Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

More than a month after Metrolinx began piloting the GO Transit train link between London and Toronto, trains are virtually empty, according to new numbers of passengers. But the provincial transit agency says it’s behind the project, saying the growing region of southwestern Ontario needs more transit and that new services take time to attract customers.

GO started running two tours every weekday between London Via Station and Union Station in downtown Toronto on October 18th. As each journey took four hours and Via Rail offers faster options, some experts predicted from the beginning that the pilot would not attract enough riders to justify its investment. The two-year pilot is expected to cost about $ 2.6 million annually.

According to figures provided to Star by Metrolinx, the Ontario Crown company that operates GO, average ticket sales from the first week of operation were around 31 passengers per day. trip. In the week of October 25, sales rose to about 43 customers per train, but in the week of November 15, it had fallen back to about 32 customers per journey.

At these levels, passenger volume is not enough to fill a single TTC bus, let alone a high-capacity GO train. A single GO coach can seat 162 people, and Metrolinx runs the London pilot with six-coach trains.

Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said it was too early to draw conclusions about the service’s viability.

“It can take many months to analyze the results and probably longer as we are still coming out of the pandemic,” she said.

Riders across the GO track network are still suffering from the effects of COVID-19, and the number of passengers on weekdays remains at around 25 percent of the pre-pandemic level.

Aikins said the London pilot has already proven successful in “increasing transit access for communities in southwestern Ontario.”

In addition to London and Toronto, trains stop at Stratford, St. Marys and stations on GO’s Kitchener line, which Metrolinx says is important because it improves transit access to smaller communities in southwestern Ontario that have been hit by cuts in other rail and bus services.

“We know this is one of the province’s fastest growing regions, and this (pilot) supports transit needs today and tomorrow,” Aikins said.

According to the pilot’s schedule, a GO train leaves London every weekday at 5.20 and arrives in Union at 9.13. The return train departs from Union at 16.19 and arrives in London at 20.17.

Via Rail already runs six daily trains between London and Toronto, and because most of them take a more direct route than GO, they have travel times as short as 2 hours and 10 minutes. Vias London-Toronto prices can be as low as $ 37, which is only slightly more than the $ 30 GO rates.

The journey can also be faster by car. Under good traffic conditions, a driver leaving London around 1 p.m. 05.30, expect to be in Toronto before noon. 8.30

Shoshanna Saxe, Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Infrastructure and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, said the number of riders indicates that GO’s London pilot, as it is currently in operation, “is not attractive enough for a large number of people. “

“It’s very difficult to attract people to transit when it’s slower than driving,” she said.

But Saxe said low rider numbers in the early stages are not a sign that Metrolinx should abandon the pilot. Instead, the agency should look for ways to improve it, such as running more frequent and faster trains.

“We know there is a huge unmet demand for well-designed public transport in the region,” she said. “We do not want to build things that do not work or do not serve people, but we need to be much more ambitious.”

The pilot also has the support of locally elected leaders. London Mayor Ed Holder said in a statement, “The fact that the GO Railway now extends to London is a success in itself.”

Holder said he was confident Metrolinx and the Ontario government will build on what they have done so far. “They did not make an investment of this magnitude just to see it fail,” he said.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him via email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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