The Scarborough LRT might be shut down in two years and replaced by buses
Today in news that probably should have broken two days ago, on Groundhog Day, TTC officials are once again recommending changes to existing plans for Toronto's most controversial transit project: The Scarborough subway extension.
The topic of how to improve rail transit into Scarborough has plagued Toronto City Council since the 1990s, when the first of many expansion plans for the now 35-year-old Scarborough RT line was thwarted.
What has been known for a while is that the RT needs to be replaced — the vehicles that run along it were only designed to last 25 years.
Despite being a full decade past their prime, the city agreed to try and extend the life of these vehicles into 2026, when a Scarborough Subway Extension was originally set to open and replace it.
In 2013, City Council voted to scrap a fully-funded LRT line in favour of a three-stop subway extension to the eastern part of Toronto. In 2017, they voted again to scale the extension back to just one station at a cost of $3.35 billion.
Then, in 2019, Ontario's PC government announced that it would be taking over the project as part of its plan to "upload" responsibility for Toronto's subway system to the province. The province also decided that it would not build a single-stop extension, but one with three stops as originally intended.
The challenge with the Scarborough RT: originally the TTC was going to retire these trains in 2012. That got pushed back to 2015, then pushed back AGAIN to 2026, but even that wouldn’t coincide with expected opening date of Scarborough Subway. (2030ish) pic.twitter.com/sdKvDal4TA— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) February 4, 2021
Set to open sometime "before 2030," the new Scarborough Subway extension will cost $5.5 billion to build and will include stops at Lawrence East Station, Scarborough Town Centre Station and McCowan Station.
The problem now is that the current SRT system is still failing. Even if it could somehow last until 2030, TTC officials are confident that it won't be sufficient enough to maintain capacity.
Line 3, as it's known, also remains inaccessable at parts to people with physical disabilities, which interferes with the TTC's plans to be fully AODA compliant by 2025.
The solution? Buses.
After examining multiple options to ensure ongoing transit service in Scarborough, TTC staff are now recommending that the SRT be decommisioned in 2023 and replaced with bus service for seven years.
Scarborough’s politicians lied to them. The 7-stop LRT plan would still serve far more people, be less expensive, and get built sooner than the 3-stop subway fiasco. To quote Mitt Romney, "The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth https://t.co/UUF8BcNHxK— Josh Matlow (@JoshMatlow) February 4, 2021
It's the most cost-effective and logical way forward, by the TTC's estimations, costing taxpayers between $357.4 million and $374.8 million depending on whether they use buses from the existing fleet or purchase new ones immediately.
An option to extend the SRT's life until the new subway line is ready would conversely cost around $522 million and comes with what the report calls a "high risk of not achieving the required service reliability."
In other words, it wouldn't be worth it.
The recommendations will go before the TTC board on February 10 and, if eventually approved by city council, eight bus routes that currently terminate at Scarborough Centre Station would be extended in 2023 to provide express service to Kennedy Station until 2030.
Long story short, the people of Scarborough will still be waiting some time for their long-promised direct subway route — and things will get worse (for people who don't like buses) before they get better.
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