Metrolinx bucks North American trend in transit – A by-the-numbers breakdown of 2019, and a new year to come for GO, PRESTO and UP Express

While for some customers, it seems like the world just partied like it was 1999, a whole new decade is fast approaching. Using stats, figures and facts, we take a look at how far the transit agency has come, and where it’s going as we all greet 2020.

It’s not surprising that a transit agency would speak loudest using numbers.

For Metrolinx, it’s the times posted on arrival and departure boards for UP Express and GO Transit, important bus route numbers and even the digital digits that allow the PRESTO fare system to work for customers.

Usually, on this site, we use words and images to tell the stories of those who allow us to carry them across important journeys, staff who are trying to improve each trip and transit experts building possibilities for tomorrow. But as a new decade waits just around the next bend, we thought we’d use some telling numbers to explain how we’ve done.

A GO train makes a run along tracks during an early morning commute.

Industry stats show Metrolinx is growing, as other North American transit services are shrinking or stalling. (Metrolinx photo)

And, sticking with our by-the-numbers theme, we’ll even countdown the likely top 10 projects for 2020 and beyond.

Let’s start with some big-picture figures.

While many transit agencies across North America have experienced declining ridership – one past analysis of American trends found 31 of 35 major metropolitan centres saw a drop in ridership – Metrolinx has experienced growth in both GO Transit and UP Express ridership.

An UP Express train heads out of the Toronto airport, as the sun shines bright above.

An UP Express train leaves Pearson International Airport, heading to Union Station. (Metrolinx photo)

That number over the past two years? An impressive 35 per cent, said Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster.

“Ridership growth is therefore not a surprise — a direct result of making service better, more frequent, improving connections, and expanding customer benefits, like Kids GO Free and lower fares for shorter trips,” Verster noted.

A decade ago, 55 million people rode GO Transit annually. Fast forward to 2019, and when all tabulations are done, an expected 75 million people will have travelled on UP Express and GO Transit. That’s an incredible increase of 36 per cent.

Recent 2019 stats found more than 91 per cent of UP Express customers reported they were happy with their experience on the train route that connects Union Station with Toronto Pearson International Airport.

This year, Metrolinx spent $4 billion on construction projects and have work underway on 10 GO Stations, including Bloomington, Kipling and Cooksville.

Image shows a line of TTC gates, with PRESTO readers.

More TTC riders are using PRESTO, as the Toronto Transit Commission moves past pockets filled with tokens and change. (Metrolinx photo)

An estimated 83 per cent of TTC customers are now using PRESTO.

Service to Kitchener has doubled, there are later trains to Brampton, the Stouffville line saw the introduction of weekend runs in 2019 and, years ahead of schedule, trains go to Niagara every day.

And here’s a bit of a number – or rather homophone – that attracted a lot of public attention. This year saw the introduction of Metrolinx’s first K9 unit. You can see that story here.

A furry member of the K9 unit patrols Union Station tracks, along with his human handler.

A furry K9 transit officer, and human partner, patrol Union Station. (Metrolinx photo)

And speaking of seeing stories, Metrolinx News has posted more than 275 features so far in 2019, and has seen – as we’ve changed our editorial direction to showing you the inner workings of your transit system as well as timely news you can use – an almost 700 per cent annual increase in readership over 2018.

WATCH: Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster with a special holiday message.

But there are more stories to tell in 2020. And we have lots more to do to keep up the positive momentum into the next decade.

Image shows a construction site, with tractors digging holes near tracks.

An expansion of GO service, as well as new light rail transit routes, will continue into 2020. (Metrolinx photo)

So now, let’s figure out what’s ahead. We could list 100 things, but let’s keep with tradition on these kinds of end-of-year lists, and look at the likely top 10 storylines of 2020 and just beyond.

  1. The brand new Union Station Bus Terminal will open in 2020. This state of the art facility is a partnership between Metrolinx and Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines, and is part of the larger CIBC Square development.
  2. The new Bay GO Concourse will welcome the first visitors next year.
  3. Wi-Fi on all GO buses and trains is being fired up, allowing customers to surf while they ride.
  4. New PRESTO devices will be rolled out at some GO Stations and throughout the 905 on GO to replace decade-old devices.
  5. An open payment pilot for PRESTO will launch, giving customers a look at the future when the can have more ways to pay for transit.
  6. The Ontario Line, Eglinton Crosstown West Extension, Scarborough Subway Extension and Yonge North Subway Extension will move forward, with community consultations, procurement, and early works starting across numerous projects.
  7. The public will have an opportunity to provide feedback at open houses on the subway projects and at community offices, and Metrolinx’s roaming town halls will also continue to hit the road to hear from customers and communities.
  8. Crosstown’s Mount Dennis station will be finished in 2020 — the first of Eglinton light rail transit (LRT) station and stop to be completed.
  9. Half of Crosstown’s LRT track will be laid across the alignment of the 25 km project in 2020 and the public will see light rail vehicle testing between stations.
  10. GO ridership is expected to continue to grow, as will the push to help people find new ways to get to the station rather than driving alone.

Without being eye-rolling or patronizing, no end-of-year list of numbers would be complete for Metrolinx without an additional important one – standing for each of the unique customers who spend their time and money with us.

All the figures we’ve gone over in this feature start with that absolute certainty – as will 2020.

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, senior manager, Metrolinx Media Relations and Issues.