UP Express review (Image credit: Rick Radell)

Review: Getting from Pearson Airport to Toronto with the UP Express

Getting from the airport to your destination in a new city can often be a stressful time. When we arrived in Toronto in September 2014, we certainly found the experience of getting from Toronto Pearson International Airport into the city confusing. Since then, the options have multiplied, with the launch of the Union Pearson Express, and with Uber becoming more ingrained in society.

So we were delighted to recently pen another article for moving2canada.com, this time on the topic of getting from Pearson Airport into Toronto.

We had the pleasure of riding the Union Pearson (UP) Express in December 2015, and being the newest of the options for getting from the airport, we feel it deserves some time by itself in the spotlight.

UP Express interior
All aboard the UP Express! The trains are clean and modern, with free wifi.

The UP Express is Toronto’s dedicated, express rail link between Pearson Airport and Union Station, in the heart of downtown. Along the way are two other stations, at Weston and Bloor. Opened in June 2015, in time for the Pan Am Games which Toronto was hosting, the journey from Pearson to Union takes only 25 minutes.

For many months after its opening, a one-way fare on the UP Express cost up to $27.50 per person, something which many Torontonians seemed to baulk at. Fortunately, the UP Express has since seen the light, and lowered fares to a maximum of $12.00 one-way per person.

UP Express ticket machines signs
The UP Express is well signposted from the terminals. Tickets can be bought in advance, or from ticket machines.

To help paint the full picture for you on the UP Express, here are our pros and cons of using it.

Benefits of taking the UP Express

  • It’s comfortable and spacious – comfy seats and plenty of legroom are welcome, especially if you’ve had a long flight.
  • Wifi – there is free wifi on-board, and that can only be a good thing, no matter who you are.
  • Speed – 25 minutes between Pearson airport and downtown Toronto is hard to beat.
  • Frequency – trains depart every 15 minutes.
  • Convenience – great if your destination is downtown Toronto.
  • Luggage – there are roomy, easily accessible spaces for your luggage on-board the train. Stations at either end of the journey, as well as the experience of getting on and off the train, don’t make heavy luggage a burden. All in all, anyone who has ever struggle with a big bag on the TTC will value this!
  • Fares – with its now-cheaper fares, the UP Express is a far cheaper option than Uber or taxis. A Presto smartcard reduces the cost further.
  • Staff – the staff are all very friendly and helpful.
UP Express seats and luggage
There is plenty of room on the UP Express for both yourself and your luggage

Disadvantages of taking the UP Express

  • Fares – whilst cheaper than Uber or taxis, the UP Express is around 4x more expensive than local public transport operator, the TTC. If your journey doesn’t end at Union Station, and you need to continue onwards, you will still need to pay for whatever mode of transport you transfer to (a TTC fare starts at $2.90). Whilst on the subject of fares, frustratingly an UP Express return fare costs the same as two one-way fares (aren’t returns normally a bit cheaper than two singles?), and a whilst a Presto smartcard provides a discount, a newcomer or tourist to Toronto, is unlikely to have a Presto card to hand.
  • Connections and Convenience – if downtown Toronto isn’t your final destination, then the UP Express might not be the most convenient option for you. If you are travelling to north Toronto for example, then TTC or GO Transit services might be better. Saying that, the UP Express stations at Weston and Bloor do provide options to transfer to GO Transit and TTC bus, streetcar and subway options. However, whilst Bloor station might give the initial impression of a seamless connection to the TTC subway and streetcar station at Dundas West, sadly it doesn’t, and passengers face something of a convoluted transfer by foot to complete the connection.
  • Advertising – when you’re on the UP Express, you’d expect the on-board screens and advertisements to be showcasing all that’s good about Toronto (of which there is much). Sadly, we saw little evidence of this.
UP Express freebies
The advantage of taking a new train over the festive period – I got a gift when disembarking at Union Station! For the rest of the year, you’ll have to make do with the on-board complimentary magazine

OK, so the UP Express isn’t perfect. But neither are its rivals. Uber from/to the airport is expensive, and at time of writing still isn’t legally approved. If you take the TTC, then you’ll start with a bus then most likely transfer to the subway, then you’ll probably transfer to another subway, or a bus, streetcar or walk. You try and carry heavy suitcases onto and off all those modes, some of which weren’t designed for that (looking at you, old-style streetcars). 

So none of the options are quite perfect. Ultimately, you make your choice based on price and convenience. But, if you’re heading to downtown Toronto, and you are looking for something quick and comfortable, and don’t mind paying a little extra compared to regular public transport, then we’d recommend the UP Express.

Don’t forget to check out our article on moving2canada.com for the full lowdown on all the transport options from Pearson airport, or our guide on using the TTC.

Stewart

Thank you to UP Express for providing complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review. UP Express is a division of Metrolinx. At time of writing, Stewart and Emma were both employees of Smart Commute, a program of Metrolinx. The impartiality of this review was not influenced by the authors’ connection with Metrolinx.

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