Last Thursday, TTCriders members counted riders exiting and entering the UP Express at Pearson Airport during rush hour from 7.30am to 9.30am.  We discovered that on average just 14 people rode on each train, which translates to approximately 8% of the 173 seat full capacity. 

Send a message to Metrolinx and the Province calling for a truly affordable, electrified train with more stops and TTC level fares.

Theoretically, ridership levels should be higher than usual at this time due to the PAN AM Games, a key part of the rationale for the new luxury line.  But we’d heard rumours from flight attendants and residents that the trains were running near-empty so we thought we’d see for ourselves. 

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Empty Airport stop, July 15, 2015

We find these low ridership figures shocking because the UP express train was built to cater for the influx of tourists during the PAN AM Games.  Toronto is crying for a true public line with stops in our neighbourhoods and TTC fares but instead Metrolinx and the Province gave us a luxury line that even the wealthy aren’t using.

Even Metrolinx’s official ridership numbers indicate very low ridership levels – although they’re higher than the ones we counted.  Metrolinx announced last week the Union Pearson Express is running at just 12% of full capacity, with 3,250 riders a day.  According to Metrolinx numbers 21 riders are boarding each UPX train, which can carry a maximum of 173 seated riders.  That means approximately 5 out of 6 seats on the UPX train are empty when only two cars are used, and 7 out of 8 seats are empty on the full three-car trains.

Empty UPX train during rush hour Thursday July 15.

Empty UPX train during rush hour Thursday July 15.

What’s so disappointing about these figures is that the airport is one of the busiest employment and transit hubs in the country, with 36 million visitors and 40,000 workers.

Air Canada flight attendant, Joyce Nakanishi, is one of those workers.   “We’ve got these virtually empty trains running back and forth, while at the same time us airport workers and the thousands of residents who live in Toronto’s west end, are still stuck in traffic or packed like sardines on the chronically underfunded and overcrowded TTC,” she said.

“If Metrolinx and the Wynne Government really want the UP Express to be a gold medal legacy for the PAN AM Games, the train needs to be converted to an electrified public transit line for you and me with frequent stops and TTC level fares,” she said.

But rather than deal with the problem, Metrolinx is bragging about the dismal ridership levels.   “We are very pleased with numbers so far,” said Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins in the Toronto Sun on Thursday.

Let’s just imagine for a minute what the UPX train could be.  The 23-km UP Express train line is nearly as long as the 26-km Bloor-Danforth TTC train line, and like the Bloor-Danforth line, it runs through one the most heavily populated regions in Canada.   However, while the Bloor-Danforth line carries about 180 million people a year, the UP Express line will carry just 2.94 million by 2031, provided the train meets Metrolinx’s ambitious ridership growth goals.  If Metrolinx met these ambitious ridership goals the train would still just be 1/3 full.  

Empty Weston station at morning rush hour July 15, 2015

Empty Weston station at morning rush hour July 15, 2015

Vancouver took a step in the right direction.  Vancouver’s new 19-km train line from the Airport to downtown has 16 stops, and it costs the regular public transit fare to ride it within the city.  Riders pay a $5 fare surcharge if they use the Airport or island stops, but many riders are exempt, including monthly metropass holders.  

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Empty Bloor St stop, during rush hour, July 15, 2015

There will come a day when Metrolinx and the Wynne Government wake up and convert the UP express into a truly useful, affordable train.  On that day, you can be guaranteed there will more than 20 people waiting to board.

Take Action
1. Send a message to Premier Wynne and Metrolinx calling for them to leave a real PAN AM Games legacy and convert the UP train into a true transit line with TTC fares, more stops, and clean trains.

2. Read about the issue in the Toronto Star, Metro News, City News, Radio CanadaToronto Sun, 680 News, and more.

3. Tweet a photo of your crowded commute to and to remind them that while they’re running unaffordable near-empty @upexpress trains the rest of us are sardine-crowded and congested on the underfunded TTC.  Tag us at @ttcriders.  Here’s a good example…

More Information

Toronto Union Pearson Express Ridership Forecast Update, Steer Davies Gleave Consultants for Metrolinx, March 2013

Metrolinx says UP Express meeting ridership goals, Toronto Sun, July 11, 2015

Key UP Express info kept under wraps, Toronto Sun, April 19, 2015

Union Pearson Express Train Facts, Metrolinx

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