I had a chance to ride Toronto’s new Union Pearson Express (UP Express) train linking the city’s major Pearson International Airport with the central downtown hub, Union Station, linking to subways and an underground walkway through the downtown core. Yes, it has free WiFi.

For those outside Toronto, the absence of a good link between the downtown core and the airport, which actually resides in neighbouring city Mississauga, has long been one of the many complaints Torontonians enjoy harping on. It is possible to ride the subway to a bus link that goes directly to the airport for a $3 fare, sure, but it would take you about half the day and the bus would probably smell funny so that’s no good. Instead what the regional transportation authority, Metrolinx, determined would be preferable is to pay $27.50 one-way or $53 return for a pleasant and quick train ride instead.

UP express - skywalk
The UP Express platform is accessed from the Sky Walk.

There are a range of discount options for the fare if you’re a senior, student, or child (and if you’re under six it’s free). If you pay with a Presto card, which I hear some people actually have in their wallets, you get a discount. There’s two other stops along the line – one at Bloor Street (a short block away from Dundas West station) and one at Weston, just east of the Humber river – and riding from those stops to Union will cost you less for the shorter trip.

My preview ride started at Union Station. Coming off of the Sky Walk, you enter the platform for the UP express. The first thing I noticed was all the light streaming in through the glass wall separating the platform from the track. There was a retail area where you can buy coffee and pastries (and on this occasion had complimentary cupcakes, which I’m assuming will not be available during normal operation) and a service desk. Staff from the UP express sit at the desk and mill around the platform, standing near the glass doors.

Dressed in the UP brand colour scheme, the staff

The UP Express staff wear retro uniforms that seem appropriate for train travel.
The UP Express staff wear retro uniforms that seem appropriate for train travel.

uniforms resemble what I imagine the train staff of yesteryear wore as they hollered “all aboard” and then blew on a shrill whistle. Chatting with a couple of the staff, they tell me they will be working at the station during operating hours to receive guests from the train and answer their questions about navigating Union station and the PATH system.

There are Y-shaped columns in waiting area, which I barely noticed, but I have to tell you how the brochure describes them. Somehow these columns both evoke the canopies of Union Station circa 1900 combining design, architecture, and history, and – I kid you not – are “based on the image of a person in a convertible with their arms in the air.” Which is exactly what I always think about when I think about early 20th century Toronto.

These Y-shaped columns combine history, design, and architecture while resembling 'the image of a person in a convertible with their arms in the air."

Soon to open in the station is a second floor, a lounge sponsored by CIBC where you can enjoy beer from local Mill Street brewery. There’s an in-floor heating system, acoustic panels to reduce noise, and LED lighting. Since the train arrives every 15 minutes, you probably won’t spend that long here anyway.

The UP Express seats are comfortably spaced and cushioned.
The UP Express seats are comfortably spaced and cushioned.

The train pulls up and the glass doors slide open to allow the exchange of passengers. Immediately upon entering, I notice how clean the train is. Hopefully that will hold up after a few thousand passengers take a ride. The seats are padded and comfortably spaced apart, with proper accessibility seating available too. There’s an area near the door to stow your luggage, but it’s not a huge area as the assumption is that you’re wheeling along a carry-on sized suitcase. You can bet that there will be luggage in the aisles when you ride this train normally. There’s also a closed stowage space above the seats, similar to on an airplane.

Probably the best part of the train and the platform area is that it provides complimentary WiFi. I connected with my smartphone and my laptop and after a welcome message from sponsor CIBC, I was connected to the Internet. There was also an outlet at my seat so I could charge my devices, and a seat tray attached to the seat in front of me folded down to provide a convenient space to set my laptop.

The ride is smooth and quiet. You get some nice views of the city, especially as you zoom over the Humber River and the new elevated portion of track built to connect a rail line to the airport (at one point putting you 28 meters above ground level). It takes just 25 minutes to make the trip, according to the brochure, and it felt like less to me. The washrooms are larger than you’d expect for a train, and there’s HD digital signage with all sorts of relevant information to your trip and Toronto’s weather and tourism options.

At Union station, you can buy tickets from a vending machine for the trip back. If you’re flying out, there’s four large screens with real-time flight information. There are also kiosks to check-in for your flight and pick up baggage tags. The train pulls in near terminal one, so you’ll need to hop on the shuttle to travel to terminal three if that’s what you need.

Glass doors slide open to exchange passengers on the UP Express.
Glass doors slide open to exchange passengers on the UP Express.

Overall the UP Express feels like a premium experience. I’d be interested to ride it after it opens to the public June 6 to see how crowded it gets and if the schedule remains reliable. But with trains coming every 15 minutes for 19.5 hours per day, it sounds like it will keep the flow of travellers moving well.

I can’t help but look at the price per ticket and wonder if maybe the experience isn’t a bit too premium. If perhaps the platforms were built without Y-shaped columns, or if we could just do without smiling and well-dressed staff assisting us, or the train wasn’t a brand new one but just another subway car – maybe the cost could be closer to the $5 charged for Vancouver’s SkyTrain link to its airport.

For that little, I might even live without WiFi for the 25 minute ride.

 

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  • Ashes

    This reminds me of the express trains in Hong Kong. Great post Brian!

  • Beat Bucher

    Jeezzzz…. 27.50$ a ride !! every major US city I’ve visited for a convention has some public transportation available (mostly trains or subways) that you can get downtown for often less than 5 bucks…

    • James

      If you read the article, you’d have seen the part about a $3 fare on the TTC.

      Which, Brian, by the way does not take half a day – it’s about an hour and 10 minutes.

      Also… “the bus would probably smell funny so that’s no good.” Really? If this is a weak attempt at humour then you failed. This is completely inappropriate.

      • Carlton_B

        I agree. I keep reading this sentiment in all these UP Express articles. It’s ridiculous and irresponsible to say such things. This silly sentiment is what lead to luxuries that jacked the price up on a publicly funded transit system.

        • I wasn’t intending that to be taken in earnest.

      • I’ve taken the TTC to the airport myself and you’re certainly right about that time. Also, the bus didn’t smell. I was trying to strike a sarcastic tone here.

    • Salinger

      As James said, the TTC cash fare is $3. Less if you buy tokens.

      UP Express is $19 with a Presto card and there are a myriad of other discount options. I don’t think that’s excessive for a 25 minute trip to the airport with no worries of traffic. Finally, you can reliably predict when you will arrive at Pearson without having to try and estimate rush hour delays etc.

      • Dan

        Tried this once, there was a 30 minute delay lol…

  • Ted Parkinson

    “The ride to Union is smooth and quiet. ” But you said you got on at Union so this should be “the ride to the airport”??

  • Carlton_B

    Are people so desperate to connect to the internet they can’t go 25 minutes without it? Seriously, all of these extras that add to the cost is what is going to make this train a point of contention forever.

    It isn’t convenient for anyone who isn’t on the subway line…first you have to take transit to get to Union. This wasn’t built for anyone but the Bay Street crowd, and I assure you they’ll just keep taking airport limos. As everyone has pointed out, 2 people traveling together would be cheaper in an airport limo.

    It should have been a train and that’s it. No Wi Fi, no lounges with Mill St. Beer, no fancy columns. It’s a ride to the airport, it shouldn’t be made to be luxurious at all.

    • Salinger

      Tens of thousands of people live downtown and we’re not all “Bay Street crowd”. I know people love to gripe and complain, but I think this is going to prove to be a lot more popular than you may think.

      Two people travelling in a limo costs close on $70 ($55 + tip). Two people on UP Express costs $38.

      • Carlton_B

        I live close to downtown and have lived downtown. Despite who has lived where or how many live there it doesn’t change the fact that this train is designed to serve the Bay Street Crowd…Do you desperately need Wi Fi? Can you not go 25 minutes without a tray that functions as a work station? Do you need a lounge and staff to pretend like you’re at an airport? It should be a bare bones fully automated system without amenities.

        Also, who tips the airport limo $15 If you tip an airport driver $15 that’s your problem. If it’s $55, give them 3 20’s. Do you have a Presto card? I don’t. Add $6. Do you live in Union Station? I don’t. Add $6 round trip for TTC fare to get you to and from Union…you still have to carry your luggage on the TTC. You don’t with an airport limo.

        This thing was publicly funded. It’s too expensive for something that is publicly funded.

        • Salinger

          Given that you dropped the point, I see you now accept that two people can travel the UPX significantly less than the cost of a limo. So, at least we’ve dismissed one falsehood.

          Whomever this was designed for, it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of normal residents, like me, will be using this service. Because we clearly see that $19 for a quick and guaranteed arrival time at Pearson, is a lot more desirable than a $55 (+ tip) car ride that is totally dependant on traffic conditions.

          You tip $5 on a $55 fare? That’s about 9%. I generally tip 20% for good service, so about $11+ on a $55 fare. To each his own I guess, but I wouldn’t have the face to tip $5 unless there was a problem with the ride.

          Wi-fi is sponsored by CIBC. Metrolinx most likely made the outlay for the infrastructure (which is minimal these days) but in short order, with this type of corporate sponsorship, wi-fi will actually become a revenue stream for them. Tray tables? Are you kidding me? Is that the best you can find to complain about “luxuries”? I also believe the amenities like the lounge aren’t significant factors either. The space was already there, they’re renting out retail space to tenants, before long, this too won’t be a cost but a revenue.

          Presto card? No, didn’t have one, but I do now. A whole $6, one time and one time only. Adding that to the fare is like adding the cost of your driver’s licence onto the price of a car rental. Presto is becoming more and more prevalent n the TTC. More and more TTC stations are offering it and before long, they all will. And, again, it reduces your fare cost there as well. It’s hardly a major expense in any circumstance, but given how useful it is for far more than UPX, a lot of people have, or will get one anyway.

          No, I don’t live in Union Station. I am fortunate enough to live close enough to be able to walk there in about 15 minutes though. But even if not, $3 to get there is hardly a deal breaker. Plus, if you get on at the Bloor or Weston stops, the fare is significantly less.

          Let’s break it down. Supposing, like you, you have to take a quick trip on the TTC to get to Union. $3 TTC + $19 UPX each way makes for a $44 round trip. Even with a stingy tip, a round trip on an airport limo is $120. That’s 172% more expensive. For 2 people, a limo is still 36% more expensive. And that’s giving benefit of the doubt to the limo, because the fare is only regulated coming FROM Pearson. Going to Pearson, they can charge what they like, and most charge more than the $55.

          Now we have 3 options to get to the airport. Maybe they’re not all for everyone, but they are choices. Only one of them gives you a pretty good certainty on when you’ll arrive there. I know which I prefer.

          • Carlton_B

            I didn’t drop my point, I simplified it for you. It’s too expensive.

            Without a tip (there’s no obligation) it’s $55 for the limo, for two people without a Presto card it’s $55 (two $27.50 fares) plus $6 transit to get to Union for the UP Express, which is $61 and more expensive. That’s just a fact. The math is simple….you’re 172% more expensive talk is nonsense.

            If you want to call out numbers, you’re skipping a $3 TTC ride in your math. So, Buy a presto card; $6 + two $19 rides + $6 TTC = $50 not $44. Compared to a $55 limo ride, which is what is generally going to be the cost anywhere in the Toronto area West of Scarborough (not sure what you’re talking about with the cost being more gong to the airport), it isn’t much of a savings…A Presto card exists for a customer to store their money on, that’s it. At this point it is useless for anything but the UP Express. It’s so valuable you don’t have one…so it isn’t anything like your adding the cost of a license scenario.

            Keep in mind this service was paid for by tax dollars. Any luxury is unnecessary. You don’t imagine that extras (like a lounge that miraculously doesn’t cost anything to create) cost a lot, but you don’t actually know that. It should be priced as cheaply as possible…this shouldn’t even be a debate.

            Anything that exists not to facilitate travel or space to put luggage is unnecessary. Maybe you need a stewardess on your train to go to the airport (there’s one on the UP express), I don’t.

            I tip at a restaurant, I’m not giving a 20% on an airport limo ride. I’ve got nothing to prove, maybe you do. That’s ridiculous. You want to add unnecessary amounts to things, go ahead.

            Do you think it’s a total crapshoot when you’re driving? If you are flying during rush hour add some time for traffic. I drove a couple to the airport less than a month ago and at 7:30 PM I had no traffic. It was a 20 minute drive. What are you talking about with no certainty? Taking the TTC, with all your luggage to get to Union is about as uncertain as you’ll get.

          • Salinger

            You are still are talking in circles and half truths. You say a ONE TIME $6 Presto card is too expensive, so you calculate fares at $27.50, even though it would be less to actually buy a Presto card and pay the reduced fare. And again, a Presto card purchase is a ONE TIME event. It’s $6 and will last you for many YEARS! It is completely disingenuous, and absolutely ridiculous, to add $6 onto a single UPX fare unless you’re planning to go to Pearson only once in your lifetime.

            Perhaps you don’t feel the need to tip, but it’s laughable to say a tip isn’t part of the cost of a car fare to the airport. If you don’t tip, you’re in the overwhelming minority. But even you admitted, you give a $5 tip, so calculating a ride at $55 is, once again, misleading. I’m not even sure what you mean by me having “something to prove” so I won’t even bother with that one.

            I’m not missing out any $6 TTC fare, you’re just not reading what I’m writing. Again you are adding a $6 Presto card fee, that you pay one time and is good for years, onto a single fare. If you feel it’s such a significant expense, then you must amortize it over every trip you take to Pearson over the next 6 years, the term for which it is guaranteed not to fail. If you’re a light traveller and take 2 trips a year, that’s 24 one way trips, so I guess it’s fair to add on 25¢ to each trip. And even that doesn’t take into account that you can use it for the subway and save money in doing so. Adding the full $6 on to a single UPX fare is nonsense.

            You say the Presto card is useless for anything but UPX? I’d say there are a few thousand Go Transit users that would disagree with you. Not to mention, over 20 TTC subway stations already accept Presto plus more are, as we speak, in the process of installing readers. Have you not noticed the huge green signage in many subway stations, including King, proudly declaring they’ll soon be taking Presto at this station? Not only does it store money, it also gets you a reduced fare on the TTC as well. Again, you’re only half reading what I’m writing. I said I “didn’t have one, but do now”. I actually bought one online some time ago when the TTC started installing readers. Now it’s even more useful and will save me even more money.

            There is a person on the train, s/he’s there to validate your ticket and/or sell you one if you haven’t already purchased. I’m sure they’re also able to assist passengers, give them information, help them out if they’re elderly etc. Imagine, having a human being assisting passengers. What a novel concept.

            It definitely can be just that, a total crapshoot when you’re driving. You’ve never been on the Gardiner when there’s been an accident that has snarled traffic for ages? 7:30?! Of course there was little traffic at that hour. But, there very well could have been. Most flights aren’t so late in the evening that you have the luxury of leaving that late in the evening. If you allow extra time for rush hour traffic, and possible unforeseen delays, then you’re just making the case for a guaranteed 25 minute train ride. In any case, why do you bother taking a limo and paying $55 each way (without tip!), if you have a car? Even with parking, you’d have to come out ahead taking your own vehicle rather than paying a limo both ways. I don’t have a car, so it’s TTC, limo/taxi or now, thankfully, UPX, for me.

            You sound very much like Rob Ford. He’d have had us live in stark, grey, cold, lifeless concrete boxes to save 5 bucks; forget about any aesthetic or service. If you read many of the reviews of the UPX, you’ll see that while it’s “nice” its hardly described as luxurious. But, thankfully, it also isn’t stark, barren and inhuman.

          • Carlton_B

            I started to read you’re rant, but once again you’re changing my calculations to fit your argument…I factored in all the numbers you talk about, what is your major malfunction? Do the math again. $6 (presto card) 19+19 +6 (TTC fair)= 50. How is this hard for you? Remove the $6 for the second time you take a trip somewhere…

            Once again, do you own a Presto card? No, you don’t. Neither do I. It’s like a scam to make everyone buy a card that they don’t need. How about just give me the fair at $19 without forcing me to buy a card I don’t need?

            In Paris I somehow made the trip from airport to downtown without anyone assisting me or serving me drinks…amazing. I bought the ticket at an automated kiosk and that was all the service I needed.

            I’m not reading any more of your nonsense. I see you want to compare me to Rob Ford? Go F yourself.

            This was a public investment that should be cheaper for people in this city, bottom line.

          • Salinger

            Once again, you’re seeing what you want to see, not what’s there. For the third time, I DO HAVE A PRESTO CARD, It is good for far more than UPX not the least of which is the TTC and my math is spot on, it just doesn’t support your arguments so you discount it. Adding a one time fee onto a fare is utterly ridiculous.

            The comparison to Rob Ford was in the way he felt about things the same way you seem to. Why make things look nice, why provide a human touch to seniors or those that require assistance, why provide meaningful services, let’s just have an ugly, unpainted, bare bones platform and train. Saving money is all that matters, not how livable a city is.

            Anyway, I see you’ve devolved into obscenities, (ironically another similarity to Rob Ford) so I’ll be done as well.

  • Mikhail

    And in New York as I just checked a similar ride costs $7.75 (3 times cheaper even after conversion). And that price seems reasonable to me. And $27 does not as prices for many services in Canada. I don’t see much point in trying to determine if UPX is more affordable than limo – who cares, the ride is still expensive and definitely not for prople making 10.25 an hour

  • it’s terrible !