Ontario transportation minister orders Metrolinx to scrap UP Express service changes

The changes were to have UP Express trains go straight from Union to Pearson, eliminating stops at Weston and Bloor stations on select trips.

Ontario’s transportation minister has ordered Metrolinx staff to scrap plans to cut the number of UP Express train trips servicing two west-end Toronto communities and replace many of those trips with GO Transit trains.

“While the intention was to provide a faster option for people travelling between Union and Pearson, I’ve heard riders’ concerns about servicing Weston and Bloor stations along the UP Express line,” Prabmeet Sarkaria said in a brief message on X Tuesday evening. 

“I’ve directed Metrolinx to not proceed with these changes.”

It came a day after Sarkaria stood alongside Premier Doug Ford as part of a broader announcement to boost GO Transit train service. After plans to change UP Express service were revealed, thousands signed a petition calling for a reversal.

“I think it comes down to an underserved need in our community that we’re looking to be filled and we’ve figured out how to fill it as a community and when that is taken from us without consultation from the community, it’s impacting. That’s a problem,” Hayley Fuller, a Weston neighbourhood resident who started the change.org petition, told CityNews on Tuesday.

“Consult with the community and consult with leaders who are embedded in the community before making sweeping changes like this.”

Currently, UP Express trains run every 15 minutes between Union Station and Toronto Pearson International Airport. All trains stop at Bloor GO station (just a few minutes east of Dundas West subway station) and Weston GO station (close to Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West).

As part of a broader announcement of expanded GO Transit train service for certain areas, provincial officials had said the changes would be coming to UP Express as of April 28.

Under the new plan, every second train would have run express between Union Station and Pearson airport. If someone is boarding at Bloor or Weston stations, they would have needed to wait 30 minutes instead of 15 minutes between trains.

It currently takes 25 minutes to do the full trip while stopping at all four stations, but a schedule posted on the UP Express website said the non-stop trips would’ve shave off two minutes.

“It’s an interesting decision. I would love to see some of the data behind the decisions that were made to save two minutes,” Fuller said.

A news release issued by the premier’s office on Monday said the non-stop trains between the two transportation hubs will provide commuters “with a more direct and convenient option for airport transfers seven days a week.”

In the same announcement, officials touted the addition of 300 new train trips each week. Many of the improvements will happen on the Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East lines. The Stouffville line will see evening service improvements while the Milton line will get two new trips. As for the Kitchener line (which also services Union, Bloor and Weston station), there will be new weekday, 30-minute services during the middle of the day and the evenings.

“They kind of buried the fact that they’ll be reducing service to our neighbourhood by 50 per cent,” Fuller said, noting existing GO train trips in her neighbourhood are often filled with commuters farther west along the line.

“I don’t think adding additional trains during the day and evening service on the GO line is going to make up for the service being lost, but I do think it’s a positive thing overall and I don’t want to lose sight of that. I think more transit is good news for everybody in the city of Toronto.”

UP Express has become a preferred way for west-end residents to get to and from downtown Toronto. Fuller started the petition calling for existing service to remain just hours after the new plan was released. She garnered nearly 4,500 online signatures and comments within a day.

“I use this to get to and from work at the airport from Bloor station. As a flight attendant, this service is crucial to me and you’re saying I’m not as important as those who are taking it from Union. People rely on this train for many purposes and you can’t just police its use based on location,” resident Holly Protheroe wrote on the petition.

On social media platforms like X, commuters posted photos showing crowding at Bloor station or talked about the importance of having more frequent UP Express train service.

Fuller said when she was looking to buy a more affordable home, she chose Weston because of the 15-minute intervals on the UP line.

“People in Weston in particular are very passionate about improving our neighbourhood and this train in and of itself has done such an incredible thing for our neighbourhood (and) has brought us more access to jobs, to resources, that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said.

“The changes do seem structured to appeal more to … if not more affluent people, but people who are travelling for business or leisure between Pearson and Union exclusively … and it does feel as though there’s a resistance to the appearance of this being a commuter train.”

Metrolinx to release new schedules ‘in coming days’

A statement issued by Metrolinx staff late Tuesday said they received the direction from Sarkaria.

“We confirm that we will not be moving forward with the changes. We will be posting updated schedules in the coming days to reflect this direction,” the brief statement said.

Before Sarkaria announced the change in course Tuesday evening, CityNews contacted Metrolinx earlier in the day to ask about the concerns raised by Fuller and other residents.

Andrea Erneskas, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, said the changes were instituted because of feedback received.

“One was that UP Express trains tended to be quite crowded,” she said before acknowledging the changes would have affected regular riders.

“The goal with the changes was really to provide more options to people who are travelling, understanding that there will be impacts to people’s schedules and we understand that that can be challenging. We’ll continue to monitor it very closely … and make sure that we’re reactive to people’s needs.”

For residents who use Weston and Bloor stations to get to and from Union Station, Erneskas said part of the beefed-up GO Transit train schedule would have addressed lost UP Express service.

“Right now every other train will go direct between Union and Pearson. We have a train on the Kitchener line which services both Western and Bloor very close to 15 minutes,” she said.

“There are a couple of gaps in that, but what we’ve done is very closely look at ridership to see where the most need is and right now where we’re seeing the increased service it actually does help manage a lot of that.”

CityNews asked what kind of monitoring would happen to ensure residents at Weston and Bloor stations can get on a train.

“We don’t expect people to be left behind. With the new changes for both UP Express and GO Transit, we’re going to have about more than 16,000 — almost 17,000 — in terms of new seat capacity,” she said.

“Part of the reason why we made the changes is because we monitor the network very closely and so we’ll continue to do that.”

When asked about riders who would have had to wait longer to get to Toronto Pearson International Airport, which isn’t located directly on a GO train line, Erneskas acknowledged “that can be challenging” and Metrolinx staff would monitor potential impacts.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day Fuller urged decision-makers to rethink the plan.

“Please reconsider this decision, please talk to some local leaders in the community, please take our opinions into account, and I would love if you would reconsider this decision or at least do some data-driven research on this before making an abrupt change in two weeks,” she said.

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