Financially Penalizing GO isn’t a Solution

GOTrain-0560As someone who takes the GO train on most days, I’ve been watching the story of the GO Petition with some interest. It’s an idea that’s drives me nuts and at the end of the day I think it’s really just the petty action of some disgruntled people looking to take a chunk out of GO because they were late for work/getting home.

I can understand the anger, GO has driven me nuts on many occasions (as postings on my Twitter account will no doubt attest) but taking money out of the GO economy is not the answer.

For those not familiar with the issue, a petition was created by an Oakville woman named Patricia Eales. The petition had several demands:

  • 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

Here’s the problem I have with this petition. It’s clearly written by someone who hasn’t spent any more time considering the issue then “What can I get out of this?”.

Issue #1: Better Notification etc.
I’m at a loss to think how much more GO could do to notify passengers (aside from a mobile freindly site). The already have a frequently updated page listing cancellations & delays across their whole system, and a live snapshot of what’s happening on the numerous information boards throughout Union Station. For the notification of trackwork delays etc. they also have yet another information page.

The reality is there generally isn’t a whole lot of time GO has to inform you of a delay – most people are only on the platform a few minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive. If it’s a super cold, snowy or rainy day check their site before you leave home or the office. Taking 30 seconds to load a bookmark up has saved me numerous frustrating commutes.

They’ve also been quite good about informing people about the various improvement projects they’re undertaking to address the switch, signal & capacity issues.

Issue #2: More cars/capacity
This point alone is a clear indicator that Ms. Eales did nothing more than get pissed off and create a petition without a lick of research. For over a year now GO has been promoting and discussing the new engines that they’ve ordered and are bringing into service. One of the main benefits of these new engines? They can pull at least 2 more cars than the old engines and they’re far faster.

If Ms. Eales had bothered to stop and consider the implications of two more cars for a moment should would have realized why it’s not as easy as just hooking up two more cars:

  1. The current engines can’t pull them – it takes time to assemble, test & deliver 27 new engines that can pull longer trains.
  2. Even if they could, most riders couldn’t get on!
    Many of GO’s exiting platforms were only built for the current length of 10 cars – GO has been working for the past couple of years to expand the platforms to handle the longer trains again, this takes time.

For the record as well, I took the GO into the city yesterday and the train I boarded was pulled by one of the brand new engines (pictured above) and I’ve seen at least two others in the Mimico yard – so they’re gradually coming into service. It’s also not as if GO has been running tiny little trains, at 10 cars they are one of the longest commuter trains in North America, and I believe at 12 they will be.

#3 $$$$
This part just drives me nuts. Demand better service, more equipment and essentially millions of dollars of expenses then say “Oh, and while you try to catchup we want to penalize you by getting a rebate on our fares”. This one issue would single handedly destroy GO Transit.

Yes delays suck. Yes they inconvenience you. The 5 straight days late likely came as a result of one of the worst winters we’ve had in recent history. It’s been a really rough year for any traveler, regardless of their method of transportation. The reality is, you need to have a plan B. Even if you drive, one big accident can close the highway and leave you running late. I’d be willing to argue GO Transit is still far more reliable than driving yourself into the city.

Here’s the head exploding, WTF?, &%$@$%!!!, I’ve got to Blog This Moment Though:

From the Toronto Star:

Eales, however, did walk away with assurances that an advisory board will be established to handle service and reliability issues.

Smith later invited Eales to join that committee. She hasn’t yet decided if she will.

Ms. Eales.

Can I call you Pat?

There’s no deciding.

  • You started this.
  • You got 10,000+ people riled up along with you.
  • You don’t get to walk away just because you didn’t get your rebate.

If you want to maintain any credibility for your cause you need to step up and become part of the solution. GO has listened to you, considered your position and even invited you to the table – to walk away now is just plain rude and disingenuous.

I also hope we’ll see you out at the next iteration of TransitCamp. But you’ll need to check your complaints at the door. TransitCamp is a place for solutions and I hope you’d come help find them with the rest of us.

  • Ben Lucier

    Great post. Does GO have an opening for poster boy? You should apply. :)

  • Mark Farmer

    Ryan, nice commentary. You raise an interesting overall challenge. How do we create the conditions for improvement for public institutions. Revenue claw backs of course aren’t the answer when they are public funds. Perhaps incenting the people that work in the institution would be a far better approach. Every performance turn around I have seen in private enterprise is based on defining key, measurable performance indicators agreed to be stakeholders and then incenting the organization to over achieve.

    Perhaps the executive should be bonused on % on time, % over crowding or what ever the general complaints are.

    Behaviour generally follows compensation. If GO management is slow to change, sounds like they aren’t compensated to change rapidly but rather take the slow and risk adverse course.

    Mark Farmer

  • Ryan

    @Ben: have you not seen my tweets? I can’t say I don’t somewhat sympathize with the GO rage at times, just don’t agree with the way the petitioners are going about trying to bring change.

    @Mark: Certainly incentive is a major driving factor. I think GO gets a double whammy on some of their lines (esp. Lakeshore E&W) because the staff is unionized and works for CN, not them. So they have all kinds of hoops to jump through for any change.

    Absenteeism has been a major, self admitted, issue for GO (although more so in the summer) and I think they’re hamstrung to fix it because of their “unique” labour arrangement.

    Certainly key satisfaction metrics should be part of everyone’s comps. but good luck getting that past the union :/