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Expect to pay way more in Toronto for express transit to airport

In Cleveland, the trip costs $2. Ditto for Baltimore. In Vancouver and Chicago, fares are a few dollars more.

In Toronto? Expect to pay significantly more.

On Dec. 11, Metrolinx will announce the fare for its Union Pearson Express, the new downtown-to-airport rail service that the agency projects will take more than a million car trips off the road each year. Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig has already compared the UP Express to lines in London, Tokyo and Stockholm, where fares run from $26 to $46 (Cdn).

McCuaig calls those prices "benchmarks."

Two dollars of each ticket will go straight to the Greater Toronto Airport Authority. "The GTAA has required this as a condition of permitting us access to the airport," says Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins.

That $2 tariff is roughly equivalent to the fee paid for the whole trip in Cleveland and Baltimore, where airports are serviced by light rail commuter lines that take longer to reach their destinations but have nine and 14 stops respectively to serve more passengers.

The same model of connecting rapid transit networks to airports is followed in Vancouver and Chicago, where fares are $8.75 and $5 (U.S.) respectively. In Oakland, Calif., its automated commuter light rail opened last week and commuters are charged $6.85 (U.S.) to use the four-station system.

Toronto's trains will leave every 15 minutes from either direction, taking 25 minutes to travel from Pearson Airport to Union Station, Canada's two busiest transportation hubs. There will be two stops along the way, connecting to the TTC's Bloor subway at Dundas St. West and to GO Transit at Weston, near Lawrence Ave. W and Jane St.

Passengers wanting to connect to the TTC or GO systems from the UP Express will have to purchase a separate fare .

Ed Levy, co-founder of Toronto transportation consulting firm BA Group and the author of Rapid Transit in Toronto, a Century of Plans, Projects, Politics and Paralysis, says the connection will be, "a fairly snappy operation in terms of speed," while lamenting that the system is not more integrated into the regional transit network.

"That corridor desperately needs rapid transit, and this is not it," says Levy, pointing to the small number of stops on the route.

So, will high fares leave the Express running on empty?

"It's better than not having anything. It will serve the business community. As for how many cars it takes off the road? It all depends on the fare," says Levy. "Anything more than $10 or $12 will make it not terribly attractive considering the transfer involved [from or to the TTC or GO].

Darin Kramer is more optimistic. He grew up in South Africa, where he says public transportation was unheard of until Johannesberg and its airport were linked by rail for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

He travels often from his KPMG office in downtown Toronto and says he'd happily pay $30 or more to ride the Express. He says that, with tips, it costs twice that to travel to or from downtown in a taxi or limo. Moreover, he's often travelling at peak times, wondering if he'll be late. "I can't stand the traffic," he says.

Here is a comparison of express transit solutions from the airport to the downtown core of different cities:

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