I am a big fan of the UP Express train that runs from downtown Toronto to Pearson Airport.
I love the station architecture, the branding and identity, the trains themselves (with wifi), and the local retailers they house at Union. I also happen to live a stone’s throw away from the downtown station. So I can go from door to bum in seat within 10 minutes.
But despite all this, it has become clear that something needs to be done to fix the UPX train. Just last weekend a friend of mine and fellow urbanist, who was visiting Toronto from Vancouver, sent me a text message saying: “This UPX train is really nice, but why is it so expensive?”
Indeed, that seems to be the general consensus. Here is the opening paragraph from a recent Globe Editorial article:
Toronto’s high-end airport express train is a failure. A city that urgently needs better transit has been saddled with a deluxe boutique rail service that cost $456-million to build and runs nearly empty, 19 ½ hours a day.
So today I thought we could collectively brainstorm some ideas for how Metrolinx – the public agency that operates the train – should address this issue.
I’ll start by sharing my thoughts as a rider and then, hopefully, you all will share yours in the comment section below. I know that there are people from Metrolinx who subscribe to this blog, so I am sure your feedback will get through to them.
My thoughts are twofold. Like many others, I think the pricing is off. But at the same time, I think there should be a focus on enhancing the value proposition of the service.
Bur first, let’s talk about price.
At the time of writing this, a one-way trip from Union Station to Pearson Airport on the UPX is $27.50. If you happen to have a PRESTO card, it’s $19.
The alternative for many is probably a taxi. So let’s also look at some Uber fare estimates. For someone like me leaving the St. Lawrence Market area, I’m looking at $25.92 with UberPOOL (meaning I’m sharing the car with 1-2 other people) or $37.03 if I insist on riding solo.
Against the non-PRESTO fare, UberPOOL is a cheaper option and it’s door-to-door service. Against the PRESTO fare, UPX is potentially $6.92 cheaper. But if you’re someone who has to take the subway to the UPX station, then it’s only $3.67 cheaper (add $3.25 for the subway) and it’s not door-to-door service. So for the vast majority of people, I suspect that UberPOOL would win out in this particular scenario.
If you happen to be traveling with someone, then UberPOOL and UberX are probably going to be cheaper no matter how you slice it. And again, you’re getting door-to-door service. So I think the consensus is right: fares need to come down.
But I don’t think Metrolinx should be solely focused on price. They should also be thinking about ways to create additional values for riders.
One of my favorite travel experiences is that of Hong Kong’s airport train. There, they have airline check-in counters in the city so you can collect your boarding pass and check your baggage up to a day before your actual flight. This is a huge value add because it means you can check out of your hotel, liberate yourself of your luggage, and spend the day in the city before leaving on the train to catch your flight. You can’t do that with an Uber. And lugging bags around a busy city, sucks.
My point with all of this is simply that you can’t expect people to pay more or roughly the same, if they are not getting additional value. And right now, the train isn’t door-to-door and taxis are. (Though, the train has a travel time advantage during peak times.) So you either make it cheaper or you create additional value. Or, you do some combination of the two, which is where my head is at.
What are your thoughts? Please respond in the comments below so all the feedback is public. Thanks.