Kevin Rupasinge

March 2022

We’ll All Feel the Pain of the Scarborough RT Shutdown

An SRT Train; (above) pulls out of McCowan station headed for Kennedy station to link up with TTC’s line 2. A bus heads southbound on Morningside (right) in the now familiar dedicated bus lane.

Opening a new transit line is not something that happens very often in Toronto. Shutting one down is even rarer – and that’s exactly what is going to happen next year in Scarborough.

 In 2023, the TTC’s Line 3 Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) is slated to be closed permanently. It is old, unreliable, and may become unsafe – even if the TTC invested more than $500 million to keep it running for another decade. 

The Scarborough subway extension is scheduled to replace the SRT by 2031. Until then, the TTC’s plan is simply to run shuttle buses to replace the 35,000 daily trips currently handled by the SRT. Most of these trips are between Scarborough Centre and Kennedy; by the TTC’s estimates, travel time will balloon from 10 minutes to 15 to 23 minutes if shuttle buses share the road with car traffic.

This minimal plan will be painful for everyone – unless elected officials bring forward a comprehensive vision to mitigate the impacts. 

These transit delays will make the TTC less appealing, and transit riders that can afford to will switch to driving. This is bad news for existing drivers since more cars means more congestion. Worse, the TTC expects at least 75 shuttle buses per hour are needed to match the SRT capacity – a bus on the road every 48 seconds – which is bad news for everyone, whether you take transit, drive, walk, bike, or live nearby.

We need more viable mobility options, not fewer, to plan for a connected and vibrant Scarborough. 

Repurposing the SRT train guideway into a busway is the best way to speed up the shuttle buses, keeping transit users and drivers happy. However, it will take a couple of years to retrofit the route for buses instead of trains. 

Installing on-street dedicated bus lanes and transit priority traffic signals from Kennedy to Scarborough Centre will ensure that TTC can stay competitive as a transport option. It might seem like repurposing a car lane into a bus lane will cause congestion, but doing nothing would be worse as transit riders switch to driving.

A plan to provide mobility options should include a safe cycling route, with protected bike lanes or multi-use trails to give another choice for local trips, keeping extra cars off roads and freeing up bus seats.

Another huge opportunity is integrating TTC fares with the GO network, which would immediately give Scarborough access to an entire other rapid transit rail network. Most transit riders refuse to pay a double fare to use both GO and TTC, but if the fares were integrated so riders only paid once, people would immediately have another transport choice without crowding onto shuttle buses or getting into a car.

In the words of Zain Khurram, an SRT customer and member of the group TTCriders, “Politicians must act now to keep Scarborough connected.” TTCriders recently published a report outlining actions that governments could take to mitigate the impact of the SRT closure, available at www.ttcriders.ca.  

Scarborough’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic will depend on reliable, quick, cost-effective transportation options. While the SRT closure is going to be a loss for Scarborough, it is an opportunity to add mobility options in the short-term. Long-term, once the subway opens and the busway is no longer needed, that transportation infrastructure could be transformed into a new iconic destination: an elevated park running across the borough, like New York’s High Line.

It all requires our elected officials to be proactive and come up with a robust plan—without one, everyone will feel the pain of seven years of shuttle buses.

Kevin Rupasinghe is a sustainable transportation advocate, Scarborough resident, and holds a Masters in Cities Engineering.