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Why do so few travellers use the airport bus? Add to ...

How much more are you willing to pay for 10 more centimetres of leg-room? Will you pay $12.95 for an egg and toast in your hotel room? $17.95 to get orange juice on the side? What about Wi-Fi - will you pay $9.95 for a service you could get free next door at Starbucks? Premiums are premium in the business-travel industry. Everyone is trying to figure out just how much business travellers are willing to pay to get the job done in comfort, and on time.

One trend in travel is tacking in the opposite direction: Fast, efficient and inexpensive transit systems, which ferry travellers from airports into the heart of cities, are cropping up across the country. Yet these cheaper, more eco-friendly options - express versions of existing modes of public transit - aren't attracting travellers en masse. In Vancouver, only 15 per cent of travellers are taking advantage of a new service. In Toronto, the number is a scant 3 per cent.

Maybe travellers simply aren't aware that plausible alternatives exist to pricey airport cab fares.

Both Vancouver and Montreal have newly improved, express transit systems; Saskatoon is upgrading to a direct route; Edmonton and Halifax are introducing systems for next year; and there's a long-term plan to run a dedicated train from Union Station in downtown Toronto to Pearson International Airport.

"There's no question that there's been a significant improvement in transit access to airports across Canada in the last five or six years," says Michael Roschlau, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, which counts 120 transit systems and 15 government agencies among its members.

Historically, he says, municipal systems were seen as potentially unfair competition to coach and taxi operators.

But as airports slip out from under federal control with its sensitivities about subsidized competition, the new non-profit, private-sector organizations running most of the airports seem more interested in taking advantage of pre-existing infrastructure.

The result is that cabs and coaches are no longer your only, or even your best, options in many cities. So, where are you better off skipping the taxi stand?

Vancouver

"Vancouver is unquestionably the best in the country," Roschlau says. The new SkyTrain stop, built for the Olympics, offers service every eight minutes and it takes 26 minutes to get from the airport to downtown's Waterfront station. The trains are designed with extra room for baggage, the seats set high enough up to stow the usual corporate travel-size bag. It costs $3.75 each way during the week, and $2.50 evenings and weekends, with a $5 surcharge for the first half of a return trip.

Saskatoon

Saskatoon's circuitous airport bus route has meant travellers spent about 30 minutes on board before reaching downtown. But in September, the city is upgrading to a more direct route, which will cut the travel time in half, and being a dedicated airport bus, passengers are not expected to be cheek by jowl. The new service will still cost the usual Saskatoon transit rate of $2.75.

Ottawa

Well established if still not that well used, Ottawa's transit link is "by far the best bus-based system in North America," Roschlau says. Leaving every 10 to 15 minutes, the buses travel on reserved lanes and stop only at stations, eliminating delays and unpredictable travel times due to frequent stops and traffic. During rush hour, it's actually faster than a cab, taking about 20 minutes to reach downtown. It costs $3.

Montreal

The 747 airport bus was introduced in March, and already demand has prompted the Montreal transit commission to double its frequency. It runs to and from Trudeau airport every 15 minutes, connects to the Metro at Lionel Groulx and Berri-UQAM downtown, has a front-of-the-bus luggage rack and costs $7.

Toronto Pearson

Though it can be relatively quick for such a big city, the Toronto option does involve a transfer from the subway line at Kipling station to an express bus service. It can be a hassle with more than one bag, but if you're travelling light, the transit system can still get you to the airport in about 45 minutes for $3.

Thunder Bay and Winnipeg

Both offer local (but not express) service to the airport.

In the U.S.

The best systems are in Washington (from Reagan National airport), Atlanta, St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago (both Midway and O'Hare), Miami and Cleveland.

 









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