Survey finds work no longer primary reason riders will use GO Transit and UP Express as they return to transit

There have always been a great many reasons why customers use GO Transit and UP Express. But those destinations are now more important than ever, as Toronto and the rest of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region begin to get ready to, in larger numbers, return to buses and trains after society begins to unite again after more than a year isolating for COVID. Now, a survey has found the top reasons riders are planning to use the services once again, and getting to a workplace is not the number one goal.

Metrolinx has released the top reasons why riders are preparing to get back aboard GO Transit and UP Express.

In an online survey recently conducted by Metrolinx, the organization studied the anticipated trips in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario. In total 2,185 respondents participated in the survey from different regions in the province, all of whom are GO Transit and UP Express users.

The pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way people move. Since the first wave of COVID-19, Metrolinx has been monitoring ridership closely and for the first time ever, work is no longer the primary reason riders will be using GO and UP.

Instead, the data shows that fun and events are the main reason why people will use GO Transit.

The usual nine-to-five travel pattern may be a thing of the past as schools and office turn to hybrid workplaces, leaving more opportunity to travel for pleasure. However for some, like essential workers, commuting isn’t a choice.

Image shows the falls from above.
Niagara Parks is always a popular destination with GO riders every summer. (Niagara Parks photo)

And ridership is beginning to rebound, as Metrolinx continues to make passenger safety the priority.

Despite a challenging year, Metrolinx has achieved an 83 per cent customer satisfaction target​ with more than 40 health and safety actions.

Many customers believe their reasons for travelling on GO will change somewhat post-pandemic once people are fully vaccinated.  Typically GO was seen and used as a commuter service but now, getting to and from work may no longer be the biggest reason for using the service.

Customers predict they will use transit to see family during the week more often and to socialize with friends in the evenings and weekends, as well as see other parts of Ontario

So here are the top seven reasons transit riders say they will use GO Transit buses and trains:

One – Fun and Events

The number one reason for using the GO train – topping work for the first time – will be for pleasure trips. This may include anything from attending Canada’s Wonderland to visiting an outdoor exhibit.

During pre-pandemic travel, business commuting was the primary means of travel for ridership, but now travel behaviour has changed.

Passengers are also expected to leave the region in which they live to visit tourist attractions like the CN Tower and museums.

Union Station is lit up against a dark sky, with nearby office buildings also bright.
The CN Tower, always a popular tourist attraction, rises behind Union Station. (Metrolinx photo)

This provides an excellent opportunity for Metrolinx to expand its ridership to a network of commuter hubs. Because the focus for the transit agency in the future, will be building a connected network – a system that’s not just about one vehicle or even one route. It’s how they connect and work with one another, including other transit agencies, to create a map where riders can easily get to anywhere they want to go. Reasons why customers travel will continue to change and evolve, because their options on destinations – along with whether they jump on a light rail transit vehicle or subway or bus or train – will keep expanding.

Two – Business and School

As the province reopens, students and professionals are expected to slowly return to school and work over the coming months or even years. However, a hybrid work schedule may mean less commuting, the survey suggests.

Business appointments and other work-related conferences are anticipated to increase, so customers will travel during times outside the usual nine-five pattern.

Riders may work a combination of home and the office, stagger their work hours to avoid peak times and use public transit more to see family and friends.

Three – Exploring Ontario

Riders indicate they are planning to rediscover Ontario. It may be within their region or a trip to Niagara Falls, people are looking at GO Train as a means of transportation.

Whether it’s a leisurely day trip to Hamilton’s lush waterfalls or an overnight trip to Ottawa, Ontario offers much more than meets the eye. People are uncovering places as they feel more comfortable planning larger trips, especially for those living in Toronto.

Increased service on weekends and later daily commuting times are among considerations to accommodate this ridership. Metrolinx is also partnering with regions and outdoor destinations that include shuttles and passes to make travel streamlined.

Four – Errands and Socializing

Visits with family and friends are a sure sign that life is slowly but surely returning as usual. Social gatherings are among the most popular reasons why riders want to use GO Transit.

Woman named Olivera Krolj sitting on GO train in a mask, with her dog
Passenger Olivera Kralj rides a GO train, along with her dog. (Scott Money photo)

This desire has been strengthened during the pandemic when so many have experienced isolation. Family visits are expected to draw people out of their homes while medical and dental appointments are expected to have similar effects.

Five -Community Support and Sporting Events

Customers who leave their region to volunteer or otherwise participate in charity events are expected to show increased ridership. 

Sporting events are already making a comeback. Likewise, community groups and charities are helping more people than ever.

Customers who also attend or participate in sporting events are also expected to grow over the summer months as outdoor activities resume.

Six – Airport Travel

Domestic and international travel has resulted in fewer riders who use UP Express, however as airlines recall employees and travel restrictions ease, ridership is also expected to begin to recover for both UP and GO bus trips.

Children stare out the window toward the airport, and planes moving about.
In this file photo, from prior to COVID safety measures, children riding on an UP Express train look at airplanes at Pearson International Airport. (Matt Llewellyn photo)

More research may be required to understand how trip behaviour rebounds and what the patterns of behaviour will be as COVID fades. It is unlikely that all patterns will return to pre-COVID levels in the near-to-mid term.

Seven – Bars and restaurants

Demand in restaurant and bar patron ridership are already beginning to rebound as businesses welcome customers for outdoor dining and, later, indoor dining. The service industry is slowly getting back to normal and riders are relying on GO Transit for a lift.

Metrolinx will also develop marketing initiatives with local restaurants and bars to encourage riders to support local businesses.

Interested in all those safety measures we mentioned in this story? Here’s a rundown:

Story by Ross Andersen, Metrolinx senior advisor for Media Relations.