Improving the GO-TTC Interchange at Main / Danforth

The clearest opportunity is at Main and Danforth, where the subway and GO station are only 250 metres apart, or about the length of a GO Train (see Figure 8). We think GO is missing an opportunity to earn revenue. And Metrolinx is missing an opportunity to relieve congestion through the crowded Bloor-Yonge interchange.

Figure 8: TTC’s Main Station is only 250 metres from GO’s Danforth Station, less than the length of a GO train.

GO already operates five trains in the morning peak hour through Danforth from Lakeshore East, and two more from Stouffville. But these trains are largely full when they get to Danforth Station, and only two are scheduled to stop. GO could provide more capacity and a more frequent service by running some morning peak-hour trains from the north and west (Georgetown, Milton, Barrie) through Union Station to Danforth, and then returning to Union Station before retiring to the yard for the day. With spare capacity at Danforth, passengers on the Danforth subway at Main Station could be encouraged to switch to GO trains for travel to downtown Toronto.

With a train every 5 to 10 minutes, and a journey time of 10 minutes to Union Station, travel times would be competitive with staying on the subway and changing at Yonge, at least to places within walking distance of Union Station or further south. Perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 passengers each way or 10,000 to 20,000 passengers each weekday would find it attractive to switch, if there was no fare penalty. This assumes about 200 passengers boarding each GO train at Main, or 20 on each car. Diverting 5,000 peak passengers off the subway at Main would materially relieve congestion at Bloor-Yonge station. It would take 100 people off every southbound Yonge subway train.

Figure 9: GO’s system map identifies “TTC Connections” but does not show whether they are bus or subway. Riders are left to figure out for themselves that Bloor and Danforth stations are actually adjacent to TTC’s Dundas West and Main stations.[1]

The cost to operate 12 additional trips on the 10-km line between Union and Main Street every morning and evening peak would be about $1.4 million per year. Assuming, very conservatively, that only 5,000 people switch from TTC onto GO (or one-quarter of those expected to use the Downtown Relief Line), the cost would be $0.14 per passenger.

Costs are low because it would not be necessary to buy or run any new trains. In the morning, the services would use trains from Georgetown and other routes from the west, which have already made a long trip into Toronto and would otherwise go straight to the yard for the day. It would, however, be necessary to make some changes to trackwork, signalling, and platforms at Danforth Station, which might cost some tens of millions of dollars. It would also make sense to build a pedestrian tunnel under Danforth Avenue, linking the two stations, similar to the existing link at Spadina/Bloor between the two stations. Indeed it seems provision was made for such a link when Main subway station was built in the mid-1960s (the station has an oversized mezzanine level between the tracks and the street). Total capital cost for the track changes and the pedestrian tunnel might be $100 million NPV.

Even at $100 million, the capital cost for improved Danforth-Union services would be a tiny fraction of the cost of a Downtown Relief Line. Developing the connection at Main Station would achieve substantial congestion relief benefits, and attract new riders onto transit at a reasonable cost.

Paying for these services requires some rethinking of how TTC and GO charge fares. Few passengers will use the interchange if they are required, as they are at present, to buy another ticket and pay $5 to ride the GO train, in addition to their subway fare.

For the Danforth/Main service, TTC could simply pay GO $1.5 million per year, to carry passengers transferring from the subway from Danforth to Union. This would free up space for more passengers to join the subway westbound from Main, and southbound from Bloor-Yonge, who do not currently use it because it is overcrowded. If TTC fills even a fraction of the space freed up by passengers switching onto GO at Danforth/Main, at the current average fare of about $2.50, it will recover what it has to pay GO. In fact, TTC already has “customers” for the space that would be released on the Yonge Subway: riders using the proposed extension to Richmond Hill. At present, the extension has not been scheduled, presumably because of the capacity problems south of Bloor.

The transfer of $1.5 million a year from TTC would more than offset GO’s additional Operating and Maintenance costs, so both GO and TTC should be financially better off. GO may be concerned about lost revenue from the passengers, admittedly few, who currently board at Danforth and pay $5 to travel to Union Station. With PRESTO (see section 10.4), GO could allow free transfer for passengers connecting from the subway, boarding at stations further east, while still charging $5 for passengers boarding directly onto GO at Danforth who have not come from the subway.

The time savings and congestion relief benefits will be substantial, both to those who transfer and to existing subway passengers, including passengers who stay on the subway, or board further west, because they will have a less crowded trip. These benefits could be worth at least $2 per diverted rider, or about $115 million NPV. Auto user benefits would probably be fairly modest, relating mostly to new passengers joining the subway further west.

Our sketch model, shown in Table A4 in the Appendix, suggests that the economic Benefit:Cost ratio is a very attractive 1.9, even with only 5,000 passengers transferring in each direction. Cost per new daily rider is about $12,000, less than one-third of the average of Metrolinx Big Move schemes.