Fare changes will make it more expensive to get to work, UP Express riders say

A Toronto couple who recently purchased a home near the Weston GO station say they’re reconsidering the decision after recent changes to Union-Pearson Express fares.

In April, Metrolinx announced several changes to its fare structure, including cheaper prices for GO trips under 10 kilometres and new rules for discounts.

The tweaks mean that UP Express riders travelling to and from Bloor or Weston stations can no longer access the $1.50 discount when transferring to the TTC, or the monthly loyalty program that gives riders access to significantly discounted trips. UP riders who travel to and from the airport can still get the TTC discount.

“I don’t want Metrolinx to make the decision for me as to how I need to commute to work,” said Jash Duffy, who began commuting on the UP Express in mid-February.

“My overall commuting costs have actually increased as a result of the segregation of fares,” she added.

Given that both Duffy and her husband regularly commute using the UP Express and transfer to the TTC, the fare changes have made their daily commutes $6 more expensive.

They also no longer have access to the free trips awarded to Presto users who use the system more than 40 times per month.

Duffy said she did not anticipate those extra costs when she moved to Toronto from Mississauga this winter.

“I would have definitely reconsidered it and probably gotten a much cheaper house on the GO line if I had known that the fare hikes were coming,” she said.

Whose line is it anyway?

Duffy’s situation points to lingering confusion about which type of riders are meant to be using the UP Express.

When the service opened in 2015, the UP Express was positioned as an extension of business class air travel, according to Cherise Burda, the executive director of Ryerson University’s City Building Institute.

But with trains running 90 per cent empty, Metrolinx slashed fares in 2016, levelling prices between UP Express and GO train trips. Riders were even told to tap the same Presto machines no matter which train they were actually taking.

The fare deduction led to an increase in ridership and allowed people who live near the line’s Weston and Bloor stations to use the train to get to downtown Toronto.

“I think it speaks to the fact that there aren’t a lot of other options for people to get around,” Burda told CBC Toronto.

“I question whether we would want to change the fares at this point. It might be something we want to do in the future when there’s other transit options available,” Burda said.

Metrolinx ‘incentivizing’ GO riders

According to Metrolinx, around 75 to 80 per cent of UP Express riders use the service to go to or from the airport. The remainder use the line for commuting or to get downtown for events.

The transit agency contends that the fare changes weren’t designed to push those commuters off the UP Express, but instead to “incentivize” those riders to take GO Transit instead.

Metrolinx says it is also working to make sure the service remains a viable option for people going to the airport.

“We do want to ensure that the bulk of our ridership … who are travellers heading to and from the airport, can continue to do that as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said GO spokesperson Matt Llewellyn.

However, Duffy said she isn’t interested in taking the slower and less reliable GO train instead of the UP Express.

While the UP Express runs on consistent 15 minute intervals, GO service is more sporadic. During the morning rush, southbound GO trains arrive at Weston Station at intervals ranging from less than 10 minutes to more than 30 minutes.

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