It seems the much-maligned UP Express is becoming more of a white elephant than anyone expected.
Earlier this summer, Metrolinx reported that the gold-plated shuttle that runs between Pearson Airport and Union Station was running nearly empty during the Pan Am games, at about eight per cent capacity.
According to the government transportation agency, at the time about 3,250 riders were taking the train each day, well below the 5,000 rider goal Metrolinx set for the first year of the service.
But since then, instead of numbers slowly increasing, they have dropped – by a stunning 23 per cent, to only 2,500 riders per day.
“Given that UP Express is a brand new service in the region, we are very pleased with ridership so far,” said UP Express president Kathy Haley in her quarterly board report. “Ridership has been growing and management expects it will continue to increase as UP Express builds awareness as a fast and reliable option to travel between downtown Toronto and Toronto Pearson.”
According to transportation advocacy group TTCriders, the statistics mean nine out of every 10 seats during a trip is empty, and that only 16 of the possible 173 seats is being used at any given time.
“The Union Pearson should be the Downtown Relief Line for the west, but instead it’s an empty luxury line for jet setters,” said TTCriders executive director Jessica Bell. “This is poor transit planning.”
The group points to Vancouver’s airport shuttle as an example “on how to do it right.” They say that city’s 19-kilometre line has 16 stops and costs regular fare with a $5 surcharge for passengers who want to use the airport stop.
“There will come a day when Metrolinx and the Wynne government wake up and convert the UP Express into a truly useful, affordable train,” said TTCriders spokesperson Shaun Cleaver. “This report tells us the Wynne government and Metrolinx are still asleep at the wheel.”
Given the miniscule ridership offsetting the rail line’s staggering $456 million price tag, it’s a point that’s hard to argue.