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Inter-modality: Connecting Canada by Land, Air and Rail

April 12th 2012 by Steve Del Bosco

For many of us who have travelled to Europe, hopping off of an airplane and onto a regional or intercity train all within the same airport complex, is not an uncommon experience. Those of us in the transportation business refer to this as inter-modality. In fact, the European experience has expanded to include more than just integration within the same physical building. Combining the power of the web through such tools as meta-search engines for planning trip itineraries and more sophisticated reservation systems used by transporters, consumers can easily plan, visualize, book, and pay for their flight and rail segments in one transaction and on one site.

More countries around the globe are creating this type of seamless connection between very different but very complimentary modes of passenger transport. The national railway in Germany, DB, and the French railway, SNCF, developed and implemented these seamless integrations with airlines decades ago. They are now extending this integration to include taxi, local bus transport, intercity motorcoach and bicycles.

So what about in Canada, you ask?  Sadly, there are very few, if any, full-fledged modal integrations. In fact, as far as air-rail partnerships of the type described earlier, there are none. I have heard several so called ‘transportation experts’ suggest that the country is too sparsely populated for such collaboration to be successful, or that we are a country dominated by a culture of driving and flying, therefore it is not in our culture to adopt inter-modality as a way to get from one part of Canada to another. Or better still, that there are too many technical barriers to overcome such as reservation, accounting or ticketing issues.

I suggest there is a lack of trust among carriers in Canada. We don’t want to share each other’s customers for fear of permanently eroding our respective customer base. Or we prefer to keep our customers within the same alliance of like-modes of transport instead of recognizing combinations of transport modes have a role to play in providing Canadians with better mobility options.

Well, VIA has found Canadians have defied expert opinion, the over-protective carriers, and the shortcomings of reservation systems. We started to ask our customers for more information about their full trip itinerary before and after the train portion of their trip, such as what airport they were headed to and what airline they were using. We discovered thousands of customers who took our trains to get to airports within the Quebec-Windsor Corridor, even travelling from Toronto Union Station to Dorval Station, right adjacent to Montreal’s Trudeau Airport, then on to board an overseas flight.

Whatever their motivations were for self-arranging an inter-modal trip, their behaviour sends a loud and clear message to all passenger carriers and infrastructure operators in this country: we need to drop the parochial attitude of protecting our fiefdoms and work together to create a better end-to-end trip experience because whether we like it or not, Canadians are creating their own inter-modal experience.

VIA Rail has already implemented one-stop shopping experiences for motorcoach connections from our trains to the airports in Montreal and Toronto as well as from VIA Rail trains to GO regional trains in Ontario. We have already signed agreements with one foreign airline and are in the final steps of concluding an agreement with another major player in the airline industry, as well as another regional transport carrier.

So the next time you book a ticket toTorontoorMontreal, don’t be surprised when the drop-down menu asks you whether you want Toronto Union Station, Pearson Airport or Island Airport. Our vision is to improve the mobility of Canadians as well as foreign visitors. Eliminating barriers to mobility can only grow the travel market as a whole and benefit all carriers.

About Steve Del Bosco

Steve Del Bosco
Steve Del Bosco joined VIA Rail Canada in 1978. Today, as Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, Steve oversees all marketing and sales components and is also in charge of Customer Relations, Revenue Management and Pricing, and Business Development and Network Planning.
6 Comments Leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Currie permalink

    It’s also very Canadian to put a rosy glow on an inadequate situation.
    Dorval Station is “right adjacent” to the airport? In fact, you can either walk for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on whether you cross the parking lots or follow the road, or you have to take the 747 bus, which comes every 10 to 15 minutes at least. Before the 747, the bus came once or twice hourly – which is how I know how long it takes to walk across the parking lots!!
    Union Station to the airport takes at least one transfer, and an hour. Ok, 45 minutes if you take the subway to the Bloor line and go out to Kipling to get the “Rocket”.
    Make sure you pack light.

    • Hi Elizabeth. VIA runs a complimentary shuttle from Dorval station to Trudeau Airport. There is a phone on the side of the station, the shuttle pulls right up, and before all the interchange construction I rarely had to wait more than 5 minutes for it.

      Because of the construction it can take a bit longer now, but it is still there to be used.

      -Jason

  2. It is surprising that VIA implemented Reservia integration with GO Transit but did not with Ontario Northland – was there a systems compatibility issue or did it simply never get discussed? It seems to me that one of the reasons that the Province proposes to discontinue the Northlander service – lack of ridership – might have been helped by the visibility brought by presence in the national intercity service’s online offering (beyond a hard-to-find PDF timetable).

  3. Pete Bellware permalink

    How about an airport connect with the Ottawa Airport.

  4. Tom West permalink

    How about an add-on to a ticket that let you use the local transit system for your origin/destination station?

  5. One thing we also lack is electric powered trains, and high speed trainsWhich would make service even faster still .If such an instalation could be built it would revolutionise train travel in Canada…

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