Scarborough RT to fail before subway is done
Mayor’s admission decreases future transit options for residents
The beleaguered Scarborough RT will fail before the longawaited Scarborough subway is built, leaving residents on the bus — possibly for years — Mayor John Tory confirmed Thursday.
Council, meanwhile, will once again be asked to consider the alternative — a cheaper, more robust plan to build LRTs across the eastern part of the city.
Speaking to reporters at city hall, Tory said he had been briefed on the lifespan of the SRT ahead of a delayed report to the TTC board.
“There are very active discussions going on now between the TTC and Metrolinx with respect to exactly how long we have to provide that alternate transit service for, because it will not be the case that we can keep the SRT going until the
gh subway is finished.” That news — after a decade of promises to Scarborough residents about improved transit — undercuts one of the central arguments for building a subway instead of the cheaper light-rail transit option preferred by some on council.
When first pushed under former mayor Rob Ford’s administration, proponents of the subway said it was, in part, a superior option because the SRT could continue running while the subway was built and not cause any disruptions in regular service.
The TTC refused to answer questions on Thursday, saying its report to the board would now be tabled in February.
“The seven-stop Scarborough LRT that I advocated for, along with being approved, funded and able to serve more neighbourhoods, would’ve already been built and operating by now,” said Coun. Josh Matlow, who has long questioned the lack of evidence for a subway.
He plans to move a motion at council next week asking councillors to request the province stop work on the three-stop subway and instead build the originally planned seven-stop LRT, while using any cost savings to build a second LRT along Eglinton Avenue East.
“Today, the worst outcome has happened and Scarborough residents are being left on a very long bus ride. When we cautioned this would happen, subway proponents falsely promised it wouldn’t. Scarborough deserves so much better than this.”
A three-stop subway, loosely estimated to cost $3.56 billion with zero design work done was first confirmed by council under Ford in October 2013 — more than seven years ago.
Campaigning for the mayoral seat in 2014, Tory himself promised to build the threestop version of the subway until ballooning cost estimates forced him to pivot to a revised one-stop option.
At the time, he and then-chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat promised that the cost savings from that switch would allow the city to also build an LRT along Eglinton Avenue East to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus.
However, emails uncovered by the Star showed that the cost had never been verified as claimed, and city staff believed it could actually be much higher, but didn’t tell council that ahead of a crucial vote. Later, the cost of that subway option grew to overtake the available funds, pricing out any additional LRT.
When Doug Ford, the late mayor’s brother, became premier of Ontario, he resurrected the three-stop option approved years earlier, scrapping ongoing plans for the one-stop version. Construction of that estimated $5.5-billion subway — which has not been fully funded — has not yet started. The province estimates it could be completed in 2029 or 2030.
In TTC reports to the board to be discussed next week, staff note that the SRT is not currently fully functional, with only four of five cars in service and a plan to return to full service in October had been delayed. Though a future service plan assumes all five cars will be operational through 2025, the report notes that the SRT’s lifespan is “currently under review.”
In 2012, the city, TTC and Metrolinx signed an agreement to build a seven-stop LRT in the SRT corridor, replacing that service which at that time was said to be nearing the end of its life. Back then, Metrolinx was contractually obligated to pay the cost of the bus replacement service.
The TTC would not say Thursday who would cover the cost of any alternate transit now.
In a 2016 business case on the subway, city staff said “replacing the existing SRT vehicles with buses is not a desirable option.”
It outlined that bus replacement for the SRT during construction would require 63 additional buses and other infrastructure requirements such as a new bus facility to accommodate the additional fleet and expansion of the bus terminals at Scarborough Centre and Kennedy stations at a cost estimated at that time to be $171 million.
“The SRT shutdown would also result in slower and less reliable transit service,” the business case said, “which would be likely to deter users from using public transit.”
At an executive committee Thursday, a report updated members that the cost of the Eglinton East LRT has nearly doubled, further pricing it out of the city’s transit expansion plan as it is not a provincial priority project.