Thursday, December 11, 2014

UP-chuck



The cheerfully-named new UP public transit initiative aims to link Union Station (along with secondary stops at Weston and Bloor West) to Toronto Pearson Airport. This is good. The Pan-Am games are coming up, and people will be arriving. The city needs a link between its air and ground transit hubs, and the UP - which stands for Union/Pearson, duh - can help facilitate that.

The problem is the cost. The cost! Jeez Louise, this thing is expensive. $27.50! One-way! That is intense. For a family of four, you'll be paying $55. School-aged kids are charged nearly ten bucks to ride. Once you're deposited at Union station, you then pay an additional three dollars to ride the regular TTC. Of course, if you buy a Presto card, the UP fare drops to $19 (although the Presto card costs $6, so the savings is kind of a wash), but right now, the Presto can only be used at fifteen of the TTC's 32 subway stations, on one of its streetcar routes (and only then on the shiny new streetcars, of which there are currently two in operation), and on none of its bus routes.

This is byzantine madness. It shouldn't take a PhD in economics (not to mention a trust fund) to budget for a trip from Pearson to the Beaches.

Metrolinx says the UP system isn't targeted at your average Torontonian. They're after the business traveler dollars and the tourists. This leaves a gnarly taste in my mouth for two reasons: business travelers will likely skip the UP altogether in favour of renting a car or hiring a cab; and since when is it ethical to price-gouge people just because they're from out of town? In other queasy news, airport workers will be offered the chance to buy a monthly pass for $300. This makes sense, because so many airport jobs pay so much more than minimum wage.

Blog TO published a comprehensive comparison of where Toronto falls on the airport express cost spectrum; surprising no-one, this new fare scheme is the most expensive of its kind in North America, and one of the most expensive in the world.  Maddeningly, the service isn't even all that great compared to other express routes (every quarter-hour for UP, compared to JFK's transit link that runs ten or eleven times an hour in peak times), and, although it does beat the trundling 192 rocket bus (and the shambling 52 bus, which can take over an hour to get from Lawrence West station to Pearson), at least the TTC's three-dollar fare is easy on the wallet.

When we went to Reykjavik a couple years ago, we paid about $25 for a bus taking us from Keflavik airport to the city's downtown. But dudes: that bus ride was 40 minutes on empty roads, and the bus driver literally dropped us off at the doorstep of our Air BnB. Like, right in front. Unless you're staying at the Royal York hotel, the UP offers no such comparable service. You still have to get to where you're going, and you have to pay more to do it.

Truly usable, visionary transit is integrated. It's affordable. Hit me with an transit-line airport surcharge, sure - when we were in San Francisco this fall, there was an extra four or five dollars tacked on to the BART ride from SFO to downtown, and it that makes sense. But to charge a rate that is nine times the going rate for the other transit system in the city? To market that blatantly as some sort of luxury for elite travelers, when it was funded by taxpayer money? That's more nauseating than air turbulence.


Now that the fares have been announced,  it's unlikely that Metrolinx will create any kind of wiggle room. That's too bad. Instead of a transit system that can link us with the rest of the world, we have one that shows just how frustratingly inward-facing this city can be.

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