The petition is more than 9,500 strong. If you don't know about the grassroots effort asking GO Transit to offer refunds for late trains, then look up "fare rebate" at the ipetitions.com website.
An admitted novice, Oakville resident Pat Eales has done a fantastic job of channelling the concerns of many frustrated riders. She understands GO Transit is not responsible for all the delays that occur to trains, but her petition ought to convince GO's board of directors to show they understand implicitly what their customers are experiencing.
The board, made up of GTA mayors and independent members, will get to meet Eales Friday when she speaks at the transit agency's monthly public meeting. GO Transit chair Peter Smith has reportedly asked his fellow directors to read through all the comments on the electronic petition.
Straightaway, the board will have to consider its options in compensating riders for delayed or cancelled trains. Eales has learned of rebates being offered in the past, saying "that if your train is late, and if you have the time to go down to (GO's office for) customer service … depending on who you're speaking to and how they feel that day, (they) will give you a voucher."
VIA Rail gives "travel credits" to customers even though most delays are likewise beyond the rail carrier's control. Eales says a rebate policy could induce GO Transit to move more quickly on the root causes of delayed and cancelled trains. "The buck stops with GO Transit - with their executive and with their board of directors," she says. "Just as we expect accountability from GO Transit, GO Transit needs to expect accountability from their suppliers." This includes primarily the private railroads CN and CP, plus the transport multinational Bombardier.
It's not as if GO and its "owner" - the provincial government - haven't announced upcoming changes and improvements, but both need to explain more clearly how crowding has been allowed to get so severe before being remedied.
I'm now hearing of delays in implementing expanded 12-car trains because of problems with GO's new fleet of locomotives. As well, the gradual takeover of train crewing duties by Bombardier looks as if it will take longer than anticipated.
In this climate, and considering the strong outpouring of support for Eales' petition, the GO board must make every effort to postpone the proposed fare increase set for Saturday. Then it should immediately ask the province to help the transit agency implement an effective rebate program and accelerate needed improvements to GO service.
Want to add your voice? Sign the petition and urge your member of provincial parliament to take a ride on GO.
Ed Drass has been covering transportation issues in Toronto since 1998. He has a degree in urban studies from York University and regularly rides transit in the GTA and elsewhere.