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Cash-strapped GO Transit getting by on imagination

Innovative moves grow system by 25% in four years

Joseph Hall

GO Transit could easily double its 40 million yearly riders with proper funding and infrastructure.

But under the twin curse of provincial downloading and municipal penury, it can merely tweak its service and tap a fraction of the potential ridership pool.

“There’s so much latent demand that if we can get a train out there, especially in the peak periods, we’re almost guaranteed to be successful,” says GO managing director Gary McNeil.

“But all we can do is try to make subtle changes to our schedules, like look at what we could do if we just sent this train back a little faster,” McNeil says.

Despite limited options, however, the system has been able to make some imaginative strides.

Most recently, for example, the system announced it would pick up passengers on trains that would normally run empty along the Stouffville line. While the system runs two-way service all day along its busy Lakeshore line, its three northern train routes have offered only one-way trips during the rush hour periods.

Thus passengers living in Brampton, Richmond Hill or Markham could board a southbound train in the morning and a northbound train in the evening.

They could not, however, travel in the opposite direction.

But on the Stouffville line, which passes through the booming town of Markham, GO was running one morning and one evening train that were “deadheading” back empty to pick up more passengers at the other end of the line.

New morning express train from Clarkson fills up with 1,000 commuters

“And we saw that at the Unionville station (in Markham) IBM and Motorola and Celestica are opening up new office facilities within a reasonable distance from the station,” McNeil says.

“So we saw that as an opportunity to bring a good number of people in the reverse direction.”

The new northbound train, which began service this morning, leaves Union Station at 7:35 a.m. A southbound evening train will depart the Markham station 7:20 p.m.

In another recent move, a new morning express train was started from Mississauga’s Clarkson station.

“We had a train available that was just going into the yard after dropping off its passengers and a small window of track time where we could send it up to Clarkson,” McNeil says. “It runs back in just five minutes ahead of the train that comes through from Oakville, and that Clarkson train fills up with 1,000 people.”

Moves like these have helped the system grow by more than 25 per cent in the last four years, despite an ongoing funding crisis.

Unfortunately, the expanded services must be paid for entirely out of the fare box. While this might seem sensible at first - making a new business venture earn its keep - it precludes more transit in new and under-serviced locations.

When McNeil says he can double GO passenger volumes with proper funding, he’s talking largely about increasing the number of tracks, trains and buses going into the system’s current service areas.

But for the service to reach full potential, it must infiltrate new areas in the GTA and beyond.

And that requires a provincial government to pick up the bill.

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