News / Toronto

Ontario subsidizes UP Express riders to the tune of $11 per ticket

PC critic says province made a mistake when deciding to operate the Pearson Airport link as a “premium” rail line.

PC transportation critic Michael Harris says the province made a mistake when they decided to operate the Toronto-Pearson airport link as a "premium" rail line.

Torstar News Service

PC transportation critic Michael Harris says the province made a mistake when they decided to operate the Toronto-Pearson airport link as a "premium" rail line.

The province is subsidizing rides on the Union Pearson Express (UPX) at much lower levels than it did last year, but it still costs the public about $11 every time a passenger boards the controversial air-rail link.

According to figures that will be presented at the Metrolinx board on Wednesday, it cost the provincial government $62.8 million to operate the train between Union Station and Pearson Airport during the fiscal year that ran from April 2016 to March 2017.

Over the same period, 2.76 million people rode the service. With revenues from fares and other sources totaling $32.4 million, the government provided a subsidy of $30.4 million, or about $11 per rider.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca called the new numbers “great news.”

The subsidy is much lower than the $52.25 per ride it cost the government in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

“I’m delighted to know that we’ve managed to drop the subsidy for the UP Express by 80 per cent year over year. I think that’s really critical,” the minister said.

Although Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that operates the UPX, has cast doubt on whether it will be possible for the service to break even under its new fare structure, Del Duca said that remains the goal.

“I think it’s trending the right way, but we definitely have more work to do,” said the minister, who is also the Liberal MPP for Vaughan.

Michael Harris, transportation critic for the Ontario PC party, said the new lower subsidy number is nothing to celebrate.

“Only the Liberals can pat themselves on the back for jacking the subsidy at the beginning and then reducing it down to $11,” he said.

Harris, who is the MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga, argued that Metroolinx should never have ignored warnings that its original fares were too high and that it was a mistake to attempt operate the UPX as a “premium” rail line.

The UPX entered service in June, 2015, and initially charged $27.90 for a trip between the airport and Union, or $19 with a Presto card. Travellers found the price too high and the service failed to attract enough riders.

In March 2016 Metrolinx finally decided to slash the fares to $12, or $9 with a Presto fare card. Ridership has surged since.

In its first 10 months of operation, a little more than 750,000 people rode the line, less than half the number that rode last year.

Aside from additional fare revenue from increased ridership, the UPX has also cashed in on corporate sponsorships.

Revenue from partners like CIBC and Deloitte, which paid for naming and advertising rights, and Mill Street Brewery and the Drake General Store, which rent space at Union Station, made up almost 28 per cent of the service’s revenue.

The Metrolinx board is expected to approve a 3 per cent fare increase to the UPX on Wednesday. It will only affect fares that cost more than $5.65, and won’t apply to shorter trips on the line that don’t make the full trip from Union to the airport.

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