York University GO Station was my local train station for many years. But for most of that time, I never used it because it was only served by two trains per weekday, which were not at useful times for me. In more recent years, I used it a bit more, thanks to an ever-increasing number of train departures. But after the end of 2017, I will likely not be using the station at all – as it is planned to be closed permanently. In its place will be the new Downsview Park station at Sheppard Avenue, on the new extension of the TTC’s subway Line 1.
The decision to close York University GO Station has not yet been finalized, but it would be rather difficult to justify maintaining the station. It currently serves only 225 passengers per weekday, which makes it the least-used train station in Toronto. And it’s not hard to figure out why – it’s nearly impossible to get to. The station is located deep in an industrial area, so there is little to no walk-up traffic. There is no car parking, so park-and-ride isn’t an option either. There are also no public transit connections – the only bus which serves the station is a private shuttle operated by York University for its members. That shuttle only connects to certain weekday train trips, and there is no service at all on weekends. Not being a York University member, the only ways I could access the station were to cycle on some rather unfriendly North York roads or get someone to drop me off with a car.
As with any station closure, there is some amount of controversy. Over the past couple years, there have been periodically been protest posters and petitions plastered on the fence at the station, and more recently the CBC published a story featuring people who are upset about the possible closure.
According to a York student, “it would be a disaster” to travel from the GO Train to York University on a subway train rather than a bus, because there could be subway delays. And according to the York University manager of transportation, the new configuration would add 20 minutes to the trip to campus for train passengers coming from the north.
But the article fails to point out that neither of these statements are based in reality. While subway delays certainly do exist, the same is true with any mode of transportation. And in general, a subway line will be more dependable than an individual bus driving in mixed traffic between the campus and the station. And whereas the current shuttle bus only connects to select weekday GO trains, the subway will operate frequently all day every day, thereby connecting to every GO train departure.
And it’s fairly easy to estimate the time added to a trip from the north to the University (spoiler alert, it’s nowhere near 20 minutes).
Downsview Park station is 2.8 km south of York University station. The speed limit of this segment of the Barrie line is 75 mph (121 km/h), but there’s a 45 mph (72 km/h) restriction over the Snider Overpass just north of York University station. So conservatively assuming a 70 km/h travel speed, it would take 2.4 minutes longer to get to Downsview Park station than the current station. Note that since the number of stops is unchanged, there’s no need to account for acceleration or deceleration.
The new Downsview Park station is a direct interchange between the GO train and the subway, so it should only take a minute to get from one platform to the other. Then the average wait for a subway train will be less than 3 minutes, since Line 1 operates every 5 minutes or better. Once on the train, it should take less than 6 minutes to cover the 3.3 km to York University subway station, with one intermediate stop at Finch West. That’s based on the fact that Line 1 trains currently take 6 minutes to cover the 4.0 km from Sheppard-Yonge to Lawrence, also with one intermediate stop.
To sum up, the GO train ride will be 2 minutes longer for passengers coming from the north, and then it will take 10 minutes to get to campus (1 min transfer + 3 min wait + 6 minute subway ride), which is 1 minute longer than the current shuttle bus. That’s a total of 3 minutes added to the trip – a far cry from the “20 minutes” that was published in the CBC article without any fact-checking. Indeed, according to my rough estimate, it will actually be a minute faster for train passengers coming from the south.
I expect that York University members’ poorly-constructed concerns about the subway’s speed and reliability are really straw man arguments. Their actual concern is that they will have to pay to ride the subway, whereas the cost of the current shuttle bus is fully covered by the university. I actually share that concern – having to pay $3 for the two-station hop from the GO train to the university seems rather steep. But the solution isn’t to maintain a pathetic train station and its subsidized shuttle bus. Instead, it would make more sense to discontinue both and put the savings toward subsidizing short trips to and from the university. The same issue also applies to GO bus passengers coming 2 stops from Highway 407 station, and York Region Transit customers coming 3 stops from Vaughan Centre station so we might as well actually address it head-on.