GO and TTC: Pay more for less

On January 1, 2010, the TTC raised the cost of adult tokens and cash fare by 25 cents. On March 20 2010, GO Transit will raise fares by 25 cents per single-ride ticket, with a corresponding fare increase for 10-ride tickets and monthly passes. But despite these fare hikes, and sustained ridership levels, both will be cutting service in March and April.

To be fair, this isn’t quite the 1990s, the so-called “lost decade” for transit. Most customers, apart from GO train riders with slightly longer rides, will not notice much of  a change. There is yet little sign of a transit “death spiral” of higher fares, reduced ridership, and service cutbacks that plagued much of that decade.

The  TTC’s surface route cuts are minor, and most of the cuts occur during the peak period. A handful of routes will actually be seeing minor service improvements during off-peak service periods, particularly on weekends, based on ridership counts.  The precedent set by the Ridership Growth Strategy 30-minute standard for nearly all surface routes remains.

But some routes – where overcrowding is still a very common occurance – will be affected. For example, the 96 Wilson is seeing one bus cut from each of the A, B, and C branches – or three buses in total during the AM and PM peaks. Two sources I spoke with – a senior staffer inside the TTC, and one outside the TTC – confirmed that the cause of the cuts are due to the common problem of poor ridership forecasting.

The expectation was that the 25 cent fare increase (one of the highest in recent history) would reduce ridership, hence some cuts on the highest-frequency rush hour services. The good news is that TTC ridership is still growing, even despite the fare increase and other customer service frustrations. The bad news is that earlier service projections and resource budgeting requires buses (and two streetcars – one each from the 505 Dundas and the 506 Carlton) to be pulled off the road.

It will not be until September when the next major service changes will be implemented, though seasonal changes (an annual response to reduced loads over the summer period, reduced demand on the 196 York University Rocket, increased demand on the waterfront routes and the Exhibition routes) will still go ahead.

GO Transit, on the other hand, will be making far more significant schedule changes, “to meet the needs” of a “growing ridership.” This bit of transit double speak actually translates into some major service cuts: cancelling several bus routes, cutting  service on some other routes (beyond the usual seasonal service reductions on the Highway 407, Guelph and McMaster routes), and increasing run times on other buses and trains.

Despite the usual claims that a fare hike will help to pay for current operating costs and “provide improved services needed for our growing ridership,” these changes mostly represent cuts that reduce service instead.

GO, which also retains healthy ridership numbers, will be eliminating service altogether on two routes serving Newmarket/Aurora: the Yonge “B” Newmarket express, and the Newmarket-York University express. Other services to be cut include the Square One-Airport-Richmond Hill route (but a shorter Richmond Hill-Airport service will continue), the  Hamilton-Meadowvale Business Park round trip, the midday buses to Oriole and Old Cummer, and the Unionville-Centennial College-UT Scarborough route.

The midday Bramalea-Union Station trains on the Georgetown Corridor will also be discontinued, replaced by a few additional Union Station “Train-Bus” trips. Though not explained properly,  most of the reason for this change is continued construction at the West Toronto Diamond grade separation and the Dufferin Street jog elimination, which cause train delays and cancellations.  Ridership on the midday trains was never that high either. In addition, fewer train movements for the time being may help improve construction schedules.

Selective non-seasonal cuts to other bus services include the Milton-Highway 401 Express, Barrie-Bradford, King City/Maple/Rutherford-Union, Brampton Local/Highway 27, Oshawa-401 Express, and Milton-Oakville.

If you are not a customer of either of those routes, you may be affected by the  “padding” of some of rail and bus schedules, adding additional travel times to existing runs. This can be partly explained an by increase in traffic congestion on some bus routes, though many of the train schedules are affected as well.  Most of the Lakeshore runs now take longer because of the new 12-car monster trains, which take longer to load and unload.

The one bit of good news is one additional train in the AM peak on the Lakeshore East line.

The loss of the rush-hour only Yonge “B” bus is quite understandable, as the route is replicated for the most part by York Region Transit’s 98 and 99 Yonge local buses and Viva Blue. Ridership is not especially high either (on a recent trip on an afternoon “B” bus, I only counted 15 riders). But the spin put out by GO fails to tell the whole truth. GO Transit claimsthat the buses from the Yonge and Newmarket-York U services were being “reassigned”, and that the Yonge “B” service was being “transferred” to YRT.

There is no direct transfer of service to YRT, as that agency merely provides the alternative service on Yonge Street north of Finch (the Yonge “B” service originated at York Mills Station). Passengers whose destinations or origins are between Finch and York Mills must transfer to the TTC (with an additional $3.00 cash fare) or walk. The GO bus is also faster than Viva. That said, despite the vocal opposition of the buses’ regular passengers, the cut makes sense, especially as GO had already stopped all off-peak Yonge services with the introduction of Viva.

For York students headed to Newmarket, the alternate route GO suggests is to take Viva Blue down Yonge and transfer to Viva Purple, a trip considerably longer than the direct express bus. This cut is surprising considering the amount of attention GO has been spending on its 407 services over the last decade. Students from Markham headed to UTSC and Centennial will have to take two or three local YRT and TTC buses to make the same trip.

The rationale about bus reassignments doesn’t entirely hold water. The only increase in bus service anywhere in the system will be the replacement buses for Bramalea-Union Station trips. While 11 bus trips will replace 3 train trips inbound, this actually only works out to 6 additional bus trips, as some existing “train meet” buses from Georgetown and Brampton will be re-routed to Union Station from Bramalea. Only 4 brand-new bus trips will operate outbound from Union. The Newmarket-York service will continue until the end of the Winter Semester, several weeks after the Georgetown Corridor will need those extra buses.

The TTC is hardly alone when it comes to transit customer service issues. GO Transit, despite some progressive moves in the last few years, has done a poor job in justifying its service cuts. Furthermore, it does not appear to be entirely truthful to its “loyal customers.” The press release hints at service improvements, but in reality, there is little of benefit to its riders, as GO will offer only one new rush hour train across the entire network, and the only new buses replace an existing train service.

Fare increases on the base fare, rather than a straight percentage-based increase, punishes short-distance riders in favour of long-distance commuters. Ever-larger train sets, rather than improved frequencies, have unintended drawbacks. Regrettably, GO Transit still has a long way to go, and could start by being upfront and honest.


  1. “Fare increases on the base fare, rather than a straight percentage-based increase, punishes short-distance riders in favour of long-distance commuters. ”

    Which, I suspect, is intentional. The principle manner in which GO is expanding is outward, towards Kitchener, Peterborough, Bowmanville and Niagara. If you’ve driven them all away, it’s easier not to worry about there being no seats left for people who used to get on closer to downtown.

    Pretty soon we may have to see GO split into a regional and an interregional service before the base fare gets unreasonably high. VIA doesn’t have the resources to sufficiently service the 705-905-416 interregional market and I would argue it’s not its remit to do so.

  2. Georgetown Rail Expansion, Newmarket line Rail expansion you have to wonder how the forecasting for those lines works out in reality. Steve Munro says it doesnt make any sense and I agree.

  3. There is a disconnect between GO’s plans which see large outward expansion of its network and the Metrolinx plans where the demand projections imply a large increase in (for GO) shorter distance trips.

    Metrolinx has not come to terms with the fact that it can’t just be a “regional” player while using a demand model, and a project rationale, that assume taking a very large number of commuting trips off of the road network. The combined peak demands they project for their 25-year plan exceed the capacity of Union Station by at least a factor of two.

    On the fare side, Metrolinx/GO keeps pitching itself as a fare by distance systems while implementing flat increases. Rather than trying to drive away short haul riders, I think GO presumes its market is inelastic at a 25 cent bump, and they just get to squeeze more money out of the short haul riders to subsidize the long haul ones. A similar assumption lay in TTC management’s proposal to bump the Metropass price (a plan that the Commission rejected) because Metropass users would absorb a big increase with little or no loss of riding.

  4. The information laid out by Sean Marshall seems to at least somewhat undercut the pro-uploading-the-TTC side in the Lorinc/Munro debate from last week.

  5. During the rush hour, the GO train takes commuters from Aurora and Newmarket to both York University and Downtown Toronto very quickly (a free shuttle connects York U GO to the campus).

    Outside rush hour, there is an infrequent GO bus that services Aurora and Newmarket before heading downtown. If you are able to catch it, it is far quicker than taking the Viva/TTC downtown. I’m disappointed that this route isn’t going to see any major service increases, since the alternative takes up to 2 hours during off peak times.

    I would highly recommend using the 407 East GO bus from Richmond Hill Center/Langstaff GO over the Viva Purple route. The latter makes an extended stopover at the Promenade Mall, and gets stuck trying to make one of the worst left turns in the Greater Toronto Area (Keele and Highway 7). By using the GO with Viva Blue, it can take up to an hour and half from Newmarket, depending on transfers. While using Viva exclusively can take up to an hour 45 to 2 hours.

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