The head of Toronto's troubled airport train has resigned after months of disappointing ridership, sparking calls for her superiors to take responsibility as well.
The departure of Union Pearson Express president Kathy Haley comes amid desperate efforts to attract passengers to the train. Fares have been slashed on the premium service she launched, allowing it to act more like a commuter train.
Plans have also been taking shape to move UPX under the purview of GO Transit, leaving no obvious role for Ms. Haley. She chose to resign instead, and her last day will be March 31, according to a spokeswoman for Metrolinx, the provincial agency that operates the train.
A request Monday to interview the departing executive was not answered. Metrolinx will not say whether Ms. Haley is leaving with a package.
"It's unfortunate that Ms. Haley is now falling on her sword ... but the buck really should stop at the minister [or] the Premier," said Progressive Conservative transportation critic Michael Harris.
"We saw an extraordinary amount of pressure coming from the government with regards to this project, so they were simply just following orders. To make Kathy Haley the scapegoat, after the fact, does nothing really to ensure government accountability."
UPX launched last summer as a separate division within Metrolinx, with Ms. Haley as founding president, a structure that left open the possibility of spinning it off if it succeeded. But the train – designed as a high-end service between Union Station and Pearson airport, and priced to match with a cash fare of $27.50 – failed to catch on with riders.
Metrolinx insisted for months that the train just needed time. The agency said the price was not holding back ridership, and it produced reports that fudged the numbers to make the train's performance look better than it was.
"Nobody on the Metrolinx board said anything really seriously against it until it was up and running and started to look like, well, you know, maybe we got a problem here," said Toronto transit blogger Steve Munro. "Everything was smiles all around. So the board cannot basically say, 'Oh, it's just this one person.'"
Ridership edged up in the early months and then flatlined in September and October. It dived in the last two months of 2015, prompting a push from Queen's Park to change course. Last month, the Metrolinx board voted to cuts fares by more than half. Informal numbers from the agency suggest ridership has doubled as a result.