Toronto’s Secret Airrail Link
You might not know that there are 2 airports in Toronto and you’d be forgiven as a public transport user for not knowing about Billy Bishop Airport, in downtown Toronto. The airport is entirely absent from public transport way finding and mapping, despite the fact that it is on a light rail line directly from Union Station hub.
The passenger terminal entrance is only a short walk from a light rail stop on the corner of Bathurst Street and Queen’s Quay.
Once inside the terminal, you take Canada’s shortest ferry shuttle to security screening and the gates. The ferry will be replaced by a pedestrian tunnel next year.
Passengers can reach the 509 Harbourfront service streetcar/light rail service from Union Station where there is a cross platform interchange from Line 1 of the Subway; however, absolutely no signage anywhere on the system or station mention that this link exists. Signs only point a passengers to an unspecified Streetcar.
On the platform, the streetcars are identified by route number. Journey time between Union Station and Billy Bishop Airport is approximately 14 minutes, with service 509 leaving Union approximately every 7 minutes.
Perhaps because of this unadvertised route, one of the airlines operates its own shuttle bus service between Union Station and the airport.
Since Toronto is celebrating the launch of its UP Express rail link to the larger Pearson Airport it might be a good time to start advertising its existing rail link to the city’s other airport. If you’re unsure how close the airport is to downtown, here’s a clue…
Context – Billy Bishop handled 2.4 million passengers in 2014, compared to 38.6 million at Pearson.
By comparison, London City Airport handled 3.6 million passengers compared to 73.4 million at Heathrow.
Update 1: We received a comment from Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Customer Communications Manger, Deborah Brown:
“The streetcar line servicing Billy Bishop Airport is the 509 Harbourfront which departs from Union Station. There is, as you’ve noted, a shuttle service from Union station to the Billy Bishop and as a result, most passengers choose this route over public transit.”
So it would seem that the TTC would rather rely on passengers using the Porter Airlines shuttle bus instead of their (public service) light rail link. Do they not realise they have a catchment of passengers to serve on this route?
No wonder it’s not signposted!
Update 2: We have received a subsequent response from TTC’s Manager of Design & Wayfinding, Ian Dickson:
“The TTC does not run service to Billy Bishop Airport. To say we do, or claim our 509 Harbourfront line is equivalent to the direct to terminal (free) shuttle service offered by the airlines, would represent a false claim. Clearly, the shuttle is the best way to get to the airport, especially if you have heavy suitcases or are elderly. At the moment, TTC service to the BBA is a service planning issue not a wayfinding issue.”
I don’t agree with this response at all. As I mentioned above, there is a cross platform interchange from Subway Line 1 to the Harbourfront streetcar/light rail. I really don’t understand TTC think a passenger would be better off taking a shuttle bus when this would require an interchange up two flights of stairs, through the ticket barrier, up two more flights of stairs to the street, then walking 300 metres down the street to wait at a bus stop with no shelter, all whilst carrying their luggage. The cost is irrelevant if they are already within the public transport system.
I can only conclude that the TTC feels no obligation to provide a service from a subway system that they operate to an airport that they, secretly, serve – let the airlines sort it out!
Author: Liam Henderson