Union-Pearson Express Train Racks Up Record Ridership With Free Fares

Update: see previous post – December 3, 2015 GO Transit Votes to Increase Fares by 5% on Feb.1, 2016.

The Metrolinx Union-Pearson Express train (UPX). Metrolinx launched this train on June 6, 2015. This train was created to bring people to and from from Union station in downtown Toronto to the Pearson Airport in 25 minutes, The trains leave every 15 minutes and operate 19 ½ hours a day. Since its’ launch, the UPX service has faced calls for reduced fares amid low ridership figures.

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The service is offering free rides between Union Station and Pearson Airport through Monday.

With Valentine’s Day, NBA all-star games, and Family Day happening this long weekend, Toronto’s commuters have been treated to free rides for all three days on the UP express.

At least 10,000 people rode the Union Pearson train on Saturday, setting a new daily ridership record for the service.

The wait time to get on board is about an hour long for non-air travellers, said Metrolinx spokesperson Anne-Marie Aikins. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the number of people.”

The service has been criticized for its low ridership levels and high fares. A one-way adult fare on the UP Express normally costs $27.50, but discounted to $19 for Presto cardholders.

“We want to introduce more people to the service because we want ridership to go up,” said Aikins.

The Union Pearson Express, 2014. © Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2014.
The Union-Pearson Express, 2014.

According to a Feb. 10 Metrolinx report, UP Express ridership hit a low of 65,593 commuters in November — down more than 13,000 passengers from October’s high of 79,000.

December was slightly higher, with 67,229 passengers, an average of about 2,200 per day. It will take about 7,000 paying riders a day for the train to break even, something Metrolinx was targeting within three years of the launch.

Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that oversees the Union Pearson Express, waived the shuttle’s fares during the holiday and NBA all-star weekend to introduce more people to the eight-month-old train service.

The UP Express usually gets between 2,200 and 2,500 riders per day, well short of its first-year goal of 5,000 passengers daily, said Anne Marie Aikins, a Metrolinx spokeswoman.

But ridership increased almost fivefold this weekend. About 10,000 people boarded trains on Saturday, and 13,500 did on Sunday.

On Monday, the queue for the airport shuttle from Union snaked all the way from the east wing of the train station’s Great Hall to the UP Express terminus in the SkyWalk. There was a separate, much faster line for people hurrying to catch a plane.

Targeted promotional campaigns, improved signage, and incentive programs are a few things Metrolinx says can help the ridership challenge.

“Because of the positive feedback we have received from people who are using UP Express, we have every reason to believe ridership will grow over time,” the report says.

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