GO Transit recently introduced its new service guarantee, promising to credit passengers if their trip is delayed (of course, there are multiple exceptions and in fact few delays will probably qualify) by more than 15 minutes. On the surface, this sounds like a good deal for commuters and a good motivator for GO to keep their trains running on time. Dig a little deeper and the deal starts to seem counter-productive. Here is my take.
Delays are a fact of life. Every form of transport, from feet to trains to planes, can suffer delays. If we have reached a stage in our culture where an occasional delay becomes the supreme decider of success and failure, then we have little left. I always try to arrive for anything early. It doesn't take much effort and it is usually possible to find the time to do this. The sort of delays that are covered by the guarantee include maintenance and equipment failure. Maintenance is important because without it, derailments and more lengthy delays would be more frequent. Equipment does sometimes fail, as does everything, and sometimes it can't be prevented. The delays that aren't covered include accidents, trespassers and passenger alarms. In my experience with GO, these are in fact the more common occurrences. However, if you still feel it is fair to ask for a credit, there are other reasons the idea isn't wise.
Safety is paramount in rail operations. This is purely speculative and I hope it would never happen, but on-time guarantees put undue pressure on operating crews to sometimes push the limits in order to not cost their employer money. This is certainly seen in such time-sensitive industries as trucking and pizza deliveries. GO Transit's crews are well-trained and experienced and I am sure they would never jeopardise passenger safety in order to meet the scheduled time, but I do believe that the guarantee will add more pressure to what is already a tough job.
My final reason to oppose the guarantee pertains to the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. GO Transit received provincial subsidies through Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency. The ONTC also receives government subsidies and, as a result, has been deemed too costly to sustain by the government and will now be broken up and sold. Not only is the government willing to continue putting money into GO, but they are now also willing to reimburse passengers for minor inconveniences. To me, this is entirely unfair and demonstrates a clear lack of interest in northeastern Ontario. Refunds also direct funding away from improving the GO system, something which could prevent future delays from happening.
In all, it is up to each individual person whether they will take GO's offer of compensation or not. I will politely decline should I ever be given the option.