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GO's new plan dares to dream

“If you build it, they will come” may have been an Iowa cornfield fiction.

But with GO Transit, it’s the truth.

Every time the commuter bus and rail system has expanded, it has been an instant hit.

The problem is, the system has been able to do little expanding since 1995, when Premier Mike Harris’ Tories pulled the plug on GO’s building plans.

Since then, the system has struggled, using jury-rigged ingenuity to keep pace with ever-increasing demands, especially on its popular rail routes.

The past four years alone have seen a 30 per cent increase in GO’s rail ridership, with only a marginal increase in actual train and track infrastructure.

The intensive use of express buses - known as train buses - between downtown and outlying GO stations and the rejigging of schedules on the busy Lakeshore line has allowed the system to take on the added burden.

But it’s running beyond any comfortable capacity and is failing to capture a huge, latent ridership in the 905 regions - passengers who would gladly abandon their cars and take a train if one were available.

GO has released a new plan that outlines what the system must do to maximize that passenger potential and what it would cost to do so.

Titled Route Map to the Future, the document goes beyond the system’s official 10-year plan and even its ambitious $1.1-billion 2021 plan adopted, with no promise of funding, two years ago.

It’s something of a dare-to-dream document that lays out the work needed to address the Greater Toronto Services Board’s grand transportation scheme.

Released in January, that GTSB plan calls for a massive shift in Greater Toronto’s transportation priorities from roads to public transit.

GO would shoulder the bulk of that shift, especially in the outlying regions.

After nearly eight months, GO staff have come up with a set of new routes to be built and cost estimates. The tab, for rail improvements alone, would be $4.1 billion.

The plan allows for an unrealistic 12- to 14-year time line, which would be accelerated if Toronto won the 2008 Olympics. It includes:

  • Extensions of the Georgetown line to Acton, the Richmond Hill line to Vandorf, the Stouffville line to Uxbridge and the Lakeshore East line to Bowmanville.
  • Opening a new line through Woodbridge and Kleinburg to Bolton.
  • A North Toronto corridor running east/west and connecting to the Summerhill subway station.
  • A new, forked line that would run east to Seaton and Peterborough.
  • A $1 billion doubling of the existing 319 bi-level car fleet.

If GO is to expand, rail is its best option.

In many cases, passengers paying daily GO fares actually fork out more money than they would for gas and parking because of the train’s attractions.

While buses are a far cheaper option, expanding the fleet would have to be accompanied by the introduction of a High Occupancy Vehicle lane network throughout the GTA.

Buses travelling in regular traffic offer few advantages over the car and would not have nearly the allure that the trains possess.

But if GO’s $1.1-billion, 2021 plan has failed to win a promise of provincial financing, what chance is there that Queen’s Park and the municipalities would be willing to spend nearly four times that amount on the system?

In all likelihood, very little.

Our nightly television views of sunny Sydney, however, show us what a city can achieve if it follows its dreams. What’s needed is a provincial parliament willing to wake up to that fact.

Readers can contact Joseph Hall by phone at (416) 869-4390 or e-mail at