Ridership has dropped since the Union Pearson Express launched in June, the latest numbers show.
February 5, 2016
The Toronto Star
Union Pearson Express ridership levels were down significantly from the summer, hitting a low of 65,593 riders in November, 13,000 fewer passengers than the October high of 79,000. Photo: STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR
Toronto’s new airport train is struggling to attract riders amid continuing criticism that the $456 million Union Pearson Express is simply too expensive.
On Friday, Metrolinx, the provincial agency that runs the train, said it will consider price adjustments among other options for building ridership.
The standard one-way adult fare on UPX is $27.50 but riders paying with a Presto card can board for $19.
Six months after it launched, Union Pearson Express (UPX) ridership levels were down significantly from the summer, hitting a low of 65,593 riders in November, 13,000 fewer passengers than the October high of 79,000.
A report to the Metrolinx board on Wednesday, argues that it will take time to change the ingrained habits of travellers accustomed to driving or taking a cab to the airport.
It also attributed the ridership drop to seasonal patterns in air travel. Pearson air traffic also fell in the late autumn.
“At peak times we are meeting our projections. Our experience is not dissimilar to that of other jurisdictions when they launched air-rail links like UP Express. It takes time to build awareness and loyalty,” said the report.
Kathy Haley, the Metrolinx executive in charge of UPX was unavailable for comment Friday, said a spokeswoman.
“This is an asset that has a 60-year lifespan so we are committed to the long-term success of this project,” Anne Marie Aikins said in an email.
Even in December, when UPX ridership bounced back slightly by 1,600 riders over the previous month, its numbers lagged Pearson’s increased holiday traffic, although the train’s main market is business rather than leisure travellers.
The disappointing numbers came the same day UPX announced it will offer free rides on the Family Day-Valentine’s Day weekend, Feb. 13 to 15. That promotion follows a buy-one-get-one-free ticket deal that ran from November through the end of January.
Metrolinx says customer satisfaction with the train is so high that once people try it they are certain to come back. It cites research showing that it can be difficult to penetrate airport travellers, who tend to stick with the mode they know.
It also says it is tweaking its operations, including making the service more visible at the airport.
“We have identified barriers — such as low awareness, ingrained travel habits, difficulty finding UP Express and impediments to ticket sales — and are strategizing to overcome these barriers. Promotional campaigns, better way-finding signage and incentive programs are examples of strategies being developed and implemented,” the provincial agency said in a statement.
On Thursday, the Star reported that Metrolinx has been unable to reach an agreement with Via Rail to allow its southwestern Ontario passengers to transfer to the UPX at Weston Station.
But Councillor Josh Matlow, who prompted the city to call on Metrolinx to lower UPX fares, said the business model has never made sense and it’s time Metrolinx took another look at the fares.
While he applauded some changes introduced in Jan., including a policy that allows children 12 and under to ride free, it won’t be enough to attract the 5,000 riders a day UPX is targeting,” he said.
“It still doesn’t make it economical for the average family. If it’s an adult couple it actually costs virtually the same price to take a cab from the comfort of your own home.
“If not a regular public transit fare, at least a fare that is far more accessible to the average Toronto resident,” he said.
“To invest half a billion dollars into a boutique train for business travellers when the average Toronto resident has been waiting decades for public rapid transit access to our airport is shameful,” said Matlow.
Earlier this year UPX numbers showed it was attracting only about half its targeted ridership.
Public transit advocates have suggested the two stops at Weston and Bloor St. aren’t enough between Union Station and Pearson airport. Metrolinx says fewer stops allow the train to make the trip in 25 minutes.
On report suggested that UPX could be incorporated into Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan to move Toronto commuters on the GO tracks and relieve crowding on the TTC.
This article can be found in its original form at: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/transportation/2016/02/05/metrolinx-reconsidering-union-pearson-express-fares-as-ridership-sinks.html