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Expanded GO service welcomed, but communities plead for more

Worsening traffic brings calls for additional trains and improvements

Globe and Mail; With a report from Patti-Ann Finlay
Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Elinor Heslip is happy she will no longer have to endure a 30-minute bus ride from her Burlington home to Oakville.

Ms. Heslip, 76, said when off-peak GO Transit train service expands to Burlington on May 1, she will take advantage of the service to visit Toronto’s museums and galleries during the day.

“I think it’s wonderful. I won’t have to take the bus any more. It’s the worst part of the whole trip — that bus ride.”

Regional expansion of GO’s service is a long overdue step but officials said yesterday it is only a fraction of what is needed.

During non-rush-hour times, hourly east-west GO trains will run past their current last stops, Oakville and Pickering, and on to Burlington in the east and Whitby in the west.

Two new weekday trains will also run to Markham and an extra evening train to Richmond Hill.

The extended service to the fast-growing regions of Durham and York is designed to give more people the option of taking the train rather than driving, said Gary McNeil, managing director of GO Transit.

GO can expand the service without having to buy new equipment and can pay most of the cost from increased ticket sales, he said.

The longer runs will cost an extra $1.6-million a year, 90 per cent of which will be covered from extra ticket sales.

The new runs are badly needed but the increased capacity is not enough, said Roger Anderson, chairman of the region of Durham.

“We need more trains at rush hour. They are full to capacity; it’s standing room only,” he said.

Brampton Mayor Peter Robertson was disappointed that GO’s upgrades include no service improvements for the third-largest city in the Toronto area.

Mr. Robertson has been lobbying to make more frequent service to Brampton and a connection to Pearson Airport priorities for GO.

“I went a little crazy when I saw they were stricken from the budget,” Mr. Robertson said. “They’ve written nice letters but received nothing else,” he said.

Meanwhile, traffic becomes worse every week.

“We are going to have to improve service to get people out of cars or we are going to choke to death on traffic,” Mr. Robertson said.

Mr. McNeil said GO wants to expand service to Brampton and quickly upgrade rush-hour services on all lines but it is constrained by costs.

Mr. McNeil said GO’s 10-year plan submitted to the Greater Toronto Services Board proposes at least 11 new trains at a cost of $35-million each to provide 18 additional train runs during morning and evening rush hours.

The GO system carried 38.4 million passengers last year, an increase of 7 per cent from 1998.

During the past eight years, the average weekday ridership in the lakeshore trains has increased by 31 per cent, an extra 20,000 trips a day.

The rush-hour service to Markham with a bus connection to Stouffville has seen a 32-per-cent increase in ridership in the past year.

Money for new equipment now must come from the tax base of the regions.

To expand, GO is going to have to see the reinstatement of the matching funds it received in the early 1990s from the province and federal governments.

“We have to convince the senior levels of government that if you make it easier to travel around the Greater Toronto Area, it is going to create more prosperity,” Mr. McNeil said.