GO charging ahead toward `smart card' Manager outlines strategies for growth Running local transit services proposed Mar. 22, 2006. 01:00 AM KEVIN MCGRAN TRANSPORTATION REPORTER GO Transit wants to give "reward miles" to commuters, build a dedicated bus lane on the Don Valley Parkway and run local transit services to feed its suburban stations, says its top official. "We're pushing forward with small successes," general manager Gary McNeil told a transportation summit run by the Strategy Institute think tank at the Delta Chelsea. "It's one little battle after another, but eventually we are going to win." Currently, GO is part of a provincial pilot project to bring "smart card" fare payment to transit users across the GTA, the first step to a reward-based fare system. The pilot project will be underway in 2007 for commuters on Mississauga's Milton line. They'll swipe a card through a reader to pay their fare. When the project rolls out in full, GO will abandon its monthly passes and 10-ride passes in favour of a program where the more you take GO, the less you'll pay each time, McNeil said. The fare card will act as a transit bank account; when you use the system, money will be deducted. "Your ticket price will gradually decrease as you use the system. You won't have to worry whether you should buy a monthly pass this month if you're going on vacation, or whether you should buy a 10-ride ticket. The card will do the thinking for you. "You won't have to think about the cost of transit any more. It will be on a card â€” it will make it more convenient. "It's got a computer chip that makes it smart. It knows where you are when you get on and off, and charges you for it." Other proposals include: # Encouraging suburban municipalities to stop allowing big-box development around GO stations, instead asking them to build business centres that would promote train use. # Paying municipalities to put in bus-priority lanes. # Trying to convince the City of Toronto to agree to dedicated bus lanes on the DVP. McNeil said GO is willing to foot the $2 million bill for upgrading the shoulders on the DVP for use by buses only, but said the project doesn't appear to be a priority for city staff. # Starting up local transit systems, or having that service contracted out, to get suburban commuters to GO train stations faster. As it is, transit in places such as Oakville, Brampton and Whitby try to serve students and seniors, preferring to let GO commuters make their own way to the station by car. "We've embraced the car by providing more parking lots," said McNeil, who said GO added 8,000 spots over five years to bring the total to more than 45,000. "We're probably the largest parking authority in the GTA." But space is limited for new lots and it makes sense for GO to run its own service to save parking spaces, McNeil said. "I'm saying ultimately if local transit doesn't respond to this stuff, we've got to do it," he said. "We're running out of land and it costs a lot of money to build parking structures. I'd much rather people came by local transit if the service was there ... It's a case where we maybe provide the contractor with little shuttle buses and then define the route." GO also has plans to extend trains to 12 cars from 10, build new tracks to beef up service and buy double-decker buses to add seating space. McNeil said the ridership growth strategies will eventually mean GO Transit will recoup 95 per cent of its operating costs through fares by topping 50 million passengers annually in 2010. GO already recoups 86 per cent of its operating revenue through fares, tops in the world except for a couple of systems in Asia that make money through land development and leasing deals, McNeil said. "We are probably the top performer in the world," said McNeil, adding the TTC would be second at about 78 per cent. "If you are an accountant, that's good news because it shows we're taking care of the bottom line. "But as a transit authority, it means we're pushed to the limit of our capacity, standing room only and pent-up demand."