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for ‘build it and they will come’….but what’s true for train service must also hold true for bus service.

    This is where the massive disconnect of Metrolinx’ and Verster’s words and actual practice fail dramatically.

    I have noticed as you have the Kitchener mid-morning trains running virtually empty out (to Mt Pleasant) and in mid-afternoon, albeit once Brampton is reached headed in to Union on the last run before rush hour, the train does half fill in many instances.

    Again, make no mistake, that line is very handy for me to take out and back in later for cycling trips, but the 38 bus was no more empty mid-morning than the train is.

    The lack of policy consistency is astounding.

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  4. Regarding the weekday GO train to Niagara, it is of course a political statement that is useful to very few people. The West Harbour limit should be resolved soon as there is more rail infrastructure coming into the area with construction on Confederation station well advanced.

    A larger problem is that politicians are pressing for rail transit and GO is structurally unable to respond to their requests in a reasonable way. Local politicians press for regional rail transit in much of the developed world and to a considerable extent it is a good idea. Unfortunately GO has grown out from a commuter operation. Commuter traffic is extremely spiky since basically everyone wants to get to Union between 8:45 and 9:45 a.m., and to maximize their operations GO has gone to 12 car bi-level locomotive-hauled trains. There are many commuter transit agencies in U.S. and Canada that would love to have 6-car trains be their short trains. But there are considerable operational difficulties de-coupling and re-coupling cars so the same length trains run in low-traffic shoulders and on all routes.

    What we have to say is that the 1.5-2 hour trips to Kitchener and Niagara and Peterborough are largely not going to be serving daily office commuters. They won’t until you get that trip a lot closer to 1 hour and that requires a huge infrastructure spend. There are a few hypercommuters, of course, but largely these are people going to appointments, part-day meetings, day trips, weekend trips. They are poorly served by a train at 6 a.m. Hourly or twice-hourly trains closer to mid-day would be hugely beneficial for these routes. But it makes no sense to run these with heavy 10-car bi-levels – the ridership is much more spread out over time, not spiky, so it would be better to run more trips but with less capacity each.

    The thing is we now have an example of how this service could look. The UPX is running frequent, relatively short, relatively light multiple-unit trains. They’re not used as regional rail on UPX, but they would do alright. Yeah there’s the platform level thing, but how much effort it is really for a local contractor to put up an 80 m long platform up 1.2 m? A 3- or 4-unit train like this would be just the ticket, either running express in inner 905 stopping at major stations or providing timed connections at Mount Pleasant and Aldershot. You could even claim that using shorter, lighter trains is an example of government service being more efficient.

    Alas, GO is a commuter rail…

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  5. @ Stephen Saines

    I often go to Brampton Station and watch the trains. Except for the first 2 out bound trains they often carry a good load both ways during the mid day. A sizable number of off peak trips are generated on the Lakeshore trains because of the increased service. Evening and weekend service to Mt. Pleasant would soon carry a significant number of passengers. Most of the midday trains have large number of passengers.

    @ Jarek

    If you leave out New York and Chicago the average commuter train in the US is 2 or 3 cars long. GO does run a number of 6-pack trains. I think Richmond Hill, Stouffville and Niagara but I cannot verify personally. I think that they should can at least one of the Kitchener trains and use it to provide an extra train from Mt. Pleasant to Union and cut a couple of the Kitchener trains top 6 cars and run them express from Mt. Pleasant or Bramalea. This could save up to half an hour which would attract more riders while providing more service on the inner end. Of course there would be the cost of extra crew, locomotives and cab cars but it would provide more 6 packs to use for mid day service instead of 10 or 12 car consists that get our there for about 4 of the midday trains.

    “The thing is we now have an example of how this service could look. The UPX is running frequent, relatively short, relatively light multiple-unit trains. They’re not used as regional rail on UPX, but they would do alright. Yeah there’s the platform level thing, but how much effort it is really for a local contractor to put up an 80 m long platform up 1.2 m? A 3- or 4-unit train like this would be just the ticket, either running express in inner 905 stopping at major stations or providing timed connections at Mount Pleasant and Aldershot. You could even claim that using shorter, lighter trains is an example of government service being more efficient.”

    This will never happen on the Halton Sub because CN would not allow high platforms that come out to the train edge. I think GO gets away with it on the Weston sub because they own it and they can tell CN if you want to run a freight down there do it at reduced speed.

    If GO ever gets to using EMU service they could run them in 2 or 4 car sets, Motor-Trailer or Motor-Trailer-Trailer-Motor that could be coupled into 4, 6, 8 10 or 12car trains. It is possible to have couplers on the end that would automatically make the multiple unit and air brake connections without the need for ground personnel. The big problem is connecting the 4 power cables, 2 air brake, an MU control cable and a communication cable. Since they are EMU there is no need for HEP cables which are the only ones that cannot be automatically train lined in couplers.

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  6. GO does run a number of 6-pack trains. I think Richmond Hill, Stouffville and Niagara but I cannot verify personally.

    Currently GO has eight six-packs, with four stored at Lincolnville, two at Bradford and one each at Gormley and Willowbrook. On weekdays, all eight see service on a Stouffville-Barrie-Kitchener interline and on three Richmond Hill trips, while on weekends only one is out on the Barrie line.

    The weekend Niagara trips have special eight-car consists that don’t see service elsewhere.

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  7. There are at least 3 trains during the weekday to Mt. Pleasant that have been 6 car trains along with two 10 car trains and a 12 car train, the last one to Mt. Pleasant. It has consistently had 2 of the 5400 HP MPs powering it. Anyone know why?

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  8. Has there been follow up? Has Metrolinx confirmed or denied this service revision? Will we get any response with Queen’s Park not in session and a federal election looming? Would it be safe to say no confirmation until after October?

    Steve: There was an announcement of new train services this morning which I will write up in a separate article. The only bus changes were seasonal, except for one route that is dropped because there is a local service available. More changes to be announced for October, but no details yet.

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