SmartTrack is really just Mayor Tory’s plan to piggyback onto GO Regional Express Rail’s all-day, two-way electrification plan by adding new stations in Toronto. SmartTrack, costing $1.3 billion, is supposed to have trains running every six to ten minutes during peak hours and every fifteen minutes off peak.
At first Tory wanted twenty-two stations but now there are just six. Two stations on the Stouffville GO line are in Scarborough: Finch and Lawrence East.
Metrolinx, the provincial agency that runs GO, withheld a study that compared Lawrence East SmartTrack station with existing GO service and gave it a “Low-Performing Ranking”. The study also looked at charging TTC fares for GO service within Toronto, but this would not alleviate a net ridership loss on the Stouffville Line due to increased travel time the station would add, which would in turn result in increased automobile use.
When Metrolinx board members voted to ignore their own report and approve stations at Lawrence East and Kirby (northwest of the city, with similar dismal projections), Scarborough Transit Action complained to the Provincial Auditor General and requested an investigation.
SmartTrack public consultation
Despite a cloud of controversy over Metrolinx’s decision, Tory insists on the Lawrence East SmartTrack station to go with his one-stop subway replacement of the Scarborough RT. The city will produce a business case for it, but it is unlikely to compare the Smart Track plan with existing RT service or the aborted seven-stop Scarborough LRT. An honest comparison would demolish the business case for a Lawrence East SmartTrack station, as ridership is likely to be less than what the RT carries now.
At the public consultation at Scarborough Civic Centre on October 10, city staff claimed Lawrence East station will have enough riders and supported it. But the facts say otherwise. Peak service to downtown from Lawrence East would be only every six to ten minutes, whereas the RT currently runs every three to four minutes to downtown and the Scarborough Town Centre (STC).
Planned platforms at both Finch and Lawrence East stations will be shifted northward to minimize the impact on local residents, but this will extend walking distances by about 250 meters. Finch station buses will go under the GO train overpass, but Lawrence East buses will drop riders off at the Lawrence East overpass; riders will have to walk downstairs or take an elevator to get to the Smart Track/GO station.
Many attendees at the public consultation criticized the Lawrence East station plan. They asked why there is still no announcement of TTC-level fares for SmartTrack riders. Lawrence East ST only goes downtown; it doesn’t go to the STC or other parts of Scarborough like the RT. Walking from a bus stop in the middle of an overpass down to the station below is not very convenient. It should be like the Finch station – or better yet, go back to the plan to replace the Scarborough RT with a seven-stop LRT.
Tory promised that SmartTrack stations would be complete by 2020, but he also promised that the RT would continue to operate until the Scarborough subway extension is completed in 2026. According to Metrolinx, the RT would have to be shut down earlier and riders put on buses to accommodate construction of Lawrence East SmartTrack station.
After surveying riders at the Lawrence East SRT station, STA discovered that just over 85% of respondents are not aware that their station will close, to be replaced with a SmartTrack station. Furthermore, 50% of respondents indicated they are traveling elsewhere in Scarborough from that station; trips that Smart Track will do little to serve.
One good thing: SmartTrack station designs provide access for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders while limiting parking. This is a step in the right direction. Cars are the problem and building large parking lots around SmartTrack/GO stations won’t help deal with climate change or traffic congestion. At the same time, the city needs to be reminded that more convenient and fast public transit to these stations is also required.
The Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) will begin in mid 2018. As with the Scarborough Subway Extension TPAP, this assessment gives free reign to build just about anything, especially if it buys votes. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is not required to consider concerns raised by the public during public consultations and the city is not required to show whether the project would improve existing transit service. There’s no onus to prove sufficient ridership, shorter travel times, or more access to existing rapid transit network for under served neighbourhoods. The scope is limited to the natural environment, including climate change, cultural heritage or Aboriginal treaty rights.
Proposed changes to bus service on Lawrence Avenue East
Tory’s plan is to have a two-level bus terminal on Triton Avenue to accommodate the elimination of RT stations and the subsequent re-routing of buses to Scarborough Town Centre when the subway is completed in 2026. The existing thirteen TTC bus bays will increase to twenty-four. As yet, there is no plan to provide bus service from Lawrence to the STC.
Existing Lawrence East bus service:
- 54A Lawrence East to Starspray Blvd (10 minutes or less, all day every day)
- 54B Lawrence East to Orton Park
- 54E Lawrence East to Starspray Blvd Express
- 354 Lawrence East Blue Night Lawrence East to Starspray Blvd
All these buses loop into the existing Lawrence East RT station, allowing riders to go north to the STC or south to Kennedy station.
Scarborough’s New/Old Transit Map Steve Munro, 03/18/2017
With a one-stop subway, riders traveling west on Lawrence Avenue East will have to transfer to buses. They must take the 43 Kennedy or the 21 Brimley bus (during rush hour only) or wait twenty minutes for the 16 McCowan or the 9 Brimley to get to the STC. Service on the 43 Kennedy was cut in 2016 and is already crowded. The 154 Lawrence East will go to the U of T Scarborough Campus, or the 154 and 254 Lawrence East Express will take them to Kennedy station. Chances are most riders going to Kennedy will stay on the bus all the way rather than get off at the overpass, walk down to the Lawrence East SmartTrack station, pay an additional GO fare (minus $1.50) and wait fifteen minutes to get downtown.
It’s bull-headed of Mayor Tory to push a one-stop subway and one SmartTrack station at Lawrence East as a viable alternative to eliminating five RT stations. The real alternative is to pay one TTC fare to ride the seven-stop Scarborough LRT to the STC – or all the way to Malvern.
Time to let Mayor Tory know the jig is up.
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Mayor John Tory
By Brenda Thompson