Has GO heard the message? By the time Oakville rider Pat Eales addressed the transit organizations’ board of directors on Friday, she represented about 10,000 concerned patrons. Her electronic petition now numbers more than 11,000.
The petition has three requests: The first is a 50 per cent rebate on fares when GO service is late more than 20 minutes; the second is better notification of transit cancellations and delays; and thirdly, that more cars be “added to trains to ease the overcrowding, which causes safety concerns.”
The provincially appointed members did not publicly debate the petition — instead they approved a wide-ranging plan to “benchmark” GO’s progress in improving service, on-time performance and communication with passengers. The board also launched a “Reliability Advisory Committee” that would include riders.
As for rebates, board chair Peter Smith has stated that the money to cover them would have to come either from other riders (presumably through higher fares), increased subsidy from the province or by cutting service. I asked Smith yesterday whether the board could ask Queen’s Park for more cash. He replied that GO has indeed requested more operating funding — to pay for expanded customer communication initiatives.
Why not also seek funds to institute a refund voucher system, building on the informal one that has existed until now? He replied that only 17 per cent of the comments on the electronic petition specifically mentioned rebates. GO had, according to Smith, rejected the idea “in principle,” saying such a program would be too difficult to administer.
Eales later disputed this approach of considering only the comments (which are optional at the ipetitions.com site) as a way of gauging the opinion of signatories — particularly when the petition declares rebates to be its top demand.
What about making GO’s “suppliers” more accountable, which Eales has advanced? Railways CN and CP and transport giant Bombardier are responsible for much of the maintenance and operation of GO trains — should they be penalized for delays or cancellations they cause? Smith replied that the new Bombardier crewing contract, to be phased in starting this June, contains performance-based penalties.
As for extending such clauses to other supplier contracts, Smith said he thinks Eales is “dead on” and this is a direction GO would pursue.
In my view, the directors dismissed rebates cavalierly, especially in light of the fare hike that took effect this past weekend. The provincial legislature needs to be useful here — starting with a considerable increase to GO’s operating subsidy.
In their favour, the directors have finally shown some understanding of the communications problems GO riders have long complained about. As for when we can expect 12-car trains, the board needs to put out straight answers — and properly heed Eales’ clear call for more transparency.
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.