More seamless Metrolinx connections – Free local fares kick-off with most local transit agencies

Transit riders will have more money left on their PRESTO balance (or in their wallets) after a trip that includes rides on both GO and some local transit systems. Metrolinx is now making those local connections free for GO customers. This is one of many examples of how Metrolinx is working with municipalities to integrate fares and service across the GTHA.   

Free local transit connections for GO customers are the latest result of Metrolinx’s work to offer seamless travel across municipal borders.

Starting today (Mar. 14), Metrolinx is making most local transit fares free for passengers connecting to and from GO Transit. The previous 75 per cent discount has been expanded to eliminate the full local transit fare.

If customers use a PRESTO card for both legs of their trip, the discount will be applied automatically. If the local agency does not use PRESTO, simply show your PRESTO card, a valid, single-ride paper ticket or day pass GO ticket as proof of GO fare payment.

Participating agencies include Durham Region Transit, Milton Transit, Grand River Transit, Guelph Transit, Oakville Transit, MiWay, Brampton Transit, Hamilton Street Railway, Burlington Transit, Bradford West Gwillimbury Transit, and York Region Transit, with continued participation from Barrie Transit.

Metrolinx has also lowered GO and UP fares for youth and post-secondary students who pay with their PRESTO card. GO and UP customers who are 13 to 19 years old – and those enrolled in full-time post-secondary education, regardless of age are eligible for a 40 per cent discount.

Durham Region bus at Pickering GO
Transit is now more affordable with free local bus connections to GO. (Mike Winterburn photo)

As well, a pilot program will help people who need it most, with a 50 per cent fare rebate for riders enrolled in Peel Region’s Affordable Transit Program.

Details on the three changes – which all take effect today – can be found here.

These initiatives are part of a broader effort to better integrate transit across the GTHA.

Seamless connections in your community

Transit providers are working together to provide seamless service between GO and local connections.

“We are paying attention to the quality of our connections to local buses,” said Mathieu Goetzke, vice president of planning for Metrolinx.

“It’s a joint effort with local agencies because we all understand that it is in our joint interest to coordinate.”

For example, data on local bus routes is shared in an open-source format that helps Metrolinx to evaluate connections at local stations.

“That helps us to keep an eye on areas where customers are having the most trouble and where things are out of synch so that we can find solutions for our customers,” Goetzke said.

Free local transit connections to go will encourage more people to reach stations by bus or LRT instead of driving. (Metrolinx photo)

Of course, more frequent service, whether it’s from GO or a local agency can make things easier.

“When GO has service every 15 minutes, you really don’t need a schedule and when the Mississauga or Brampton buses arrive every 10 minutes, then the need to coordinate just dissolves, because there is such frequent service that you are automatically going to make your connection,” Goetzke said.

While the pandemic makes this an unusual time to be planning to increase service, the reality is that long-term population growth will create a need for more transit in the years to come.

New transit connections will make it easier to leave the car at home and connect to GO. Goetzke points to the new newly named Hurontario LRT as an example.

“This new LRT line is going to be a reliable, frequent service that can bring Mississauga residents across the city and give them better access to and from the GO rail network,” he said.

In addition to the high-frequency LRTs and bus routes, an idea from the earliest days of GO has remerged as a solution for bringing people into rail stations from less densely populated communities. Riders can book a Durham Region Transit On Demand shuttle with pick-up and drop-off locations that include bus stops, arterial roads and rural driveways.

Durham Region bus at Pickering GO
More housing close to transit will encourage people to walk, not drive, to stations – that includes Transit Oriented Communities at some station sites and new projects going up near Pickering GO. (Mike Winterburn photo)

“This service provides a way of closing the gap in areas where more frequent bus service is not possible,” Goetzke explained.  

Finding new ways to get people to GO stations will be critical as demand for fast and reliable train service grows. Fortunately, the percentage of GO passengers that reach the station by local transit was already growing before the pandemic.

Seven years ago, only eight per cent of GO passengers arrived on a local bus. Before the pandemic, it was up to 15 per cent. Goetzke sees a future where it will be as high as 32 per cent.

“Twenty years from now, we are going to have twice as many customers as what we had pre-pandemic,” Goetzke said.

“We will need for transit to bring in about as many people as those who drive and park.”

Metrolinx is the largest provider of free parking in North America with 73,000 spots (including 6,000 that are reserved) but a lack of space for expansion means that more people will have to arrive by transit.

Image shows inside the garage.
This modern GO parking garage features a colour-coded wayfinding system, two fully accessible elevators, a brand-new car counting system and over 100 security cameras. (Brian Main photo)

“A decade ago, almost two thirds of our customers were driving to stations and parking, but as demand grows and we ream-up service, we can’t just supply endless swaths of parking,” Goetzke added.

“We are definitely in transition from an older, historical model that was very reliant on park and ride to one that will be more diversified.”

With GO offering more off-peak service outside of rush hour, it will be increasingly important for stations to be easily accessible throughout the day – especially those with limited parking.

“After the pandemic, some people are going to be heading into the office for a half-day here and a half-day there, so we must offer some flexibility to avoid early bird competition to secure a parking spot.”

Goetzke, who previously oversaw urban quality and development for Lille, France wants to encourage more walking and cycling to GO stations. Planning for this is common in Europe and the Government of Ontario recently asked municipalities review their official plans with an eye to ensuring more people can live within walking distance of transit.

Transit Oriented Communities, with housing and office space built around stations are a big part of the solution.

More can also be done to make walks to stations more convenient.

“Let’s make sure customers can have comfortable, safe, well lit, snow cleared walkways to be able to get from where they live to their GO stations and vice versa,” Goetzke said.

Whether walking or cycling, riding a bus or an LRT, people are going to find more ways to reach GO stations over the years to come.

Story by Mike Winterburn, senior writer, Metrolinx News