News / Toronto

Struggling UP Express to cut fare by more than half

Plan to serve well-heeled travellers failed to attract enough ridership to little-used airport link.

Metrolinx's attempt to make the new UP Express the preferred airport link for well-heeled travellers has hit the rocks.

Torstar News Service

Metrolinx's attempt to make the new UP Express the preferred airport link for well-heeled travellers has hit the rocks.

Fares on the underused Union Pearson Express (UPX) train will as of March 9 be cut by more than half — down to $9 from $19 with a Presto card, or to $12 from $27.50 without one.

Also, in a bid to fill empty seats, commuters hopping aboard the airport train at Bloor and Weston stations will pay the same as GO riders — $4.71 for a single stop, $5.02 for two stops.

“We’re lowering fares to attract riders,” said a Toronto Star source.

High ticket prices have drawn the ire of government critics and transit-hungry commuters frustrated at watching empty trains (which cost $456 million in provincial funding to build) speed up and down the Kitchener GO tracks both ways every 15 minutes.

After the latest figures showed ridership was falling six months after the train’s June launch, Premier Kathleen Wynne signalled that it was time for a rethink.

The train hit a monthly high of 79,010 riders in October but plunged to only 65,593 the following month.

Metrolinx repeatedly pleaded for patience, saying it would take at least three years to reach the 7,000 daily riders required for the service to break even. But in December only about 2,200 people a day were boarding UPX, which takes 25 minutes to travel between Union Station and Pearson.

UPX officials insisted the prices were in line with similar services around the world and that once riders tried it they would be sufficiently impressed to keep using the train.

Metrolinx has been offering two-for-one discounts; in addition, it offered free rides during the Family Day long weekend, which this month attracted 40,000 people.

That weekend yielded some valuable information, including that many people have the perception that the construction at Union Station makes it difficult to get to the UPX terminal there, said Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins.

“It was nice to hear people say, ‘This was much easier to get to than I anticipated,’ ” she said.

Some visitors also thought that the UPX terminal was much further from Yonge St. than it actually is, said Aikins.

Earlier this month, in an interview, UPX head Kathy Haley had said that some downtown visitors, including hotel occupants, were unwilling to walk to the train. She said that there were fewer early adopters of the new airport service than Metrolinx had anticipated.

Metrolinx has already tweaked some of its prices since UPX launched, including free rides for children 12 and under.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca will announce the price reduction at the Union Station UPX terminal on Tuesday in advance of a special dinnertime Metrolinx board meeting.

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