Provincial plans for a big expansion of GO Transit service could lead to a massive increase in riders, and would bring in each of those new passengers for much less than the current pace of expansion, according to a report for the provincial agency Metrolinx.
The report, an initial business case that was completed last year by outside consultants and quietly posted online in recent days, said there was "strong evidence" that the province's plan to expand GO, known as Regional Express Rail (RER), "would benefit the region."
Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig was not available on Tuesday afternoon to answer questions on the report. In a statement, the agency said the new report was a key step.
"In the coming months, Metrolinx experts will be refining the costs and benefits of the RER program to develop an Intermediate Business Case," the statement, from spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins, said. "The Intermediate Business Case will further refine [and] evaluate the strategic fit, planning, economics and finance, and delivery and operations of GO's RER program."
The provincial government ran for re-election in part on RER, a promise to electrify the GO rail network and move to more frequent service.
Early work on this expansion has already begun and some analyses have been released, but many details remain to be seen. The new report fills in some of them.
According to the consultants, the $13.5-billion RER would lead to 135-per-cent growth in GO ridership, from 54 million in 2014 to 127 million by 2029. Over the same period, they write, fare revenues would climb from $330-million to $770-million, even as operating expenses drop.
The consultants compare this with what they called the "base plan," which would be continuing to expand the system to allow for natural growth, but not moving to an RER system. That would carry a price tag of $5-billion, spark a rise to 75 million riders and increase fare revenue to $460-million.
These figures suggest the more aggressive expansion would be a more efficient way to add riders. Under the base plan, each new rider effectively costs $238, while under RER, the cost is $185.
Combining the capital and operating costs, the 60-year cost of RER comes in at $25.9-billion, in 2014 dollars, while the base plan would cost $15.1-billion, the report says.
"Estimated GO rail fare revenue … would be approximately $6-billion more under the recommended RER program," the report notes. "This means the net cost to government … is approximately $5-billion."