Councillor Josh Matlow

Metroland: Will Pearson-Union Express get derailed?

February 12, 2016
The Mississauga News, Metroland Media


On paper, the Union Pearson Express (UPX) linking downtown Toronto to Pearson Airport looked like a win-win for taxpayers.


All world-class cities have a direct link between their downtowns and major airports.


Besides, UPX would help alleviate some of the congestion that makes getting to and from Pearson such a huge hassle for everyone.


But six months after the launch of the $456 million project, it has been a bust.


Ridership numbers are thin, and now the Ontario government is contemplating using it as a commuter line.


Maybe, as some argue, ridership is low because prices for the one-way adult fare are way too high: $27.50.


UPX ridership hit a new low in November with nearly 66,000 – 13,000 lower than October’s figures.


That’s why Queen’s Park is studying whether the Metrolinx project can be recruited as a viable commuter train.


The problem is that its limitations have been exposed.


The train has only two other stops besides Union Station: Dundas West (at Bloor St.) and Weston.


Still, with traffic grinding to a stop in and around the GTA, any other commuter option that can alleviate traffic should be studied and implemented.


While lower prices are probably a good way of increasing usage, the train has been stymied by polemics from the very beginning.


There’s no history of people (especially business people) using a train to link to flights at Pearson. Many still don’t even know the option exists. Would a better marketing campaign increase UPX’s chances of success?


Toronto councillor Josh Matlow said,“To invest half a billion dollars into a boutique train for business travellers when the average Toronto resident has been waiting for decades for public rapid transit access to our airport is shameful.”


Is UPX just another black eye for Metrolinx and the province?


Not yet – but it’s getting there.


Metrolinx says the plummeting numbers on UPX are simply driven by market forces like a slowing of airport travel in the last few months of the year. It also says UPX is hitting its targets in peak periods, yet the transport agency won’t provide any figures.


These boutique trains only seat 173 compared to about 1,000 on a 12-coach GO train – a major drawback if its usage is to become more democratic.


Is UPX really running on fumes, or will it take time before business travellers embrace it?


Let’s hope it’s the latter.


If its ridership numbers continue to stall, other options (like commuter usage) should be considered. It might be an expensive and smallish transit solution, but at this point, we’ll take anything that can help improve our grinding gridlock.


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