While not your typical “regional” service, GO serves the Greater Toronto Area, which all in total gives it a service area of about 8,000 square kilometers (a little more than 3,000 square miles). McNeil says although it is a large geographic area, there is a lot of “empty space” where the density is lower and GO focuses most of its efforts into a few corridors throughout this area.
“Really it’s a radial system,” says McNeil.
“The rail corridors all radiate down into the city. And the bus service really provides service across it. From a rail perspective we only have 38 actual operating trains which make up about 180 train trips a day, so we cycle trains repeatedly.
“We really rely on the railways to dispatch all of the trains for us. We store all of our trains out in storage layover sites at night, so at the end of the line they go into a storage line and are plugged in so the engines stay warm and the alarm systems stay active. So the train is there in the morning when it is ready to come in.
“[For] the bus system, we just really look and say where is there a big enough market for us to serve. And then we flip buses out and serve buses. We break it up on the bus and on the station side into three key zones — East, Central and West.
“And we just manage as best we can the assets that are available out there. So even though it is a large service area, the footprint of GO transit in that area is not great. Most of the people come to GO. Most of people in the 905 area around Toronto own two cars. It’s a very wealthy area, a solid middle-class market. So the majority of the people drive to our stations or to bus park-and-ride lots to get on GO Transit.
“It’s not like we have to go out in little fingers into the communities. We try to establish core corridors, really.”
Recently the Canadian government promised $1 billion to the Toronto area for expansion of its public transit system. McNeil says they could use about twice that.
“The federal government, the provincial government and the municipal governments wanted GO to grow and we had a list of projects about $2 billion long. And the federal government said they only had so much money available, but it was really the first time that the federal government had ever really contributed to GO Transit,” McNeil says.
“They came to the table with about $385 million of that $1 billion and the provincial government is matching their share and the balance is coming from the municipalities.
“This is for new tracks, rail to rail grade separations that we’re building where our commuter rail corridor is crossing a major freight corridor at grade. The freight railways have said you can’t run anymore trains and so therefore for us to run more trains we have to build like a freeway interchange really, which costs a lot of money. Taking trains over or under another track is very, very expensive.
“So a lot of that money is going toward infrastructure, which will allow us to operate more trains and it will also allow us operational flexibility, so when we do get service delays we have ways of getting around problems.”
McNeil says that none of the $1 billion is allotted for the purchase of new vehicles. The agency relies totally on the provincial (state) government to purchase more vehicles, but the new infrastructure will allow them to increase service.
“We will be able to flip trains out into remote locations and bring people in later in the morning and earlier in the afternoons so we can start gradually filling the shoulders of the rush hour,” McNeil says.
“So we will still be using the same equipment but we will be able to be allowed to operate in the rail corridors because we won’t be conflicting with the freight rail trains.”
McNeil says that the agency’s focus was, is and always will be the customer.
“The main thing for us is our customers. Over and over and over again our customers, we have a very, very demanding customer base.
“Their average age is like 25 to 55, disposable income, average family income is probably $80,000 Canadian. We know they can take a car whenever they want to, so for us it’s what do our customers, not so much do they want, what do they need.