The most significant new Toronto transit in more than a decade is a premium-priced express train that will whisk through neighbourhoods clamouring for more ways to get downtown.
The Union Pearson Express is due to open in the spring, offering a 25-minute journey from downtown to the airport. But the convenience will come with few stops and a hefty price. The full-fare option will be $27.50 to travel one way, it was revealed Wednesday, with steep discounts for Pearson employees and people using a Presto fare card.
On Wednesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne praised the rail link as a long-overdue improvement that would help Toronto compete with the likes of London and Shanghai.
"It will mean incredible convenience," she told reporters after touring the airport station and one of the trains. "Ten years ago, the UP Express existed only in the minds of urban planners and weary travellers. But we've made it a reality."
The UP Express will enter service against the backdrop of a city struggling to keep moving. The TTC carries around 10 million passengers a week and regularly breaks its own records for daily ridership. A long-discussed downtown relief line remains a distant goal. And Mayor John Tory's proposal for more surface rail wouldn't be operational until next decade.
The UP Express is projected to carry 2.5 million people annually and not break even for three or more years. In a city gasping for more transit, the half-billion-dollar train has spurred criticism.
"It's costing the GTA $6-billion [a year] because of the congestion and yet we're building this Cadillac service that most people aren't going to be able to use," Peggy Nash, MP for a west-end riding, said from Ottawa. "These are public dollars that are paying for this thing and the rest of us are kind of left hanging. For somebody, for example, from Weston who just wants to go downtown, this thing isn't affordable."
Commuters who jump on the train at Weston or Bloor would pay a steep price, around $11 or $15 each way if using Presto, the electronic fare-payment card.
The train – which will hit speeds of 90 to 100 kilometres an hour – will stop at only those two stops en route from Union to Pearson. It will begin operation as sets of two cars, carrying up to 120 people. A third car can be added, boosting capacity to 180, but the line's constraints prevent trains getting longer than that. Consciously geared to a different market than regular transit, the train's seats have individual plug-ins for electronic devices, garment hooks and flip-down trays.
The regional transit agency Metrolinx is offering no apologies for the high-end train.
"We're trying to make this an extension of the airline experience, as opposed to a daily commuter service," said Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig. "We have other services that are intended to target the market of day-to-day commuting."
From the airport, the full-fare rate is high enough that two people can take a taxi to many parts of the city for about the same price. There are several discounted options, though. After loud criticism that the train would be used only by the well-heeled, Metrolinx is proposing a wide range of fare categories.
People using Presto can ride the train for $19 each way. Students and seniors with Presto will be charged $16.15 and children six to 12 will ride for $9.50. In each case, prices without Presto are nearly half again as much.
Families can ride for $55 and children under six will not be charged. Airport employees can ride for $10 each way, or $300 for a monthly pass.
Mr. McCuaig said they expect the fares to cover operating costs of about $70-million annually within three to five years. And, although ridership will be low compared with some other forms of transit, he stressed the value of having an airport express line.
"When you look at other world financial centres, having a direct link [from] the airport to the downtown is a pretty basic building block," he said. "This is going to be contributing to positioning Toronto … in terms of the world marketplace."