With mounting political pressure to get more people onto Toronto's struggling airport train, staff are promising to move fast on adjusting the price and acknowledging that the first year's ridership goal may not be met.
The train that runs between the city's downtown and Pearson International Airport has become a major headache for Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, and the provincial government. Early assumptions about how many people would use the service have proved optimistic and a recent report showed that the train – which cost $456-million – was running at less than 10 per cent capacity.
The goal was to have 5,000 passengers a day by the summer, at the end of the first year of service, which is more than twice the number of riders it averaged in November and December.
"I think, based on the ridership projections, that we will get there eventually," Kathy Haley, president of the Union Pearson Express (UPX), said in an interview on Wednesday. "I can't say that we'll get there in June. And I think it'll depend on what we're doing over the coming months."
Those changes will include better service and more promotion. But the most obvious shift is likely to be the price. The train now costs $27.50 for a one-way trip, although there are a variety of discounts and it costs $19 with a Presto fare card. Critics have long said the price was dissuading would-be riders and called for the train to be made more accessible.
Metrolinx officially has traditionally dug in its heels on the base fare, while proposing special offers and coupons. Although it is still loath to say the price was set too high, there is a new acknowledgment that it may need to drop to boost ridership.
"Obviously we need to attract more people, so we, and I, are open to taking a look at that price," Ms. Haley said. "I think that we need to … determine what is the right price that will attract people to try this service."
The whole slate of fare options – including the base fare – are to be examined. A change in price would have to be approved by the Metrolinx board, which does not meet again until the summer, though a special meeting could be called if recommendations are finalized earlier.
With the province, which oversees Metrolinx, pushing for results, the changes are not expected to take long.
"Ridership numbers are not where we want them to be, they're not where they should be," Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca told reporters Wednesday after sitting in for a portion of the quarterly Metrolinx board meeting.
"I will tell you right now, the fare discussion with UP Express is clearly extremely important, and it's something that we'll be taking a very, very clear and sort of sharp look at in the coming days."
Later at Wednesday's meeting, the Metrolinx board received for information an update on UPX, including the latest ridership numbers. The members spent less than 20 seconds on the report and asked no questions.