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GO Transit must reduce delays
Published: December 12, 2007
Source: JEFF GRAY - Globe & Mail
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Delay-prone GO Transit not only needs to do more to keep its trains on time, it should crack down on passengers who fail to pay their fares, a report by Ontario's Auditor-General says.

Commuters know all about GO Transit's frequent cancellations and delays - wintry weather tends to make it worse - and even Auditor-General Jim McCarter said he was left stranded on a platform this week.

"I take the GO train infrequently, and you know, myself and several hundred people stood on the platform for 40 minutes waiting for the GO train," Mr. McCarter told reporters yesterday. "It is an issue. They've got some serious challenges that really need to be addressed."

Riders on the rapidly growing commuter-rail service endured more than 160 train cancellations and 3,400 delays between October, 2006, and February, 2007, the report says. Over all, only 85 per cent of trains ran on time, nearly 10 per cent off GO's performance in past years.

The audit chastises GO Transit for failing to plan properly for future growth on its rail corridors, resulting in overcrowding. The report also partly blames the delays on GO's complex relationship with the private freight railways - Canadian National and Canadian Pacific - that own 70 per cent of its tracks and actually operate its trains, a problem GO has raised before.

It also criticizes GO for the management of some of its contracts with private consultants and other firms. One, for experts to oversee massive repairs to parts of Union Station, was initially approved as a $275,000, year-long contract but was extended nine times, the auditor said, growing to $25-million, even though GO knew it would need a multiyear contract.

GO Transit's managing director, Gary McNeil, said that kind of contract - which GO's board approved - was pretty standard in the infrastructure business, because bringing in new consultants each year is not practical. Plus, he said, the agency relies on the federal, provincial and municipal governments for its funds, meaning it must take a year-by-year approach.

That lack of long-term funding, he said, is also the reason it might appear that GO Transit operates without sufficient planning: "We'd love to plan without regard to budgets, but we can't."

To partly address the difficult issue of its relationship with the private-sector railways, GO Transit next year is ending its practice of using CN crews and has awarded a contract to operate the majority of its trains to Bombardier.

The move, Mr. McNeil said, will improve customer service by including financial penalties for causing trains to run late - filling another gap identified by the audit.

The report is also critical of the fact that GO Transit inspectors looking for fare evasion are more likely to target trains outside of rush hour, with 60 per cent of inspections occurring when the trains are much less crowded.

Once caught, offenders have only a 40 per cent chance of getting a $110 fine, the rest getting off with a warning.

"Some inspectors we interviewed informed us that warnings are often issued instead of fines to avoid confrontations with riders," the report reads.

While GO says it is drafting new guidelines for train inspectors, Mr. McNeil defended GO's turnstile-free system, saying it has saved GO money in infrastructure and is more convenient for customers, most of whom, he said, pay their fare.


When the GO is slow

Montreal's commuter rail system beats all others in North America for promptness, but it carries only a fraction of the riders that GO Transit does.

Reasons for delays, Oct., 2006 - Feb., 2007

Weather, medical emergencies, accidents, trespassers and misc. 23%

Equipment failure* 27.4%

Resultant delays 14.3%

Congestion 14.9%

Waiting for passengers to load and unload 8.9%

Construction 12%

* Switches, signals, crossings, locomotives, coaches etc.

Initial delay results in delays to other trains.

Comparing on-time performance for North American commuter rail systems, 2006

  Annual rail 2006 on-time
  ridership performance
Commuter System (million) (%)
AMT Montreal 15 98
Metro North (New York) 75 97.8*
METRA (Chicago) 82 96.5*
New Jersey Transit    
(New Jersey, parts of New York) 69 95.1*
Long Island Railroad (New York) 82 93.3*
GO Transit 41 89.5
MBTA (Boston) 38 89.0
SEPTA (Philadelphia) 30 88.4*

* Percentage of commuter trains that arrive within six minutes of the scheduled time (compared to five minutes for other systems).

Jan. to June, 2006, Fiscal year ending June 30, 2006.



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