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GO opens new Brampton station

Big year for construction projects

Fares go up 15 cents next month


GO Transit will open is 55th train station today, Mount Pleasant in Brampton, as it forges ahead with a plan to double ridership on trains and buses over 20 years.

While the new station is still under construction, it will be ready for passenger service this morning, with tickets being sold from a temporary trailer. It will have parking for about 600 cars, a passenger drop-off area, and a bus loop for GO and local transit.

The station is the latest in a line of planned improvements for the transit authority, established in 1967.

On Friday it passed its three budgets: about $260 million for operating, $173 million to replace and rehabilitate its trains, buses, tracks and signals, and another $173 million for growth.

But the budget comes with a few provisos: that fares increase by 15 cents a ride starting March 19, and that the province claw back $7 million of GO’s operating subsidy because an unexpected 6 per cent increase in riders created a financial windfall. One GO board member, University of Toronto traffic expert Baher Abdulhai, criticized GO’s budget as setting the bar too low so as to be happy with “modest” improvements.

“Our budget goals should be much higher. We should plan to carry more people,” said Abdulhai.

“Ridership increases because population increases. Car ridership also increases. We should set goals pretending money is not an issue.

“What we’re asking for is peanuts in relation to what we should be asking for.”

GO chairman Gordon Chong said the province has told GO to be more “self-sufficient. The minister has used the term: what they really mean is for us to look for as many efficiencies as we can and make sure we aren’t operating with a lot of fat. I’m not sure there is any transit system in the world that is totally self-sustaining.”

Abdulhai said words like “self-sufficiency” scare him because “what comes next is fare hikes and cuts.”

Chong said even if GO set a higher bar, it couldn’t deliver because so much of its rail service is already at capacity, with commuters standing shoulder to shoulder in rush hour.

“As much as we’d like to provide more service and convenient service, we’re not in a position to do that right now,” said Chong. “We in a sense are marking time until our capital improvements are actually done, and then we can offer better and more convenient service and not have people standing on our cars.”

While GO Transit got promises totalling about $1 billion nearly two years ago, it is this year that many of these projects begin to move from the fanciful idea stage to the concrete.

As environmental assessments wind down, design contracts get awarded, this becomes a crucial year for commuters because GO expects to begin a number of projects:

  • Construction on the Bradford extension to Barrie should begin in the fall of this year, to be complete by mid-2007.

  • Work to separate freight rail from passenger rail near York University (the Snider Diamond) and in Unionville should also begin late this year, taking until 2009. This will give the Bradford and Stouffville corridors the ability to run trains all day.

  • Construction of a third mainline track on both the Lakeshore East and Lakeshore West is to begin by summer, ending in 2009. This will allow GO to run frequent, all-day service on its two busiest lines.

  • Upgrading stations on the Milton line and some of the smaller Lakeshore stops to accommodate 12-car trains should begin this year and be in place by 2008 when GO takes possession of new locomotives that can push bigger trainsets.

  • More train stations (Kennedy Rd. in Scarborough, Lisgar in Mississauga) are planned and parking facilities will be expanded, including creating park-n-ride stations for its 407 bus service.

More projects are scheduled to come online between 2006 and 2008, ramping up a growth budget to a peak of $440 million. Chong says he believes the province and federal governments will live by their commitments.