An Investment in Public Transit?

Today, an announcement was made about the service guarantee that GO Transit will offer for its train passengers starting in 2012. The announcementon GO’s website has the headline “McGuinty Government Investing In Public Transit.”

The guarantee will be that GO train riders will get a refund if their train is more than 15 minutes late, down from the previously announced 20 minutes. The exceptions to this will be delays caused by extreme weather, police investigations, accidents and medical emergencies.

So what makes this an Investment in Public Transit? That’s right, McGuinty will use your tax dollars to pay out these refunds when they occur. Some investment!

Operation of GO Trains is contracted out to Bombardier Transportation (with the exception of the Milton service, which is operated by CP Rail). Since the exceptions, quite fairly, involve situations that are beyond the control of the operator, why isn’t the cost of the refund being borne by Bombardier when their contract is renewed? Bombardier has a five year contract to operate the trains that started in June 2008, so there is still two years before another contract would be in effect. The current contract with Bombardier has penalties, but only when a train does not run due to crew shortages.

It may be understandable that the province might foot the bill for a service guarantee in order to have it in place sooner than the contract renewal, but there is no word of transferring this cost to the operator with the next contract.

In Melbourne, the operation of trams (Yarra Trams) and trains (Metro Trains) are contracted out and the contracts require a performance target for punctuality and reliability to be maintained. Instead of refunds for passengers of a specific train, the performance is measured monthly and if the standard is not reached, the operator must pay compensation to all eligible passengers. To be eligible, a customer must use a monthly, six-monthly, or yearly Metcard, or use the myki card (their version of Presto) that was valid for at least 28 days and was used on at least 10 days in the compensation month. Compensation is in one-day fare units. Metcard users receive a day pass for their same zone for each unit and myki users receive an uploaded credit for the value of a day pass for their same zone for each unit.

For instance, Metro Trains is required to run 98% of their trains and maintain 88% on time. If either of these are not met, eligible passengers will receive a one-day fare unit. If the delivery is less than 95%, two units must be provided for compensation and the same goes if the punctuality is below 84%. If service is bad enough, each eligible passenger would receive 4 one-day fare units!

In May 2011, their delivery was 98.8%, but punctuality was only 82.2%. I should add that a train is considered on time if it arrives at its destination between 59 seconds earlier than and four minutes and 59 seconds later than its scheduled time. 

Given that GO Transit claims 95% of their trains are on time, and I assume that is the percentages of actual trains that run, they already exceed the standard set in Melbourne.

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