Commuters and the Liberal MPP in the Markham and Whitchurch-Stouffville area, are pushing to revive off-peak GO Transit buses on the Stouffville line that were recently cut by Metrolinx as part of the transit authority's regional express rail plan.
The schedule changes, which took effect on June 26, add all-day train service to the Stouffville line. Trips between about 5 and 10 a.m. as well as 3 to 7 p.m. go from end-to-end on the line, from the Lincolnville GO Station to Union Station and then from Union Station back to the Lincolnville GO Station.
The change doubles the amount of train trips per week on the Stouffville line, from 85 to 170, but those travelling farther on the line, outside peak hours aren't reaping the benefits.
The problem for some commuters is with midday and evening service: previously, commuters had the option of taking a single bus direct from Union to all points north of Unionville GO Station.
Now, there's no longer bus service between Union and Unionville at those times.
That forces people travelling to and from stations north of Unionville to take a train and bus combination, which some say some adds up to an hour to their commute.
Markham resident Elise Milani is one of those people. She said because of the changes, she's now searching for a new home downtown.
"I'm looking at places already," she said. "It's expensive. It's not necessarily something I was budgeting for."
Elise Milani travels from the Markham GO Station to downtown for work every day, but she works outside of the standard nine-to-five hours. With the changes, she said she now has less frequent departure times to choose from, has to transfer between the bus and the train and has to spend about an hour more each way on her commute.
Local MPP for Oak Ridges — Markham Helena Jaczek, who is also Ontario's Minister of Social and Community Services, said she's heard from a number of commuters with concerns about the changes. She's brought them to the provincial government.
"I will also be writing a letter to Metrolinx to formally request that they consider restoring 30 minute GO bus service for local commuters, and I will continue to bring any concerns forward that I receive from my constituents," she said in a statement.
Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Justin Altmann couldn't be reached for comment, but Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said he'll also be advocating for the buses to return at upcoming meetings with Metrolinx.
"In relation to additional rail service, we have been pushing for decades to get all-day GO service to the city of Markham," he said. "Usually when new services come along, it enhances someone's experience; it doesn't diminish it."
'Complete service reduction'
University of Toronto student Amanda Ng also travels from Markham to downtown at least twice a week. She doesn't often have to transfer to the bus, but says since she's not travelling in peak hours, she's waiting longer for an hourly train.
"There are many of us who depend on the GO for efficient travel between home and school ... They were more than reasonable before with the buses, but now it just seems very inefficient and just a lot of time wasted for us students," Ng said.
Ng had noticed advertisements on social media, but her impression was that service would be increased for everyone. It wasn't until she received a flyer in the mail a week before the changes took effect that she became aware of the buses being replaced.
"I was just really disappointed and deceived," Ng said. "They're not increasing service for us, they're making service cuts. They might be making more trips, but it's not conducive to the times we travel and what we need as students."
Milani also said she was aware of the service changes beforehand, but she thought Metrolinx planned to add more trains while keeping the buses. In the end she felt deceived, as messaging about the changes promised, "more transit options" and improved commutes.
"What came from that was a complete service reduction," she said.
A quick look at the Facebook announcement posted by Metrolinx confirms dozens of commuters are upset with the changes.
But, of course, there are plenty who appreciate the extra train service.
No plans to bring back the buses
Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said they're aware of the varied responses, but they've been working on the regional express rail plan, which includes the work on the Stouffville line, for the past decade. That includes conducting consultations and spreading the word to commuters. All of GO Transit's lines will undergo similar transformations.
"I appreciate that this is a big change for some customers, so it's going to take some time for them to get used to it," Aikins told CBC Toronto.
The train trips are expected to cut journey times by 20 per cent since they aren't impacted by rush hour traffic on the Don Valley Parkway, according to Metrolinx. The new trips also serve three new stations along the Stouffville corridor — Kennedy, Agincourt and Milliken — that did not previously have service during midday or evenings.
"The buses aren't coming back at this point," Aikins said.
There are more upgrades planned for the Stouffville line, according to Aikins. Metrolinx is in the process of building added infrastructure, which will allow them to make more direct trips to further stops by 2025.
For now though, that timeline isn't stopping Milani from moving out of Markham.
"I think a lot of people moved to the area for the convenience to get downtown," she said. "That convenience doesn't exist anymore."