After years of campaigning, analysis and u-turns (see our post of August 27, 2019), public transit in Greater Toronto will take a giant step forward on February 26, 2024 when Ontario launches its “One Fare” program.
Transit riders will only pay once when connecting between the TTC, GO Transit and 4 regional transit systems – Brampton Transit, Durham Region Transit, MiWay, and York Region Transit. There is already a zero co-fare policy between GO Transit and other transit agencies in the 905, like Hamilton or Burlington, as well as a zero co-fare policy between individual 905 agencies. Therefore this means that the one fare program applies across the entire Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. For example:
Trip starts on TTC, transfers to GO, then transfers back to TTC or 905 agency. Pay only the GO fare. Transfer valid within 3 hours of start of GO trip
Trip starts on YRT, transfers to TTC. Pay only the YRT fare. Transfers valid for 2 hours from start of YRT trip.
Passengers using credit or debit cards, including cards stored in digital wallets, will need to ensure they tap the same card for each segment of their journey to receive the co-fare discount.
This advance will remove major inequities such as at York University, where students from the 905 using local transit or GO buses were required to pay an additional TTC fare to travel 1 or 2 subway stops, or walk up to 15 minutes.
The program is expected to attract an additional 8 million riders per year, with an expected program cost is $90 million/year. This will be funded by Ontario and local systems will be reimbursed for foregone fare revenue.
The previous co-fare policy was introduced in 2018, providing a $1.50 discount on GO-TTC transfers, but this was ended in March 2020 because funding was not renewed by the provincial government.
Photo of Presto Card readers by Wylie Poon via Flickr
Ontario Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria directed Metrolinx to “proceed with the development of an initial business plan along with a strategy to go to market for bids to build both the Mississauga loop and the Brampton extension” in a surprise letter on January 17, 2024.
As with all major transit projects in Ontario, the Hurontario-Main LRT project (now known as the Hazel McCallion LRT) has had its share of drama and twists and turns. It was approved for funding in 2014 as an at-grade (“urban style”) LRT from Port Credit to Brampton GO along the centre of Huronontario and Main Streets. It would be largely separated from traffic in its own right of way, except at road intersections and along a segment through Brampton Main St. South Heritage Area.
During 2015, mounting pressure from small but influential anti-LRT groups in Brampton induced its council to initiate a study on other options for Main St, including other routes and tunneling. Staff found that all options other than a tunnel on Main St. had major technical issues.
The pressure paid off. In October, 2015, despite staff and public support (including from Transport Action Ontario) for the surface plan, Brampton Council narrowly rejected the surface option. In response, Metrolinx reduced the project scope to terminate the project at Gateway Station and reassigned the committed funding elsewhere. Metrolinx also complied with Council’s wish in 2017 to relocate the terminus to the south side of Steeles Ave, in order to maintain the flexibility to use an alternate parallel corridor to Main St in the future. ( despite identified technical issues!)
In a complete turnaround, a new Brampton Council voted unanimously in 2018 to affirm a Main St. alignment, with the issue of surface vs. tunnel TBD. It also requested that Gateway Station be relocated further north to better serve Brampton Transit bus riders. Unsurprisingly, Metrolinx rejected these changes, claiming that procurement was too far advanced to permit changes.
The scope of the project was further reduced in 2019 when the province directed that the expensive (potentially elevated or tunneled) 2.4 km loop at Mississauga City Centre/Square One Mall was to be replaced with a spur.
A DBFOM (30 years) contract was awarded to Mobilinx Group in late 2019, with a value of $4.6B and a construction completion date of 2024.
During 2020 to 2023, Brampton continued to study the tunnel vs surface options for Main St and took both options to the 30% design stage. Both options were found to be feasible. The tunnel option provided better travel times, had less impact to Downtown Brampton and had higher ridership. But the tunnel route would cost $2.8B versus surface at $933M and take 1-2 years longer to construct. Council unanimously supported the tunnel option, pointing out that funding the tunnel option would bring Brampton in line with per capita transit investment in other GTHA cities.
Fast forward to January 17, 2024, and Minister Sarkaria’s letter asking Metrolinx to build both the Mississauga loop and the Brampton extension after all. Metrolinx responded by February 5, as requested, but the plan has not yet been revealed to the public.
While this is clearly very good news, there are many questions arising from this latest development that hopefully will be addressed in the Metrolinx plan:
Which Brampton option will be chosen (surface or tunnel)?
Will a second station on the north side of Steeles be included?
Will the Mississauga loop be at grade, elevated or tunneled?
Will the timing to open the nearly-completed Mobilinx section be affected?
What is the cost of these extensions?
Will the Transit Oriented Communities program be invoked as another funding tool?
Will the municipalities be required to fund portions of these extensions?
How much will the federal government contribute to these extensions?
What procurement strategy will be followed?
The McCallion LRT project has had many u-turns. Vast amounts of money and time could have been saved by building the loop and Brampton portion from the start as originally envisioned – a lesson in thinking longer term. We look forward to smooth sailing from now on.
The Ontario government is conducting public consultations leading up to its 2024 Budget, expected in March, 2024. Transport Action Ontario has made a written submission on public transportation needs, with eight recommendations:
Make Community Transportation Grants permanent
Use a partnership approach on regional passenger rail outside the Greater Golden Horseshoe
Work with CN to upgrade track for new “Northlander” train
Support shortline rail with track maintenance tax credit
Introduce provincial banking of discontinued rail corridors, i.e. “rail bank”
Do a deep dive into capital costs and procurement model for rapid transit in Ontario
Cancel Highway 413
Scope new revenue tools for municipal government, and on congestion/road pricing
Cost escalation for rail transit projects in Canada is a growing concern. In a ground-breaking report in 2020, transit researcher Stephen Wickens tabulated the unit cost of completed and under-construction projects in Toronto and found a seven-fold increase since 2005, after accounting for inflation. Wickens presented this research at our Transport Action Ontario (TAO) Annual General Meeting on October 24, 2020 – see details and recording.
Wickens’ work has been picked up an amplified by others, who have raised similar alarms. In December, 2003, TAO raised this issue with Taylor Bachrach, MP and Transportation critic for the federal NDP. We agreed to send him a briefing note that can hopefully be used to initiate an investigation by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN).
Transport Action Ontario recently presented a summary update of GTHA public transit improvements and challenges to a Toronto-based seniors group. It presents a useful snapshot of the current status of this vital public service, including:
Massive anticipated population increase drives need for more transit
Over $100 Billion of rapid transit capital investment since 2010, but more needed
Smaller projects underway to improve transit, including priority bus features, fare integration and on-request transit
Long-awaited improvements to VIA Rail coming
Challenges include operational funding, reliability and escalating cost of construction