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How I Saved 96% Getting to and From International Airports

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chat9780 via Getty Images
chat9780 via Getty Images

Three years ago, my business manager said off-handedly: "You know, you're spending $2,000 a year getting to the airport and back."

I. Did. Not. Know. That.

I fly a lot, and taking a cab or airport limo from downtown Toronto to Pearson International Airport had become second -nature.

But $2,000? How could that be?

Well, say the average cost with tip for a cab or limo is $75 one-way. That's $150 there and back, which quickly adds up to 13 round-trips a year or a bit over one trip a month. That's also a quarter to a third of the cost of a round-trip flight to Ottawa or Montreal.

But how else to get there?

You can drive your own car and park it at the airport for the duration of your trip. But the nearby airport parking is costly, and the cheap parking is inconvenient.

Isn't there a bus from the Royal York? There was: the Toronto Airport Express Bus service was discontinued in November after 35 years in service. One big reason was the trip took too long with all the downtown road construction.

The point is, whether you drive or are driven, in 2013 the average commute time in the GTA was longer than anywhere in North America--except New York City.

There is a better way.

My wife reminded me of it so often that my ears clanged shut whenever she said: "You know, darling, you can just hop on the subway and go to the end of the line at Kipling. Then take the TTC bus directly to Pearson. It takes less than an hour--and it only costs $3.00."

Hmmm. $3.00 vs. $75.00.

I guess I'd known this for years. But many fears had kept me from doing what she did all the time. Would I have to stand all the way in a crowded subway car? What if I had to get work done or call someone? What if the Airport Rocket bus at the Kipling station was late or got caught in traffic?

But the prospect of saving so much money beat back those fears.

So one day I took the subway from home (we live near the Pape station) to Pearson. That trip 22 stops west to Kipling took 45 minutes exactly, and I had a seat all the way. Then I waited precisely 6 minutes for the Airport Rocket bus, got on, got a seat and was at Pearson 18 minutes later.

Since then, I've taken the subway dozens of times to the airport and back: only once did I have to stand for more than a handful of stations, and only once did the Airport Rocket bus at Kipling keep us waiting for 20 minutes.

In fact, aside from saving me $2,000 a year (I take the subway to and from work, so have a monthly pass anyway) I have the great psychic benefit of lording it over my friends who pay much more and who get tied up in traffic and even miss their flights because of traffic. Every day, I'm in the company of 4,500 other riders who get to Pearson via the Airport Rocket. In fact, service is so robust that the TTC is about to launch a publicity campaign about the Rocket.

Well, they should. Early this summer, the Union Pearson Express will take people every 15 minutes from Union Station with two stops en route to Pearson International. The trip will take 25 minutes and the cost will run from between $19.00 and $27.50 one way.

But the move to cheaper, cleaner, faster public transit isn't just a Toronto story. Millions of others around the world are taking the subway to and from their international airport to cut down on cost, time and aggravation.

Here are four cities you can fly into and out of and spend a fraction of what a cab would cost to get you between the city centre and the airport.

Chicago: If you've ever tried to get into downtown Chicago from O'Hare Airport, it will cost you $30-$40 by cab and take you 35 minutes to reach the John Hancock Tower on a clear dry day, not in rush hour. But Chicago's weather can be brutal, as can its traffic.

So why not spend $5 instead and take the CTA Blue Line Train directly from O'Hare? Sure, it takes 40-45 minutes, but when you look out the window as you blow by all those cars on the Kennedy Expressway, it will bring a smile to your smart-traveller face.

London: Taking a cab from Heathrow to the West End of London will cost you 45-70 Pounds ($82-$127) and take you 45-60 minutes, again assuming a clear highway, which is a huge assumption. But taking the Heathrow Express, which leaves from Heathrow Terminals and arrives at Paddington Station 15 minutes later, costs 21.5 Pounds ($39). True, that's not $3.00, but it's a whole lot cheaper and faster than a cab. The Heathrow Express carries 15,000 passengers a day, a number that grows every day as well.

Taking a cab from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station costs 104 Pounds ($189) and takes 60 minutes on a clear day not during rush hour. So why not take the Gatwick Express directly from the airport to Victoria Station for as low as 17.75 pounds ($32) and get there in 30 minutes?

Tokyo: One of the most expensive cab rides from any airport to downtown is from Narita Airport to central Tokyo. The airport is 60 km from the core. The cost is Y2000 ($200) and it can take up to 90 minutes when there's no traffic.

Meanwhile across town at Haneda, Tokyo's other international airport, a taxi to central Tokyo can cost from Y5,000 to Y11,000 ($50-$112) depending on the day and time. A 20-minute monorail journey from Haneda to central Tokyo costs Y490 ($5).

Bangkok: Last Fall, we landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport and grabbed a cab in to our central hotel. The trip took 40 minutes by cab and cost us the equivalent of $14.

All perfectly fine. But when we flew back into Bangkok 10 days later after visiting Bhutan, we decided to try out the subway, called the MRT. Like Chicago, it goes directly into the terminal building. This time, the trip to our same Bangkok hotel took 45 minutes and cost us the equivalent of $3. Yes, three dollars.

Afraid you can't read or understand Thai? The maps are bilingual and the announcements are too. And the subway-goers are incredibly friendly and helpful.

Meanwhile, back in Toronto, remember: you can take 13 round-trip subway rides to and from Pearson for what it costs to take a single cab one-way to Pearson.

But what if your big client is happy to pay for your cab or limo? Why go underground when you can go in 'big car' splendour?

Because you still won't get there any faster. In fact, that same big client called me one day to inquire if I'd forgotten to include my airline cab receipts in my travel expenses. When I told her that I take the subway to save my clients' money, let me tell you, you just can't buy that kind of goodwill.


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