High Demand for Weekend GO Trains

Recently we made a short survey regarding GO Transit service available through our social media networks. It was described as being about the service extension, and we avoided describing its purpose. That purpose was two-fold: to get a sense of the demand for the upcoming GO train service from Kitchener to downtown Toronto and – more importantly – to see how much demand there is for weekend service, which GO Transit is not currently planning.

We had 84 respondents to the questionnaire – 48 from Kitchener, 32 from Waterloo, 2 from Cambridge, and one each from Elmira and Guelph. Some conclusions from these data follow. More details are at the bottom of the post.

While current bus service seems to meet weekend travel needs as well as weekday travel needs, people don’t use VIA Rail service on weekends for travel from Kitchener to Toronto. This is not surprising, given that a return trip costs over $50 and that there is only one available round-trip – which leaves Toronto rather early for a weekend (5:40pm). This suggests a high latent demand for train service suitable for weekend trips.

There is a sizable weekday travel demand from Kitchener-Waterloo to downtown Toronto, and GO trains are poised to capture a substantial portion of it. However, the weekend demand from K-W to downtown Toronto is about twice as high as the weekday one, and survey responses indicate that weekend GO train service from Kitchener is more than justified.

Though GO Transit has historically been a commuter service, its extension to Kitchener has reached beyond the GTA to what is a self-contained urban area. Few people commute daily to Toronto from Kitchener-Waterloo. However Toronto is close enough to be a destination for non-commuter travel. It’s about time for GO Transit to acknowledge and embrace the intercity travel market, and not pigeonhole Kitchener-Waterloo into an ill-fitting role as a suburb.

Only 8% of the respondents (n = 7) were frequent commuters to Toronto, as defined by an average of 5 weekday trips or more per month. However 32% of respondents (n = 27) travelled to Toronto on average 2 times or more during weekends.

In total, the pool of respondents indicated an average of 146 weekday trips to Toronto a month (8% of total weekdays), of which 44% were by car, 34% were by train, and 22% were by bus. Respondents expected to travel by GO train a total of 144 weekday trips a month to Toronto, and another 45 trips a month from Kitchener to Guelph.

Respondents indicated an average of 115 weekend trips to Toronto a month (16% of total weekend days). Of those trips, 62% were by car, 34% were by bus, and only 3% were by train. (Percentages don’t add up to 100 due to rounding.)

The survey provided a hypothetical scenario of two GO trains a day on weekend mornings from Kitchener to Toronto, and two evening return trains. Respondents predicted they would travel by GO train a total of 128 weekend trips a month to Toronto, and another 51 trips a month from Kitchener to Guelph — if such a service were in place.

Overall, predictions of respondents suggest:
-On an average weekday, about 8% of people would travel to Toronto by GO train. An average of 2% would travel from Kitchener to Guelph.
-On an average weekend day, about 18% of people would travel to Toronto by GO train if weekend service were provided. An average of 7% would travel from Kitchener to Guelph.

It is important to note that our sample, drawn as it is through TriTAG’s social networks, may be biased towards higher overall estimate of GO train use. Participants may also be overestimating how much they will use GO trains. However, this is not likely to account for the higher per-day demand for weekend service relative to weekday service predicted in the survey.

9 thoughts on “High Demand for Weekend GO Trains”

  1. I used to like going to Toronto on Sundays, but over the last few years the number of students returning to Kitchener on a Sunday night has been insane. Inevitably 200+ people are waiting for the KW/Guelph buses and you have to line up at least 30 minutes early to guarantee a seat. The line snakes around the inside of a terminal that smells like gasoline and garbage. Despite this happening for years, Greyhound continues to act surprised at the number of people who show up, and end up sending extra buses, late. Or not sending buses at all – I once had to wait 2+ hours in line when they split the KW/Guelph line into Waterloo, Guelph, and Kitchener – and “forgot” to send a Kitchener bus. With the volume they have, Greyhound could/should be sending buses every 20-30 minutes but instead the schedule hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years.

    It’s reached the point that I’ve stopped going to Toronto on Sunday because the return trip is hell. If I want to go to Toronto I take a weekday off work instead. So I don’t even count in the weekend traffic stats anymore.

    By far the worst thing about not owning a car in Kitchener is not being able to get to Toronto easily (not that it’s all that easy even if you do have a car). This lack of access is the #1 reason why I would move away from KW given the right opportunity. It’s great that we’re finally getting GO service but this strikes me as much too little, far too late.

  2. One thing that may be limiting GO Transit’s uptake on the Kitchener market is the fact that Greyhound, a private company, is still providing the lion’s share of it. Of course, this gets into a political debate of whether a government should provide a service that’s already been provided by a private company, but there are ways around this that could improve the flexibility for travellers between KW and the GTA.

    I was going to suggest to Patrick that, given his Sunday experience travelling to Toronto, he should drive to Aldershot instead and take the hourly GO train in. Then I caught hisl one “worst thing about not owning a car in Kitchener” and thought “oops! That’s not going to help him”. However, why doesn’t GO Transit offer a bus connection between Kitchener, Guelph and Aldershot?

    The private company that handled the Guelph to Hamilton run backed out, leaving the corridor wide-open and many University of Guelph students in the lurch. If private interests won’t provide the service and the demand is there, well then it’s time for public interests to step forward, don’t you think? And by operating to Aldershot rather than just to Hamilton, passengers have the flexibility of travelling to Toronto, Hamilton and all points in between. By providing a connection between K-W and this line at Aberfoyle (assuming it’s a convenient transfer), we now get a public transit connection to the Ikea in Burlington, and I know some people who’d like to use that. :-)

  3. I use Greyhound as a commuter to and from work. Here is what I have heard from one driver. Greyhound is pulling out of Guelph. Yes you heard me right. The plan, starting around mid October 2011, is to no longer have buses start or park overnight in Guelph. Instead, they will drive them out of Toronto (and a couple out of Kitchener for the time being). Obviously, this will mean delays in the winter with weather, traffic etc. The plan is to run more expresses out of Kitchener, but will do the same service like Guelph (all buses from Toronto) sometime in the future. We expect major problems and delays, especially on weekends and combined Kitchener via Guelph to Toronto routes.

    Greyhound wants to cut service in Guelph/KW. It is assuming, just because of 2 trains a day, everyone is going to jump ship from them. This again, is unlikely as the convenience of the Greyhound sked compared to what GO will offer to start with is not even close to convenient for many commuters , especially those in Guelphs south end who want to park downtown but won’t because, well, no parking is there. Greyhound really really wants GO to pick up the slack o it can save some $ even though this is one of the more $ runs in Southern Ontario.

    Hamilton-Guelph service is provided twice a day, way to early in both cases, by Abouttown Northlink. Obviously, GO would be a better choice to run between the two, however, GO is only allowed to run certain distances (aka Hamilton-Toronto Express Bus) So this would be an issue. Guelph always said it wanted better connections to Kitchener, and there is great GO service from Aberfoyle to KW, but no proper link from Downtown Guelph to Aberfoyle (via UoG) again a missed opportunity.

  4. I commute from Waterloo to downtown Toronto daily by driving to Milton and taking the GO Train from there. This new weekday train service can not start soon enough.

  5. Take this for what it is worth. I have to admit I will believe it when I see it.

    I just got a phone call response from my written inquiry to GO Transit regarding the status of GO Train service to Kitchener on the extended Georgetown line. The lady that called me, I must admit I have already forgotten her name, indicted that schedules have not been fully finalized yet but that, in her words, “there will definitely be service in place before the end of 2011.” I challenged her that there has been no information from GO Transit since the original announcement of the introduction of this service. I asked her about rumours of service starting in January or March of next year and she clearly restated her response, “There will be rail service to Kitchener before the end of 2011.”

    I guess we will know in 60 days if she was telling the truth.

  6. I have two observations (really opinions) about the demand for GO trains on weekends. I support the idea completely in theory. I am not a regular commuter to Toronto, but I do travel there once in a while by bus, and it is not an ideal trip. Most of the time it is weekend travel. I used to have a gig in Toronto every Saturday evening, and would waste time on the TTC and in Timmie’s waiting for the first sunday morning Greyhound (this is pre GO bus).

    First statement is against the perceived demand. An expensive transit service targeting recreational travel is a touchy situation. If you ask me if I would chose the GO train to attend an event in downtown Toronto on a weekend the answer is abso-freakin-lutely. It would be a reasonably priced, reasonably comfortable (ok, never had to sit on a GO train for a long time, but still….) reasonably fast (especially factoring in traffic concerns, 2 hours would be amazing to Union) travel option. However, the difference between asking me if I would use the train for a weekday commute vs. a weekend excursion is that (in theory) choosing the train for a work commute implies that I am intending to use the train at least 60% of the weekdays. Ask people if they would use the weekend train at least 50% of the weekends. That number is smaller, because recreational travel is not consistent. If money is tight, you don’t choose to not go to work, but you may choose not to go to a baseball game. And there are a lot of people who will want a service that aren’t going to support it to the frequency that a high-volume commuter service requires.

    Having said all that, my recent experience traveling to Toronto on a Friday afternoon points to an obvious demand, which is the university students. There was about a bus full of people waiting to board the GO bus (which was behind schedule due to an accident closing the 401, but that is a separate issue). There was at least 6 times that many people waiting to board the FED bus, which based on their published schedule, were probably all headed for Scarborough. the FEDs charge 20 bucks for a round trip ticket that must be purchased two days in advance for outbound trips on Fridays with returns Sunday only. I don’t know the financial details of this system, but considering there was at least 3 bus loads (school buses–so comfort is obviously not a selling point) of people paying that price for that distance of a trip, I really expect that the FEDs are subsidizing the travel fairly severely. I may be wrong in this, as I don’t have the numbers. And I think this is an incredible service being offered to students. But if you simply empower the FEDs to sell tickets at a special rate to students, I am sure it would represent a decent basis for GO service extensions to several different locations. Put them on the train and at least two of the afternoon cars to Toronto will be full. Hell even designate a couple of cars as FEDs cars and put only students in them.

    While writing this I have noticed something about the GO service which is probably the biggest hurdle to weekend trains or reverse demand runs. The Kitchener Guelph route is an extension of the Georgetown line. Two of the 7 morning trains on that route will be starting here and traveling the extra distance. Trains do not operate in the reverse direction along this line during the morning, and the same happens in the afternoon. So what we are asking for is a pretty major change to the basic operating mode of their entire system. I think it is a good idea, and if the first arriving train in the morning can be one of the ones that departs later that same morning there may be a more efficient use of hardware that seems to do a lot sitting around in storage yards thru the day.

    Damn this got long….

  7. Brent – keep in mind that the survey asked for how many trips would be made. The figures in the results are about the absolute numbers of trips. Commuters travel very often, but only a tiny portion of K-W residents commute to Toronto. By contrast, it seems that most of the population travels to Toronto during at least several weekends a year. The demand may not be as high since roads are less busy on weekends, but it’s an empirical question.

    I am reasonably sure that the Fed Bus is not subsidized by the general student population, actually. School buses are cheaper than highway coaches.

    The technical details of running more trains are not really the big barrier – though getting time from the rail corridor owners is a factor. The bigger barrier appears to be in what GO considers its market.

  8. I agree that the rails are the limiting resource in the equation. There needs to be continuous travel in each direction with mechanisms for bypassing problems. I know there are still large portions of the Ontario corridors that have only a single operational track. With the expansion of the tunnel at Sarnia to handle double height trains it seems like a no-braniner along that route. I think everyone agrees that we need an upgrade in both capacity and quality of our rail corridor. Moving freight means thriving industry, and moving people means thriving economy. We can always hope for a major shift in thinking toward rail transport and travel.

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