Metrolinx is planning to lower the fare for short journeys on its GO Transit network, while keeping them at a level above what Toronto Mayor John Tory promised for his SmartTrack plan.
The price drop, which must be approved by the board of the regional transit agency, would result in a $3.70 fare for any trip shorter than 10 kilometres, down from the current lowest fare of $4.71. The move is part of Metrolinx’s effort to transform GO Transit from a purely commuter service to one that serves local trips as well.
“What we are seeing is that there’s a whole market segment of short-distance travellers that we are not fully hooking into our service,” Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said Monday. He cited internal modeling that he said showed the move is expected to generate an additional two million rides annually.
Fares on journeys longer than 10 kilometres will rise, depending on the length of trip, by up to 4 per cent. Subject to approval by the Metrolinx board, all the fare changes are set to take effect April 20.
The price drop proposed for shorter trips falls well short of what the previous government promised in its spring budget last year. The Liberals had said they would charge the same as the TTC fare for all GO trips shorter than 10 kilometres and all GO trips within the city of Toronto. Their plan was to take effect early in 2019 and would have been a win for Mr. Tory, whose SmartTrack plan included a promise that it would cost the same as a TTC fare.
The Liberal plan would have cost $90-million over three years, that government said. The $3.70 fare will be revenue-neutral, according to Metrolinx, by spurring an increase in ridership.
However, the new GO fare would be 60 cents higher than the current TTC fare, which rose by a dime on Monday to $3.10. And by restricting it to sub-10-kilometre trips, the lower fare will not cover those heading into downtown from much of the city. Although the formula will be tweaked to allow for $3.70 fares on trips between Union Station and Mimico or Scarborough stations, both of which are longer than 10 kilometres, two of the six planned GO stations in Mr. Tory’s SmartTrack plan are too far from Union Station.
It’s unclear what effect this would have on ridership demand at the GO stations deemed part of the SmartTrack plan. Earlier modelling had showed that passenger demand was price-sensitive and was highest when the service was priced at a TTC fare.
In a statement relayed by his spokesman, Mr. Tory called the fare announcement a “step in the right direction” and said he remains “committed to continuing this progress so that fare parity will be in place for SmartTrack.”
Mr. Verster said that the focus should not be exclusively on commuters heading into the city’s core. He argued that there was great potential demand for people making shorter trips throughout the GO network.
“Wherever you get on, you get a benefit,” he said. “No matter where you are, [the 10-kilometre fare] is within that radius of what you are travelling. So this is … about more than just the comparison with SmartTrack.”