Monday, February 8, 2016

Toronto's Union Pearson Express Ridership Slumps to All-Time Low

Ridership on Toronto’s struggling airport train took a dive after October, closing out last year with the two lowest months yet.

The Union Pearson Express, which launched with much fanfare last summer, had the goal of carrying 5,000 riders a day within a year. But after taking about four months to reach half that goal, ridership stalled and then started going in the wrong direction.

In November, the provincially run train averaged 2,186 riders a day, down from 2,549 the month before. The situation got slightly worse in December, when the train averaged 2,168 people each day. In December, the train carried about 200 fewer people a day than in August, which had previously been the worst month.

Critics say the fare is too high. A one-way trip costs $27.50, though there are various discounts and it is $19 with a Presto fare-card.

Officials have generally argued the fare is not holding back ridership. In late November, with the release of data showing ridership had flatlined, the head of UPX said it was “totally premature” to talk about lowering the base fare.

That executive, Kathy Haley, was not made available Friday to discuss the dwindling numbers. Nor was Bruce McCuaig, CEO of the regional transit Metrolinx, which oversees the UPX. In a statement, the agency stressed that it “will continue to consider all options (including pricing) in our strategies to boost ridership.”

A ride-for-free promotion is planned for next weekend, as the agency tries to lure in would-be passengers.

The new data were released in advance of next week’s Metrolinx board meeting. The UPX report paints a positive picture of customer satisfaction. But the accompanying graphics show how difficult the situation had become.

Excluding June, which included free rides at the UPX launch, the highest monthly ridership has been in October, when 79,010 took the train. That dipped to 65,593 in November before climbing in December, to 67,229. But because December has one more day than November, that apparent rebound was still a slight decline.

The report said that the late-year drop was “consistent with the seasonal and cyclical travel patterns of airport traffic and included a graphic that suggested similar trends for Pearson and UPX traffic. However, crunching the numbers produced a somewhat different picture. The passenger volume through the airport fell 1.2 per cent from October to December, while UPX ridership dropped 14.9 per cent over the same period.

The airport train, built at a cost of $456-million, has to carry about 7,000 riders per day to break even on operating expenses.
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