The latest seismic shudder to shake the suspiciously flimsy foundations of the Greater Toronto Area - emphasis on area - began with a shiver on the platform of the Oakville GO station on the morning of Feb. 11, with the temperature hitting -30.
"This was my third or fourth day in a row being late," recalls the shiverer, Patricia Eales, a single mother from Oakville working in a downtown office. The scheduled train to Toronto was long overdue. The public address system crackled. The announcer admitted he had no idea where the train was.
Normally, they just say, "GO Transit apologizes for any inconvenience and thanks you for your patience." But hearing the plain truth uttered in such blighted conditions - one working day after GO announced new fare hikes - appears to have inspired Ms. Eales.
"We were all huddled together for warmth, basically, and I said to those closest to me, 'You know, I think there needs to be a petition. If I do one up, will you guys sign it?'"
She collected 17 signatures that day. She returned the next day with slips of paper for people to sign. A month later, she is administering a gigantic online cry of commuter rage with more than 9,100 names attached. By the time she presents it to the GO Transit board this Friday, Ms. Eales will be leading the largest rider-led transit protest in living memory.
What's notable about Ms. Eales's petition is not just the numbers of people who signed, but the comments they registered - more than 800 pages of detailed and credible horror stories of chronic lateness, constant breakdowns and contemptuous service. They make the Gardiner Expressway sound heavenly in comparison to GO Transit.
I had never commuted to work by car, and I never wanted to. In the New York City metro area, no one in their right mind would. But one winter of GO trains and buses changed my mind completely. My hours recently changed so that I'm able to drive to work with Allan, whose hours don't work with the GO schedule, and it is such a relief.
One snowflake falls, and the GO bus is at least an hour late. I understand that weather effects public transportation. Of course I understand that. But if you operate a transit system in a winter country, you should be able to deal with winter. Several mornings I waited upwards of two hours for a bus. By the time a bus arrived, six buses worth of people were waiting.
The petition reads as follows.
In recent years, since initiating a major infrastructure renewal program in 2005, GO Transit has been plagued with frequent service disruptions, often leading to trip cancellations, and stranding passengers at GO stations. In addition to several major service disruptions, GO trains also routinely arrive at their destinations late. Weekday passengers travelling to Union Station during the morning rush hour should expect their trains to arrive in downtown Toronto at least several minutes late. GO has blamed many of the disruptions on long-delayed construction projects it has recently undertaken. It cites underfunding by previous Ontario governments for delaying critical infrastructure improvements necessary to handle GO's growing passenger volumes. Passengers though, are more likely to fault GO directly, alleging that the agency shows little concern for their schedules, and fails to provide accurate information when major delays occur.
To that end, we the undersigned sign this petition to request the following:
- 50% rebate on fare paid when GO transit is late more than 20 minutes to final destination
- Better notification of transit cancellations, modifications and delays
- More cars added to trains to ease the overcrowding, which causes safety concerns.
This petition will be presented to the Board of Directors at their monthly meeting on Friday, March 14, 2008.
More power to Patricia Eales. I'm heartened to find someone doing more than complaining, uselessly, to their neighbours or co-workers.
If you live in the GTA and are dissatisfied with your GO service, you can sign the petition here.