Toronto’s Go Transit is a Great Regional Passenger Rail Service

Begun in 1967 with one commuter rail line, Go Transit now has 7 lines. Daily ridership on Go Transit trains is 215,000. This is carried with 1,500 train trips a week. The Province of Ontario this April announced a 13.5 billion dollar plan which will electrify 5 of the 7 rail lines by 2024.By 2020 the plan is to expand weekly train trips to 2,200. When electrification is finished this number will rise to 6,000. Most of the new train service will be during non-rush hours and expanded weekend service. Several lines are expected to run 7 days a week and for much of the day with trains 15 minutes apart in both directions. Running times will also be shorten, particularly during rush hours with the electrified trains.

By comparison, Southern California’s Metrolink service also has 7 rail lines. While Toronto’s greater Metro area population is just over 6 million, that of the greater Los Angeles Metro area is 18 million. Metrolink’s daily ridership is just under 50,000 and has been declining recently. Toronto has avoided much of the urban sprawl common in most urban areas in the United States. Toronto didn’t build lots of free parking or as many new roads as major cities in the US did after World War II. The city of Toronto has an excellent public transportation system and the city center is a major job market. Also a major factor in Go Transit’s success is a combination of good service and market penetration.

Go Transit doesn’t just run trains, it also runs buses. While Go Transit’s trains have 281 route miles, its bus service has 1,737 route miles. The Go Transit buses carry 56,000 passengers daily. The Go Transit buses do 3 jobs. Many passengers use the buses exclusively for their trips from origin to destination. Many of the bus lines work as feeders to the trains lines, by serving areas without rail service and connecting at train stations. The third use of the buses is to augment train service by serving the trains stations on a rail line at times when trains are not running such as on weekends and off peak travel periods.

The Go Transit buses makes Go Transit service much more convenient. One of the main complaints about public transportation is: it isn’t convenient. Often there isn’t service when or to places people want to go to or from. Often arrival times are either minutes too late or very early meaning time wasted riding public transportation. Sometimes there is no rail service at all. For many people the fear of missing the last train of the morning or last train of the night keeps them from taking the train. Also the prospect of being stuck when there is a family emergency or other reasons to go home in the middle of the day keeps people off the train.

The plan for future Go Transit trains is to run more 7 days a week all day long to make them as convenient for as many people as possible. To often in many places, rail service doesn’t go to or from where many people want to travel at the times they want to travel. Connecting bus service has gone a long way in Toronto to fix many of these problems: economically. On most rail services, ridership grows when there is frequent service. When rail service is cut, ridership goes down, even on the lines not affected by the cutbacks.

Caltrain  is so crowded now that it doesn’t need more ridership at the moment. But Metrolink certainly needs more riders, and Coaster and ACE has room for more. There are track capacity problems in Southern California which holds back running more trains south of Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo, northwest of Chatsworth and north or east at either San Bernardino or Riverside. There is no direct connecting service to Metrolink for the I-405 corridor in western Los Angeles County. Buses can be used to connect or expand these markets to Metrolink and Coaster.

There are several Metrolink trains that terminate in southern Orange County for both the Orange County Line and Inland Empire/Orange County Line. Running connecting buses to San Diego stopping at the Metrolink and Coaster stations would increase ridership on these trains for both services. Ticketing could be handled both with existing ticket machines at the stations and online. This opens new markets for these trains, particularly those in the non-rush hours.

At Fullerton there are several Orange County Line Metrolink trains that terminate there. Adding connecting buses to Los Angles and the intermediate Metrolink stations would improve ridership there as well. With full double tracking in the San Fernando Valley planned soon on the Ventura Line, it will make sense to run more trains to Chatsworth. This could include connecting buses at Chatsworth to Ventura County to increase ridership and make travel more convenient in this region.

What is missing in Los Angeles is good public transportation to the I-405 corridor to the rest of the region. Buses should connect to the Metrolink Antelope Valley and Ventura Lines at Burbank and Van Nuys to Westwood, Culver City, LAX and the South Bay of Los Angeles County.Some of these buses could link to Norwalk to provide connecting service to the Orange County and 91 Metrolink Lines.

There are plenty of places in the Inland Empire that would benefit with connecting buses to Metrolink. Simply connecting by bus Riverside and San Bernardino would bring connections to more places for more riders to more trains. Having bus connections from these 2 end points can serve the Palm Springs and Victoville areas. With the extension of the 91 Line from Riverside to Perris coming this year, thought should be given to running connecting buses south of Perris to Escondido and downtown San Diego on the I-15.

Connecting bus services would be relatively inexpensive to start up while greatly increasing the number of markets Southern Californians could travel by bus and train. In Northern California bus connections on ACE to Modesto and Merced would open new markets. There are plans by ACE to extend service to these 2 cities. Bus connections could be added before track work is done to serve Modesto and Merced. After these cities have ACE train service, additional bus service could create more frequent service. ACE could add additional frequencies with buses on their core market between Stockton and San Jose . This would increase rail ridership since many riders could take the train in one direction and the bus in an other at more convenient times.

Connecting buses have been successfully used for years on California’s supported Amtrak trains. Go Transit’s success is in good part dependent on the use of supporting bus service, in addition to good connections to the many local transit service in the Toronto Metro area. So why hasn’t more been done for more bus service for the Regional Rail services in California? The point shouldn’t be to run trains, but to provide better, more convenient transportation service.

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