By Jessica Lovell
Guelph’s VIA Rail station is among eight VIA stations, including Kitchener’s, that the national passenger rail company plans to unman by the fall, meaning people will have to buy their tickets elsewhere.
“It’s all part of an overall strategy that was initiated more than two years ago as we are modernizing our services,” said VIA spokesperson Mylène Bélanger.
“This is a question of adjusting our service to the demands of our customers,” she said, noting “the majority of our customers right now make their booking online.”
Soon they’ll have little choice but to do just that, although there will also be the option of queuing up for tickets over the phone.
Eventually, the city has plans to purchase the station from VIA.
Guelph’s VIA station is a federally designated heritage building, and the city plans to renovate the interior as part of Guelph’s transit hub, serving GO Transit, Guelph Transit and Greyhound, as well as VIA.
The city is still waiting for federal approval of its plans for the station before the purchase can be finalized and renovations can get started, said city engineer Richard Henry.
Once that approval comes through, “we have eight months of renovation work before it’s completed,” he said. Following the renovations, “there will be a ticket agent that will be selling all types of fare media” at the station, said the city’s general manager of community connectivity and transit, Michael Anders.
He clarified that VIA train tickets might not be among those that are available to purchase at the station, but the plan is to offer GO, Greyhound and Guelph Transit tickets and passes there.
Which organization will provide the agent has not yet been finalized, but the agent will not be a city staff member, said Anders.
VIA plans to leave the station unmanned by Oct. 24 – long before renovations could be completed.
The decision will impact three staff at the local station – one full-time and two part-time agents, Bélanger said. However, she couldn’t say whether all three staff will continue to work until late October.
But “the station will remain open,” she assured.
Currently, VIA’s staff sell tickets for GO trains and buses, which pick up and drop off passengers on the nearby platforms.
Greyhound is operating out of a temporary bus terminal at Fountain and Wyndham streets, but will move operations to the train station after the city acquires the station and renovations to the building’s interior and the construction outside is complete.
VIA’s plans to mitigate the impact of removing ticket agents from the stations, a move that makes a last-minute train trip a little less viable, involve providing the option to book online or over the phone and have tickets emailed. People then have the option of printing the emailed tickets or simply flashing their email-connected mobile phone to the ticket-takers on the train.
For those with neither computer nor flashy smart phone, the confirmation number the agent provides over the phone will be accepted as proof of payment for the journey, said Bélanger.
Meanwhile, GO Transit has said its customers will still be able to purchase tickets at the station, one way or another. “GO Transit will ensure that our customers have the option to buy tickets at Guelph Central Station,” said GO spokesperson Malon Edwards.
The company will either staff the station, sell tickets through a third-party agent or install a ticket vending machine, he said.
GO bus customers also have the option of buying tickets directly from the driver as they board the bus.