Corp Comm Connects

‘If I get there after 9, you might as well go home’: GO Train parking is an ordeal, and paying for a spot would just add to the pain, riders say
Jan. 27, 2020
Noor Javed

It’s a mad dash everyday for John Chu, sprinting from the GO train to his car at Maple station in Vaughan to avoid the traffic jam to get out of the parking lot.

“I’m sorry, I am in a rush to pick up my kids from daycare,” he tells the Star, jumping into his car. He takes his turn to leave, waiting in a long lineup of commuters trying to make the left out of the busy lot.

On this frigid January day, Chu is one of the lucky ones who managed to find a spot in the parking lot that has space for more than 1,350 vehicles. Some of the spots are reserved, with commuters paying $98 a month for the luxury. But many are forced to park illegally at the big box stores nearby to make it to their trains on time.

Such is the case at GO stations across the GTHA, where a quarter of GO station parking lots are at capacity, according to Metrolinx, the province’s regional transit agency.

Last week, Metrolinx said it was flirting with the idea of asking commuters to pay for parking at GO stations, raising the ire of commuters across the region, who say finding parking at GO stations is often the most difficult part of the morning commute.

“I have to add 10 to 15 minutes to my morning commute to find parking,” said Atika Ahmed, who commutes to downtown Toronto from Oakville.

“If you get to the GO station after 8, there is no way you are going to find parking until the fifth level of the (six-storey) parking structure,” Ahmed said. “If I get there after 9, you might as well go home, because you won’t find anything.”

Cindy Smith, who travels to downtown Toronto from Courtice everyday, says until she started taking the shuttle bus to Oshawa GO from Courtice last year, she had to be at the Oshawa GO station before 6:30 a.m. to find a parking spot.

“It was the only way I could find parking,” she said.

Smith said she even went as far as buying the smallest car she could, a Fiat 500, so she could squeeze into the tightest spots in the lot. “I deliberately chose a car that would guarantee me parking at a GO station.”

Smith said she happily switched to taking the shuttle when it opened up in January 2019, but “if there was no shuttle, I would have been paying for a reserved spot by now,” Smith said.

“People in Toronto probably don’t realize how much we pay to get to work,” said Smith, adding she pays $369 a month for the train. “When you are paying that much, I understand why people have an expectation of being able to park for free.”

Anne Marie Aikins, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, says no decisions have been made at this point in regards to implementing paid parking, but a number of studies and pilot projects are underway to ease the growing parking problem at lots.

“We know many GO Transit customers have a challenge finding parking in our lots and building more and more parking is not economical or good for the environment,” she said, adding ridership has increased more than five per cent this year alone.

On Friday morning, Premier Doug Ford was asked about paid parking at GO stations, and said Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government “would do everything we can to keep the cost as low as possible.”

Aikins said the transit agency has 77,000 parking spots across the region and the majority are free — with eight per cent currently paying for reserved spots. While there are plans to add 24,000 additional parking spots in the next decade, there will never be enough spots to fill the demand, she says.

According to Aikins, the busiest parking lots are Oriole GO in North York, that has only 300 spaces and 24 reserved spots. Clarkson GO in Mississauga is the largest lot but also one of the busiest with 3,857 spots with 313 reserved spots. Whitby GO has 3,679 spots with 260 reserved.

Aikins says in many locations once there is a “wait-list for reserved spots of 10 or more we free up more reserved spots.” But at some locations, such as Maple in Vaughan, the wait-lists are frozen. Out of Maple’s 1,351 parking spots, 682 are already reserved.

Aikins says Metrolinx wants to “encourage our customers to get to the station in ways other than driving alone — walk, cycle, carpool, local public transportation.” She says 60 per cent of customers drive to the station alone.

Ahmed says she would love to take the bus from her house to the train, and used to before she had kids, “but I can’t take the bus to pick up the kids and get to the daycare on time.”

Smith says after the initial blowback from commuters, “Metrolinx is starting to walk back on this issue for now.” But she knows this isn’t the end of it.

“I think all of this is all backwards. You don’t have adequate transit for people to get out of their cars, and get to the stations. So the solution is to punish the drivers for parking?” Smith asked. “It’s bad politics, and it’s bad optics.”

Aikins said, “It is our priority to ensure transit costs remain affordable for our customers.”

In it’s 2019 business plan, Metrolinx said it would work to expand its non-fare revenue, such as increasing billboard advertising and enhancing promotional partnerships.

GO has also been piloting a variety of options such as partnerships with Uber and Lyft to get customers to stations.

They are also exploring new ways to use and expand reserved parking spots, such as freeing up parking spots for leisure commuters who are taking the train after rush hour.