As Toronto's airport train struggles to attract passengers, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said the province will be taking a "clear and sharp look" at fares in the coming days.

The latest figures released by the regional transit planning body show that Union Pearson Express (UPX) trains are, on average, running around 90 per cent empty. 

Metrolinx had planned to reach 5,000 daily riders by June, the service's one-year mark. Instead it's averaging about 2,400 daily passengers.

'We can't be impatient'

Both Del Duca and Mayor John Tory attended Metrolinx's board meeting on Wednesday.

​"We can't be impatient [with UP Express]," the mayor said, adding that the service is "fantastic." 

Del Duca echoed Tory's sentiments, saying that people will like the service "when they have a chance to use it" but that there needs to be more of a discussion around the prices.

"We have to have a real, hard look at the fares themselves," he said. "We have more work to do, more analysis to do. Ridership numbers are not where they should be."


Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said there needs to be more discussion around the UP Express fare prices at the Metrolinx board meeting Wednesday. (CBC)

Earlier Wednesday, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig said he will consider looking at reworking the fare structure to make the service more competitive.

"We understand that the ridership levels are not where we thought they would be and we need to take action to try to address those," McCuaig said on CBC's Metro Morning.

Free rides this weekend

McCuaig said a lack of awareness about the service explains much of the low ridership. He also said getting travellers to switch from their regular mode of transportation has proven difficult.

"We need to get more people to try the service, we believe that as people try the service, they'll fall in love with it," he said. McCuaig is hoping that love affair will begin this Valentine's Day weekend, when Metrolinx will offer free rides on the troubled airport train.

UPX delivers a 25-minute trip between Union Station and Pearson airport with stops at Bloor West (near Dundas Street) and Weston.  

A one-way UPX fare between Union and the airport is $27.50, or $19 with a Presto electronic fare card. The many critics of the service say this isn't competitive with the door-to-door service offered by cabs or limousines. 

Another complaint is that the airport train, which cost $456 million to build, could be used to help transit-starved daily commuters in the city's west end get downtown. Premier Katheen Wynne said this week that pricing needs to be looked at, as does making UPX part of the wider transit system.

McCuaig said he's open to other options, but points out that the airport train doesn't have the same capacity as a TTC subway or a GO train.

"We have to look at a variety of different pricing strategies and one of those strategies is: 'Is there a different role it could play in certain markets.' That is one of the areas that we are looking at."


Near the airport, the Union Pearson Express rides on an elevated right-of-way about 28 metres above grade. (Mike Cole/CBC)

At the Metrolinx board meeting, McCuaig said that the company will look at "a range of potential measures to grow our ridership."

These include:

  • Building awareness of the service.
  • Improving wayfinding to make access easier.
  • Focusing on ingrained travel habits of potential customers.

​Any decision to change fares and discussion around fares requires a public meeting.