Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for regional transit in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, opened the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) last July amid much criticism based on the price of the service ($27.50 cash/$19 with Presto Card, one way) and skepticism over the ridership projections of 5000 people per day. The train travels from Terminal One at Pearson Airport on a 6km long dedicated spur before joining up with the tracks used by the Kitchener GO train. It stops at Weston Station and Bloor Station before arriving at its own special station on the Skywalk just west of Union Station 23 minutes later.
Unfortunately, the skepticism proved to be well founded as UP struggled to attract only about half the projected riders. While it provides a more reliable trip time than a taxi, at the current cost it is really only attractive to the single traveller.
In order to showcase the train to a wider audience, Metrolinx decided to offer free travel over the Family Day long weekend. It would not make sense for my family to use the train as we live in the suburbs north of the airport. However, having become interested in public transit since being involved in the Hurontario-Main LRT debacle, I was interested in trying out UP. We have also never used the continuous loop cableway train (LINK) from the long term parking at the airport to the terminals.
I decided to have a family day out. With Megan home from college for the weekend all six of us were able to go.
We drove to the long term parking, parked in the surface lot and walked a couple minutes to the LINK station. Next time I would park in the multistory lot with a bridge connecting to the station.
The station was bright and clean with glass walls separating the waiting area from the track. Once the train entered the station, it lined up its doors with sliding glass doors in the glass wall and both sets of doors opened to allow boarding.
When the train arrived and we entered it I was surprised to see how small each car is with a bench seat at each end and standing/luggage room in the middle.
LINK stops at Terminal 3 first, then continues on to Terminal 1 where the UP station is located. It only took a few minutes and let us out right in front of the entrance for UP.
The UP station also has glass walls separating the platform from the tracks. There was no lineup to board and within a few minutes we were seated in comfortable seats with seat back trays, “in-flight” magazines and free wifi. There was staff on the train to greet us and people cleaning the train. Michael commented that he has never seen anyone cleaning on a GO train. It was spotless.
Here we are looking down on the LINK track from UP.
The train was quieter and faster than the GO train and 23 minutes later we arrived at Union Station. However, we had left home at 10:10, so the door to door trip took 70 minutes, at least 20 minutes longer than it would have taken us to drive downtown on a Sunday morning.
The station was relatively quiet when we disembarked. There was a backdrop inviting us to take a picture and tweet with the hashtag #ImOnUP for a chance to win a prize. And guess what? I won a prize – a $50 Balzac Coffee gift box.
We planned to have lunch at Marche in Brookfield Place, but it was still early so we explored Union Station and the PATH system first.
I love this view from the bridge over York Street.
As we walked under this sign, Michael quipped, “It’s telling us to go via the subway”.
The Great Hall is being renovated.
A relatively new addition to the PATH system, a bridge over Simcoe Street.
Back onto the Skywalk looking east toward the UP station.
There was one little gap where we had to go outside to get from Union Station to the Royal Bank tower entrance. I read about an outdoor area being glassed over in the future. I’m not sure if this is the area.
I love the Allan Lambert Galleria in Brookfield Place. As you climb the stairs from the underground PATH system this is what you see.
Just as we were starting to get hungry we arrived at Marche.
As usual, the food was good. It was the first time Megan and Owen had eaten at the Marche.
We managed to get our favourite table, way in back, where it isn’t too noisy.
After lunch we retraced our steps and were shocked to find a huge line-up for UP which continued to grow for the 40 minutes we waited for a train.
Michael, Megan, Alun and Trystan elected to stand in line, while Owen and I walked about. I entertained myself taking pictures, introducing myself to Anne Marie Aikins, the spokesperson for Metrolinx, and tweeting the pictures I was taking.
Metrolinx employees were ensuring that anyone travelling to the airport for a flight were boarded first. They were able to come up the left side of the ramp in the picture above. The trains were not filled when leaving Union so that travellers waiting at Bloor or Weston would be able to board.
After another quiet and quick journey we arrived to crowds of hundreds waiting to board at Pearson. Thankfully we had set out early enough not to encounter delays at both ends.
If I lived in a place where it made sense to use UP, I probably would. Given that I do not, and we have no weekend or evening GO trains from Brampton, I hope that Metrolinx will consider lowering fares and offering a family rate so I can ride UP again.
Metrolinx offered the free fares for the weekend in the hope that it would bring out many people who would try it for free and pay in the future. They were certainly successful in getting people to try it for free. More than 10000 people rode on each of the three free days. Whether or not that translates into future fare-paying customers remains to be seen.