Pay about three dollars to save half an hour: That's the pitch as GO Transit teams up with the Toronto Transit Commission for a pilot project on fare integration that could mean quicker journeys downtown.
The one-year trial announced Friday will allow people to pay $60 on top of their monthly TTC pass for unlimited use of GO trains between Danforth, Union and Exhibition stations.
Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said the plan "will make it easier, faster and give commuters more options, … offering an express travel option to and from the downtown core."
The pilot project is expected is to gauge demand for such an option and transit officials on Friday suggested that the numbers would not be huge.
Bruce McCuaig, chief executive officer of the regional transit agency Metrolinx, which includes GO, said there should be "a fair number" of people. He later offered a projection of "hundreds."
For those who take do take advantage, though, the projected time savings are substantial. Taking the GO in from Danforth allows passengers to travel more directly, instead of travelling west and then south on the subway. People coming in from Exhibition will be able to avoid the crowded and slow King streetcar.
According to Metrolinx figures, using GO should make these journeys about a quarter-hour faster, each way, than the corresponding trip on TTC alone. These figures assume people start their trip in Liberty Village or at the intersection of Main Street and the Danforth, rather than transferring to GO as part of a longer journey. There is also no time budgeted for waiting for transit.
Given the $60 monthly cost to gain access to the GO system at these stations, people using it to commute to work every weekday will pay about $3 a day, on top of their TTC costs. This a sharp discount from current GO fares of about $5 each way between Union and either Danforth or Exhibition. The pilot will begin Feb. 1 and the stickers that are to be put on TTC passes to allow access to this part of the GO system will go on sale Jan. 26 at the participating stations.
Restricting the pilot to these stations sparked immediate criticism from people who would like a cut-rate deal for getting on GO in other parts of Toronto as well. A spokeswoman for Metrolinx explained that to assess the viability of the fare integration, stations close to Union with all-day two-way service and a large number of existing TTC passengers nearby were chosen.
Friday's announcement was on the platform at the Danforth GO station, a location that offered a quick lesson in why such transit integration is not a simple proposition for riders.
The walk down from the Main Street subway station takes nearly four minutes, at a brisk pace, and it would be longer if one were caught by the red light. By comparison, the transfer at Spadina subway station is about half that and is protected from the elements. Once a rider is at the GO station, there is little indoor waiting space, and reporters and politicians shivered on the exposed platform.
"Let's be honest, if you're on the subway westbound at Main station, you're going to get off at Main, and walk down here to take the GO train? That may be attractive for a small number of people," said blogger and transit authority Steve Munro.
"But to have to pay $60 a month for the privilege, you got to scratch your head and say, well, you know, okay, I can live with the crowding at St. George and Bloor-Yonge. And don't forget, a lot of people who are coming west here aren't going to downtown anyway."
Under the pilot, a number of express trains that currently go straight through at Danforth or Exhibition will stop. The stop will add about three minutes, which may prove unpopular with people paying higher sums to travel longer distances.
"We're looking to see what is the right balance between providing more local services with more longer-distance services, and that will be part of our analysis," said Mr. McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx.