Metrolinx is planning significant changes to GO Transit fares that would make short trips cheaper while raising the price of longer journeys.
The proposed changes, announced by the provincial transit agency Monday and scheduled to go into effect April 20, would lower fares for trips less than roughly 10 kilometres to $3.70 when paid for using a Presto fare card, a reduction of as much as $2.
At the same time, the cost of longer distance trips using Presto would increase by a smaller amount of up to 4 per cent.
Metrolinx president and CEO Phil Verster said the lower fares, combined with more frequent service the agency has implemented over the past year and a half, are intended to attract a different type of rider than the long-haul commuters who traditionally use GO.
“We see a huge market for short-distance ridership which we have not tapped into yet,” he said.
Verster said the lower prices on short trips are expected to attract two million new riders a year to GO, and could provide “relief” to the TTC by diverting customers away from the crowded subway system.
For example, under the proposed new prices a trip from Bloor GO station to Union Station would take about 12 minutes and cost $3.70, just 60 cents more than a similar subway trip from Dundas West to Union that would take twice as long, according to Metrolinx. The GO ride from Bloor to Union currently costs $4.71.
Riders switching between the TTC and GO will still have to pay two fares, but under a pre-existing policy will still get a discount of $1.50 if using Presto.
Verster couldn’t say how many TTC riders might be convinced to make the switch to GO.
GO currently has an annual ridership of about 75 million on its bus and rail network, compared to about 520 million who take the TTC.
The proposed reduction of fares for shorter trips isn’t as steep a cut as promised by the former Ontario Liberal government. In their final budget before being ousted by the Conservatives in last June’s election, the Liberals promised to slash GO fares for short trips or those within the city of Toronto to $3 by early 2019, which would have made them even with the price of taking the TTC.
Making fares between GO trips and the TTC equivalent was seen as key to attracting riders to Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan, which would add stations to existing GO corridors in Toronto.
The Liberals projected their planned reduction to $3 would have cost the province $90 million over three years.
Verster claimed Monday the more modest fare cut now being contemplated won’t cost Metrolinx anything because the revenue from the projected ridership increase will offset the higher subsidy the agency pays for the trips.
He said Metrolinx doesn’t expect higher fares for longer trips to drive away any riders because the increase isn’t very large. For instance, the cost of a GO train from Union Station to Barrie South using a Presto card would rise about 42 cents to $12.82.
Single fare paper tickets would also be affected by the proposed changes. Those for journeys shorter than 10 kilometres would fall from $5.30 to $4.40, while tickets for longer trips would increase by 10 per cent.
The proposed fare changes wouldn’t apply to the Union Pearson Express.
The Metrolinx board is expected to debate the new GO fare structure at its April 10 meeting.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr