Update on April 25, 2018 approval of SmartTrack by Toronto Council
Last month, a delegation of Scarborough residents and transit advocates spoke to City Council’s Executive Committee regarding the SmartTrack Stations and Metrolinx Regional Express Rail (GO RER) programs (agenda item EX:33.1). We objected to Mayor Tory’s plan to replace the existing five Scarborough RT stations with one GO/SmartTrack station at Lawrence East and a one-stop subway from Kennedy station to Scarborough Town Centre (STC).
Watch Anil Lewis, who resides near the Lawrence East RT station, speaking to the mayor’s handpicked committee here. Read how the Lawrence East GO RER/SmartTrack station will leave more transit riders on buses here.
Scarborough subway boosters who wanted a station at Lawrence and McCowan were offered the Lawrence East GO/SmartTrack station instead. But it is not a good substitute for transit riders who rely on the Scarborough RT.
GO/SmartTrack is a separate line from the Scarborough subway, and would only connect to it at Kennedy station, not at the STC terminus. Replacing five SRT stops with two north-south lines will take commuters downtown, but it won’t get them around Scarborough. The SRT connects to downtown as well as to Lawrence, Midland, Ellesmere, STC and McCowan. A seven-stop LRT to replace the RT – as originally planned – would add stops at Centennial College Progress and Sheppard Avenue East.
But that’s not all. A seven-stop LRT would let you transfer from a bus at no extra cost and wait no more than five minutes for the next train. Not so with SmartTrack.
Notwithstanding the Lawrence East GO/SmartTrack station’s inadequacy as a replacement for the RT stop, Scarborough Transit Action supports GO RER/SmartTrack if it can attract enough riders to help reduce overcrowding on the Bloor/Danforth subway line. A 2016 study by University of Toronto professor Eric Miller concluded that RER service every five minutes for a TTC fare would serve more than 300,000 daily riders. (Charging GO fares would cut ridership by up to two-thirds.)
Since 2016, the number of SmartTrack stations promised has been cut from 22 to six, and with service levels and full fare integration unresolved, ridership is predictably less:
TTC/GO/SmartTrack fare integration
Because SmartTrack is “local” GO service with additional stations in Toronto, it has been included in the discussion around fare integration between TTC, GO and Union Pearson Express. The April 26, 2018, Metrolinx decision improved the affordability of using these services under the following terms:
- $3 Presto adult fare between all GO stations within the City of Toronto.
- Discounts of up to $1.50 for transit users who transfer between these municipal transit networks and the TTC using Presto.
- The province will replace lost revenue for the next three years, so the TTC does not need to raise fares to make up the revenue shortfall.
This makes SmartTrack more affordable, but the Presto discount is not the same as full fare integration. Full fare integration would be to pay just one TTC fare to and from SmartTrack to GO or UP Express. If the Lawrence East GO/SmartTrack station is to replace the Lawrence East RT station or a subway station at Lawrence and McCowan, it shouldn’t cost more than one TTC fare to transfer from the 54 Lawrence East bus.
Lawrence East GO/SmartTrack vs. SRT and Scarborough LRT
The only advantage of the Lawrence East GO/SmartTrack station is that riders will not have to take buses during construction as they would with the Scarborough LRT. But Scarborough LRT construction could begin at Sheppard Avenue East, allowing two new stations to be built before shutting the RT. Given the choice between riding on buses permanently after the RT is dismantled and riding on buses temporarily, most transit riders – knowing they would gain two new rapid transit stops – would likely put up with the inconvenience of LRT construction.
SmartTrack service frequency unresolved
Below is the city’s estimate of SmartTrack service including Lawrence East:
But is this realistic? There are unresolved technical issues around eight- and five-minute service that neither the city nor Metrolinx is talking about:
- A modern signaling system is needed to run five-minute trains, but there is no mention of new signalling for SmartTrack.
- The GO/SmartTrack trains’ bi-level Electrical Multiple Units (EMUs) will make it difficult to provide five minute-service. It takes a long time for passengers to load and unload bi-level trains since they have fewer doors than subways or LRT cars, and some passengers will be descending from the upper deck.
- The GO/SmartTrack RER’s Stouffville track is also used for freight. Eight-minute SmartTrack service violates current freight train regulations, which require 15 minutes between trains.
- At Union Station, difficulty getting trains in and out and platform design creates a bottleneck.
It is disturbing how little Metrolinx and the city have discussed or explained SmartTrack frequency. At the March 2018 public consultation meeting in Scarborough, Metrolinx officials announced that “local service would be every 15 minutes” – a far cry from the city’s claim of eight- and five-minute service.
Frequency is crucial to SmartTrack’s success, and should have been resolved soon after the U of T report showed five-minute service was required to make it viable. Instead, Council approved a funding and financial strategy before signing a service level agreement with Metrolinx, the operator of the trains. The city is now committed to spending $1.46 billion for SmartTrack.
The GO/Lawrence East SmartTrack station will not rescue the $3.35+ billion, one-stop Scarborough subway boondoggle. And in prioritizing both of these lines for funding, much-needed east-west rapid transit lines like the Eglinton East LRT must compete with the Waterfront LRT and the relief subway line for scarce transit dollars. Meanwhile, the provincially defunded Sheppard East LRT from Don Mills to Morningside has all but disappeared from the city’s list of priority projects.
Watch Jamaal Myers speak to the Executive Committee about going ahead with the Eglinton East LRT instead of the Scarborough subway here.
Scarborough needs a rapid transit network. Prioritizing the Scarborough, Eglinton East and Sheppard East LRTs would bring much-needed connectivity to our outer neighbourhoods. Toronto needs relief from overcrowding on the Bloor/Danforth line. But we shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. If we allow Mayor Tory and his allies on council to chart the course on transit, we could forfeit both.