Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A commute complete with a dining car - National Post

A commute complete With A Dining Car
Via picking up the T.O.-bound as far away as London

Jeanne Gagnon
National Post

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

on Roger lives in a 19th century house on an hectare of land in Port Hope. He has a view of Lake Ontario.

Weekdays, he takes the 7:11 a.m. Via Rail train, arriving at Toronto's Union Station at 8:20 a.m. and he's in his office at Torys law firm in the TD Centre -- Starbucks coffee in hand -- 10 minutes later. He has read the paper and caught up on the latest news of his fellow passengers.

He repeats this routine in the evening, although the coffee is replaced by beer or wine.

"It takes me longer to drive in, even on a good d ay," said Mr. Roger, who pays $575 for his monthly Via pass. "And if I was to park my car here, out of my building, it's as much as the train ticket."

In an often-gridlocked city where homes are unaffordable for many families and commuting by crowded subway can take many people 45 minutes or more, a civilized ride on Via is growing more attractive.

Every day, Via serves commuters from Cobourg, London and Guelph. Southern Ontario commuters made 118,000 Via trips in February, 2006. It was up 6% a year later, to 125,000.

''It's a big clientele or market for us, really for the past decade or so,'' said Via spokesman Malcolm Andrews.

"People [are] moving farther and farther afield and beyond the GTA to areas like Cobourg, Port Hope and even as far out as Kingston or in the other direction toward Brantford, Kitchener, London. The number of people that use our trains, I won't say on a daily basis necessarily, but several times per week, to travel back and forth between those communities and Toronto ... has been growing steadily.''

Via Rail introduced a monthly commuter pass last July for its frequent travellers, who still have the option of buying a 10 round-trip pass or purchasing the GO VIA Pak, which allows commuters to use either service.

Given the choice, many people choose Via, which has seen commuter traffic rise 7% in the last three years in markets served by GO. Some areas were much higher than that: Brampton saw a 30% increase in commuter passes between 2005 and 2006, while Oakville was up 15% and Guelph was up 10%.

"We certainly have not had any difficulty accommodating the growth to this point, and we don't anticipate having any difficulty continuing to accommodate the growth at the rate that it's been increasing. It's been a steadily growing market, and there is no sign that it's going to stop growing," Mr. Andrews said.

Many commuters prefer Via because of the more plentiful (and comfortable) seating, access to bathrooms and food service.

First-class passengers get a three-course meal with real utensils, while economy class travellers can purchase sandwiches, snacks and beverages.

This pampering is appreciated by Cindy-Lou Thibodeau, who faces a sixhour daily commute from her home on Nappan Island, near Campbellford, to Toronto.

She leaves home at 5:15 a.m. and drives an hour to the Cobourg train station, hops on the 6:59 a.m. train and arrives at Union Station about an hour and a half later. Then it's on the subway to her office near Yonge and St. Clair where she works as a payroll co-ordinator for Upper Lakes Group, a shipping company for the Great Lakes.

"It's quite the distance. I wouldn't recommend this commute for everybody. It takes a certain kind of person to do it," said Ms. Thibodeau, whose monthly pass costs her $601.

"In the beginning, I didn't [enjoy it.] But then, after a period of time, you sort of get used to it, get into the routine, get accustomed to it."

But for other commuters, nothing beats no driving.

Risk manager Scott Wylie has been commuting from Guelph to Toronto daily for the past year.

He said he doesn't drive to Toronto because he sold his car. "Although Via is more expensive than the GO train, I don't have much of an option. There is no GO train service to Guelph and if you work it out, it's more economical than the upkeep of a ca r," Mr. Wylie said.

Microsoft consultant Doug Santori makes the trip from Guelph to Toronto about every eight days out of 10. His monthly pass costs him $481.

''When I have to drive, I find it to be a very stressful way to spend my time," Mr. Santori said.

"When I'm sitting on the train, I can be comfortable, have coffee brought to me and read my book. It's a lot more relaxing.''

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Via commuter trips in Southern Ontario: 2004: 521,000 trips 2005: 603,000 trips 2006: 656,000 trips Ridership on GO trains 2004: 45,031,300 trips 2005: 46,832,900 trips 2006: 48,292,000 trips
One of my professors, Dr. R. M. Keeble, MCIP, RPP, once told a story about a professor he had while completing his master's degree in the mid 1970s at York U. This professor lived in Montréal, and commuted every day. He would fly in to Pearson every morning, and have one of this teaching assistants pick him up at the airport and drop him off at the end of the day. The point that he was trying to make was that if someone can enjoy a particular lifestyle in a particular community and can afford to commute to work, they will, even in extreme cases.

The extreme cases of commuting from London, Belleville, Niagara Falls, and even Montréal are beyond the scope of GTA transit, which is why I recently updated my website to include the Greater Golden Horseshoe - as far east as Belleville, west as Waterloo, north as Orillia and south as Niagara. We couldn't possibly expect people to sit on GO Trains for that long, but joint ventures between the GTTA and VIA Rail could bridge the gap. VIA is comfortable and the customer service is excellent, but once you get beyond the built up areas, the conflict between freight and passenger rail rises up to new levels.

The federal government needs to give VIA the funding it needs to become more efficient, and failing that, we need to enter into a system similar to what Amtrak has in the USA, where individual states subsidize anything above bare-bones service.

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At 3/28/2007 10:58 a.m. , Blogger A Deal Or No Deal said...

I've met people who commute on a daily basis from as far as Barrie. I've met someone commuting on a long-term basis, though not permanently, from London. Both were coming downtown.


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