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Metrolinx offering unlimited rides pass to tempt core ridership back

A GO train moves past cars parked in reserved spots at the Mimico GO station on Jan 14 2020. Globe and Mail

Provincial transit agency Metrolinx is offering an unlimited three-month travel pass in an effort to tempt office workers — its core ridership — back onto trains.

On Wednesday, GO Transit unveiled details of an unlimited travel pass for workers. The plan allows employers to sign workers up for the travel deal, which can then be funded by businesses or employees.

It was introduced as transit ridership on GO’s network continues to trend below pre-pandemic levels.

Read more: Ontario takes step to bring all day, 2-way GO Transit service to Greater Golden Horseshoe

“We are confident that our Return to Office program can help make the transition easier and more convenient for employees,” said Metrolinx Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Childs.

Metrolinx said there will not be a cap on how many businesses can apply for the program for their workers but numbers will be monitored month-to-month.

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According to Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx spokesperson, the network is still adapting to the pandemic’s impact on travel patterns. Trains around sports fixtures are packed and the UP Express has seen an increase in ridership, but morning commuter trains remain quiet.

“We need them,” Aikins said, referencing GO Transit’s reliance on daily commuters.

The unlimited three-month pass, designed to bring workers back, will cost $441 for each pass.

Read more: No GO train delays at Toronto’s Union Station during morning commute despite strike

Prior to the pandemic, GO Transit was working to transition away from its reliance on daily commuters. In 2019, Metrolinx saw its highest ever ridership at more than 80 million annual riders, Aikins said.

She said the service was “inching closer” to its goal of becoming a service “people use for everything.”

The announcement Tuesday that a contract has been awarded for the design and key initial construction of a major GO Transit expansion will help the service achieve its goal.

The government said the expansion project will build 200 km of new track and electrify more than 600 km of existing track for its GO Transit rail network.

The path to that future will come from a mix of improved service and infrastructure upgrades.

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Aikins said it could take “one to three years” for passengers to return and the network to get back on track with its pre-pandemic plans.

In the “medium to long-term,” GO Transit plans to move from relying to daily commuters. In the short term, a new travel pass could fill the gap.

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