As GO Transit and UP Express customers plan future return after being away during pandemic – How one woman’s trip into Toronto may give assurance to others who haven’t been on a bus or train in many months

It started with a letter in the post, rather than in an in-box. Retired nurse, Barbara Cochrane, wanted to recount her recent first journey using GO Transit. We thought it could encourage not only the transit staff who helped her along that winter day, but also give assurance to customers who are making plans to soon return to regular rides.

There’s just something about a letter that comes through regular post.

Every day, Metrolinx and the different divisions it watches over – GO Transit, UP Express, PRESTO, along with the many transit projects underway across the greater Toronto area – get feedback. It comes traditionally through social media, emails, telephone calls, more recently virtual community gatherings, digital feedback and even out inside businesses and on front porches. There’s also regular letters moving through the system, even during COVID-19.

Much of it is constructive, sometimes challenging and most often thoughtful to help shape decisions that guide the most complex mass transit systems in the country.

And then there’s some feedback that says everything just sucks.

Image shows a smiling couple.
Barbara and husband, John Cochrane, in an image taken during a past – pre-COVID – anniversary dinner. (Supplied image)

But after taking her first trip on GO Transit – on a cold, winter’s day amid a pandemic – retired, 77-year-old Kitchener-Waterloo Region nurse, Barbara Cochrane, didn’t feel that way. The letter she took the time to mail in is a tribute to the transit staff who made her journey something worth remembering.

“I was nervous – have poor mobility and I was overwhelmed.”

First-time GO Transit customer Barbara Cochrane

But without reading too much into it, the words should also inspire and bring assurance to those who may have ridden on the system many times – but haven’t for the better part of a year, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions and cautions.

But for Barbara, it was her first trip ever on GO Transit.

Married to a well-known retired chiropractor, Dr. John Cochrane, Barbara needed to travel to Toronto for an orthopedic appointment just over a month ago.

“I was nervous – have poor mobility and I was overwhelmed,” she writes in her letter.

“It was bitter cold. I had driven 35 minutes away. My wipers were frozen the entire trip.”

A couple walks along a platform.
A couple walks along a Union Station platform during a weekday rush hour. Before COVID-19, at least 91 per cent of train ridership was to and from Union Station, while about 33 per cent of all bus passengers travelled to and from the city of Toronto. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

She recalls that throughout her journey, staff watched out for her, including at Toronto’s Union Station, where a Metrolinx staff member, who she recalls as ‘Ann’, helped her get a taxi.

That same customer service attendant again watched over Barbara as she came back to Union Station, for a return trip to Bramalea: “Ann again stuck with me, made a comfortable seat, kept an eye on me.”

Kind and Caring

On the GO train, another staff member, Jason, a customer service ambassador, continued to guide her along her first GO Transit journey, helping with her mobility needs.

“He had to take several calls from Bramalea to help with this,” she notes. “He still had his own job obligations on our numerous stops. He was kind and caring too.”

Another employee helped the grandmother of five get to her connecting GO bus at Bramalea Station.

“If you need a testimony, please count me in,” she assured.

“Thank you from a 77-year-old, first time, with poor mobility, frightened and nervous citizen.”

Waiting for You

She concluded her letter by also including recommendations for signage improvements at Kitchener Station.

If you’re thinking we’re using this letter to sing the praises of our transit staff, well you’re right. But a lot of riders have been away from GO Transit and UP Express and their usual travelling routines for a very long time. And discussions are taking place as customers prepare to return.

If Barbara’s letter, and travels on a very cold day, are any indication, there’s some good people who are waiting to help everyone along their way.