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The UP Express, on a media tour on Wednesday, will have low-emission diesels, with a plan to be electrified down the road. (Peter Power for The Globe and Mail)
The UP Express, on a media tour on Wednesday, will have low-emission diesels, with a plan to be electrified down the road. (Peter Power for The Globe and Mail)

The airport train has arrived, and it’s time to stop complaining Add to ...

Why doesn’t Toronto have a rail link to its international airport like other big cities do? That was a standard lament for years in this city. But almost as soon as plans were unveiled for just such a link, complaints began.

Some worried that it would cause too much pollution, endangering residents who live near the line. Others said the line would have too few stops on its route from Union Station to Pearson airport, lessening its usefulness to commuters. Still others said the cost of riding it would be too high.

Those complaints were always overblown. The Union Pearson Express is to use the latest, low-emission diesel trains with so-called Tier 4 technology. The plan is to convert the line to electric power over time, along with the regional GO Transit service. That should ease the local pollution concerns.

The idea of having multiple stops along the line was impractical from the start. The UP line is meant to be an express service, running every 15 minutes and making the one-way trip in 25 minutes. Making it stop at many points along the way, as some city councillors suggested, would have turned it into a milk run.

As it is, the trains will stop twice, at the Bloor and Weston GO stations. That will allow commuters to transfer on without slowing the trip too much for the bulk of passengers going direct between Union and Pearson.

The sharpest complaints about the line have been over fares. Critics said that of the ticket price would put it out of reach for all but well-heeled business travellers. NDP MP Peggy Nash called it a “Cadillac service that most people aren’t going to be able to use.”

It is true that the UP line is supposed to be a premium service, attractive to business people and tourists who want a quick, reliable ride between the airport and downtown. Cars will come with padded seats, free WiFi, electrical outlets and laptop trays. Riders will be able to check in to their flights from the new UP Express station at Union.

This line was never supposed to be part of the city’s ordinary public transit network, to be used for local trips. It was designed to be like Tokyo’s Narita Express or London’s Heathrow Express, high-end rapid services with fares to match.

But to say it is only for the rich and so deserves no public funding takes things too far. The standard fare for a one-way UP ride was announced this week: $27.50. That is hardly outrageous for a traveller who may have spent hundreds of dollars on a flight and $25 or more just for checked baggage.

To fend off criticism about the cost, the service offers discounted fares for seniors ($23.40), students ($23.40), children ($13.75) and families ($55).

People getting on at Weston or Bloor will get a discount because they are not travelling the whole route. Airport workers will enjoy a special fare of $10; less if they get a monthly pass. Those with a Presto card, the loadable electronic transit pass that is being rolled out around Greater Toronto, will pay $19. That is a pretty good deal for an express trip from airport to downtown.

For those who find that too steep, the TTC’s 192 Airport Rocket from Kipling station to Pearson is a pretty good option. The price is a regular TTC fare. The UP Express will be just one of several options for getting to the airport when it opens next year in time for the Pan Am Games.

This was an expensive project, no doubt. It cost about half a billion dollars to build and operating costs will run at about $70-million a year. Authorities hope in time to cover the operating costs through fares, although that depends on meeting ridership projections of 2.5 million passengers a year.

But the case for funding it was strong. This was a city-building project of the best kind. It should lift some pressure on the crowded roadways by reducing car trips to the airport and back. It will help transform Union Station, currently being renovated to expand its role as a commuter hub. It will reinforce the vitality of the downtown core, where thousands more people are moving to live and work every year. It will make Toronto an easier place for time-starved business people to visit, giving them a reliable connection to downtown without worries about traffic or weather.

Rather than complain about it, Toronto should get on board.

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Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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