Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the province will look at lowering fares on Toronto's struggling airport express train and turning it into a commuter line in a bid to boost ridership.
The Union-Pearson Express, which costs $27.50 to ride one way between Union Station and Pearson International Airport, is running more than 90-per-cent empty after eight months in service. Ms. Wynne said provincial transit agency Metrolinx will consider all options to salvage the service at a meeting this week.
"There actually is a Metrolinx board meeting … and looking at the fare structure is something they've said they are going to do," the Premier told reporters Monday. "I expect there will be a reassessment of not just [the fares] but some of the other issues around UP Express."
One possibility is to encourage more daily commuters to use the train, rather than focusing primarily on business-class air travellers. The train currently makes two intermediate stops in the west end, at Weston Road and Dundas Street West.
"It wasn't designed for [commuters], but there are two stops, there is Dundas West and there is the Weston stop, so there is the possibility for it to be used in some partial way for getting downtown," Ms. Wynne said. "That's what Metrolinx has to look at. They have to look at all of the options and figure out how to get more people, I mean, that's the bottom line: How do we get more people riding the UP Express? That is self-evident that that needs to happen."
Ms. Wynne said no decisions on what to do about UPX have so far been made.
Ridership on UPX has been dismal since its launch in June. The train averaged fewer than 2,200 riders a day in November and December – only 8 per cent of its total daily capacity of 26,998 riders – Metrolinx figures released Friday reveal.
UPX cost $456-million to build, plus $68-million annually to operate. The line would need to carry 7,000 riders a day to cover its operating costs.
By comparison, the TTC's Airport Rocket, an express bus from Kipling subway station to Pearson, carries about 5,000 daily riders for a $3.25 cash fare.
Transit advocates argue UPX is a diversion of scarce dollars at a time when the regular TTC and GO Transit systems are overcrowded and could badly use more funds. One group, TTCriders, has been calling on the government to make UPX part of the regular TTC network, add more stops and drop fares dramatically so commuters can afford it.
"Metrolinx has utterly failed to meet Toronto's demand for sensible transit solutions," the group said in a statement last week after the latest ridership numbers were released.