It was originally slated to be a three-year experiment, but early ridership success cemented GO Transit’s future as an inter-regional commuter service and the transit agency, which now carries around 70 million people annually, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
GO (Government of Ontario) Transit began operations on May 23, 1967, as officials launched train service on the Lakeshore line with the first train heading eastbound to Toronto from Oakville at 5:50 a.m.
“[GO Transit] was created in Canada’s centennial year mostly as a pilot to see if there was any interest in people commuting into Toronto and home again rather than drive to work,” Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins told Global News.
“Their predictions for ridership were based on a best estimate because it just never had happened before, a commuter service like this, and they surpassed that in the first year … so it was pretty clear there was a demand for it.”
Officials wanted to make train travel competitive with the car. To ride the train between Oakville and Union stations, it cost just 95 cents in 1967 (which works out to $6.92 in 2017 dollars, according to the Bank of Canada). The current ticket fare of $8.65. To ride the full line between Hamilton and Pickering back in the ’60s, it cost $2 (or $14.57 in 2017 dollars).
According to Metrolinx, 2.5 million people ended up riding along the Lakeshore line during the first year – a higher-than-expected ridership level.
The demand for train service over the past five decades hasn’t waned, Aikins said. She said ridership has continued to rise annually. GO train service expanded to seven rail lines from the initial one. However, Union Station is still the most popular destination. At least 91 per cent of train riders go to and from the downtown train hub.
While many think of packed GO train lines that service several Ontario regions, Aikins said the bus network also plays a major role. GO buses move around 50,000 people a day, she said. GO Transit said approximately 70 per cent of all bus passengers travel to and from Toronto.
So what does the future look like for GO Transit?
Aikins said Metrolinx and GO Transit staff are doing the planning work needed to electrify GO trains and bring in the Regional Express Rail program by 2025, a move she said could be a game-changer for many people’s commutes.
“[Regional Express Rail is] going to transform what is largely a commuter service into a way of life for people,” Aikins said.
“So they’ll be able to use GO Transit like they do other transit services like the TTC, which is you go to a station and you expect a train or bus around the clock.”
She also said the transit agency will be pushing active transportation options for getting to stations, such as making the facilities easy to get to by walking and cycling. Aikins said officials want to see increased development built around stations.
Meanwhile, as the transit agency marks its 50 years of service on Tuesday, an original fully-restored GO train cab car will be unveiled as a permanent installation at the Toronto Railway Museum near Lower Simcoe Street and Bremner Boulevard.
Phil Spencer, president of the Toronto Railway Historical Association and the Toronto Railway Museum, told Global News it will open to the public starting on Saturday to coincide with Doors Open Toronto.
Spencer said the cab car has been restored to look like it did in 1967 – minus the ash trays. He said the cab car is an important piece of rail heritage.
“This is a Canadian-designed car that was built in Thunder Bay … It’s Canadian ingenuity and Canadian manufactured,” Spencer said.
“It represents the last third of the 20th century. It is contemporary and it also marks a significant milestone in the development of passenger rail equipment in Canada.”
Key GO Transit milestones
1967: – Lakeshore GO trains launched, service begins between Pickering-Union Station-Hamilton
– GO Transit started as three-year pilot project, began during Canada’s centennial
– Original train cars were single level, had 94 – 96 seats, bucket seating and card tables
– One-way fare between Oakville and Toronto was 95 cents
– $2 to travel full 95 kilometres between Hamilton and Pickering
– Minimum fare was 42 cents, children under 56 inches could ride for 25 cents, infants rode free
– 2.5 million riders used GO trains during first year
1970: – First GO buses unveiled at Queen’s Park, service linked Hamilton and Oshawa
– Commuter service launched between Toronto and Newmarket
1973: – On-demand minibus service created to provide door-to-door service between homes and certain subway stations, plazas, service ran six days a week until 1976
1974: – Georgetown GO train services began, new service west Toronto, Brampton and Georgetown
1978: – Bi-level train cars go into service
– Richmond Hill GO train service began
1979: – GO Transit moved into new Bay concourse at Union Station
1980s – Minimum fare was $1.35, maximum was $2.50, fare for children was 68 cents
1981: – Milton GO train service began
– Bus service introduced to service Canada’s Wonderland, coincided with theme park’s opening
1982: – Train service between Bradford and Stouffville began
1988: – Proof of payment fare system extended to all train lines
1992: – GO Transit enforcement officers sworn in as special constables
1995: – Accessible GO train service began, 10 stations become wheelchair accessible
2000: – First time GO Transit carried 40 million passengers in one year
2003: – Union Station GO Bus Terminal opened, stops relocated from Front Street
2006: – One billionth customer recognized
2007: – First double-decker bus received
2009: – GO Transit merged with Metrolinx
– Summer rail service to the Niagara region first offered
2011: – PRESTO fare card became available across network
2012: – Summer rail service to Barrie first offered
2013: – Largest rail service expansion announced in GO’s history with 30-minute service on Lakeshore lines
2016: – Regional Express Rail, electrification expansion projects announced
2017: – GO Transit celebrates 50th anniversary
2025: – Two-way, all-day electrified service scheduled to operate every 15 minutes on Lakeshore West, Kitchener, Barrie, Stouffville and Lakeshore East GO rail lines
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