What Scarborough Transit Users Need from Toronto's Next Mayor

Line 3 in Scarborough is shutting down this fall. Photo credit: Nithursan Alamuhilan

Zain Khurram

Transit in Scarborough has been severely neglected for decades, though the upcoming mayoral election on June 26 presents a golden opportunity to turn the TTC around.

Ridership has not yet rebounded from pandemic lockdowns. As of early April, ridership was still around 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Instead of increasing investment in public transit to win more riders back, former Mayor John Tory’s 2023 city budget cut TTC service and hiked up fares.

These cuts could be just the beginning of a downward spiral: the TTC has a budget gap of $366 million, and provincial and federal 2023 budgets did not include emergency transit operations funding, which they provided to cities during the height of the pandemic.

Service cuts are impacting all areas of the city. But in Scarborough, we’re facing a double whammy because Line 3, also known as the Scarborough RT (Rapid Transit), is closing this fall. Line 3 connects the Line 2 subway at Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre

Conversations about replacing Line 3’s aging infrastructure picked up in 2006 under Mayor David Miller. Plans were set out to replace the aging technology with a conventional light rapid transit (LRT) line that would extend further northeast to Malvern.

Elected in 2010, Mayor Rob Ford scrapped the “Transit City” plan and played up the inaccurate perception that LRT systems are lesser than subways. He fed into a valid narrative of Scarborough being underserved, all while delaying replacement options.

 While elected officials and candidates scored political points promising different versions of the subway extension, including some current candidates for Mayor, years passed without action and the state of Line 3 continued to degrade to a point of no return.

Only in 2021 did ground finally break for the three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension, which will open in 2030 at the earliest and replace the connection between Kennedy Station and Scarborough Town Centre, with additional stations at Lawrence East and Sheppard.  

Once Line 3 closes, Scarborough transit riders will be forced onto congested shuttle buses for at least seven years until the subway opens. This came to the surprise of many residents, especially since politicians promised Line 3 could keep operating until the opening of the subway extension.

Scarborough transit riders feel betrayed by the very politicians who promised to improve their commutes. In reality, political mismanagement hindered transit expansion in Scarborough for the past two decades. Commutes will become 15 to 30 minutes longer in each direction, adding to the already lengthy commutes of transit riders commuting to and from Scarborough.

Now is the time to learn from past mistakes. Scarborough doesn’t end at McCowan Road (the eastern terminus of the Scarborough Subway Extension), so the next Mayor of Toronto must champion the Eglinton East LRT project. That line would go from Kennedy Station east and north to Malvern Town Centre, via the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus.

Instead of gifting lucrative 30-year contracts to private consortiums, like Metrolinx received for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Eglinton East line should be publicly built, operated, and maintained by the City of Toronto.

Let’s install more red bus lanes across the city in a matter of months, not years, like the ones that were fast-tracked on Eglinton East, Kingston, and Morningside during the pandemic. When the Scarborough RT closes, bus lanes will be essential so that replacement shuttle buses don’t get stuck in traffic. The TTC Board has approved a plan to convert the SRT corridor into a busway so shuttles can travel even faster, but funding has not yet been secured.  

This mayoral election is more important than ever, as not just Scarborough, but the entirety of Toronto needs a transit champion. A person who truly understands the hardships which suburbanites face during their transit commutes, and who will commit to building accessible and affordable transit while properly funding transit operations without getting caught up in the politicization of transit.

The disconnect is everywhere; candidates have said they will reverse service cuts without any indication of where the funding will come from. Candidates have said they will continue to increase police presence on the TTC for ‘safety’, while cutting service and increasing isolation at night. TTCriders will be asking all candidates if they will introduce a commercial parking levy on big malls and commercial landlords, which could raise hundreds of millions of dollars each year for climate and transit. Fixing the transit funding model so it relies less on the pockets of riders and more on governments is the key to boosting service and lowering fares.

We need a transit champion for mayor who is pragmatic and real about the challenges facing our transit system in the future.

Zain Khurram, is a spokesperson for TTCriders and Transit Lead for the Toronto Youth Cabinet.

This article appears in the May/June 2023 Issue.