Metrolinx! The Musical!

Updated July 15, 2022 with monthly Metrolinx ridership recovery stats.

Metrolinx Board meetings are rather quiet affairs devoid of controversy, not to mention substance. They are pro-forma efforts at public meetings by an organization that does everything it can in private.

The breakdown of the agenda tells the tale. Contrast this with the openness demanded by legislation in municipal proceedings.

This is not new. In the pre-covid era, I would attend the meetings along with a dwindling band of reporters from the City Hall or Queen’s Park press galleries who eventually decided that it was not worth wasting their time unless there was some burning issue where an interview ambush might yield a juicy quote.

For two years, the Board meetings have been online with all of the technical foul-ups we have come to love through Zoom and its relatives. This month, in a grand return, the Board met in person. It was almost like the lights coming back to Broadway.

Metrolinx just loves to tell everyone how wonderful they are, how everything is going so swimmingly well. This time they even had celebratory video.

The meeting video is available for those who just must watch, although as a show it should have died on the out-of-town tryouts.

There are two common themes:

  • The overwhelming emphasis is on marketing and communications with as much “good news” as possible.
  • There is no discussion of policy. Anything substantive, if the Board discussed it at all, was handled in committee or in a private Board session.

I could not help thinking of how “In here life is beautiful” in Cabaret, or “Everything is beautiful at the ballet” in A Chorus Line. Alas, Metrolinx has not (yet) recruited the likes of Kander & Ebb, or Michael Bennett & Marvin Hamlisch to its burgeoning communications team.

Considering the years of debate over regional fare integration and the number of virtual trees felled for reports on the subject, Metrolinx is skipping over the complexities by simply offering a free transfer between GO and 905 area transit systems. Toronto/TTC? No.

It is hard to understand why we have excruciating debates about things like zone boundaries, time-based transfers or differing classes of service when the main agency, GO/Metrolinx, simply gives free transfers and deeper discounts to encourage ridership. If a municipal system tried this, they would be pilloried for wasting precious tax dollars on people who are not motorists.

The debate on all fare schemes is whether the marginal revenue is worth the complexity and the cost of administration, although the latter is much simpler with fare cards rather than conductors and paper transfers.

The related context is that we learn in the Annual Report for 2021-22 that the operating subsidy for GO Transit doubled to almost $1-billion thanks to the combined effect of lost ridership and continued, albeit reduced, scale of operation during the pandemic.

Operating expenses have declined little, despite service cuts, through the pandemic era.

The operating subsidy, however, has grown because of lost fare and other revenues.

The degree of belt-tightening at Metrolinx will be an interesting contrast to what might be forced on municipal agencies as special pandemic financial supports wind down.

There was no public discussion of how this situation can be sustained in coming years depending on the rate of ridership recovery.

The report on community relations was particularly galling because it pitched Metrolinx’ work as listening to communities as a positive contribution to projects. In fact, Metrolinx’ common strategy is to bull through their proposals and then “involve” the community in making the best of a bad situation with things like design competitions for decoration of new, unwanted structures. Even the canard about parks getting bigger thanks to Metrolinx continues to ignore (a) the relatively small amount of land involved, and (b) the much more extensive effect of the associated project on a neighbourhood.

The Board laps this up as if staff are doing such a wonderful job.

Updated: There was some discrepancy between ridership recovery numbers presented in reports and verbally at the meeting. Here are the definitive monthly numbers from Metrolinx.

MonthGO TransitUP Express
January ’2211.8%16.1%
February ’2220.3%22.6%
March ’2232.4%33.3%
April ’2233.5%41.0%
May ’2239.4%47.3%
June ’2249.5%59.5%
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