Scarborough caught up in political transit battle

Scarborough has turned into a battlefield for Toronto politics.

“This was a win for Scarborough,” said Councillor Raymond Cho (Ward 42) after the recent political showdown in City Hall revived Transit City and handed Mayor Rob Ford the biggest defeat of his term.

However, the mayor shot back by defiantly insisting that the vote was devoid of any true meaning as it would have only expressed the opinion of a few councillors out of touch with the their constituents. Instead, Ford claims to know what Scarborough really wants: subways.

I hope that people don’t just accept a nice catchy line and become more informed about what the real options on the table are.

— Franz Hartmann

For Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance and the advocacy group TTCriders, the question is not about Scarborough preferences in transportation technology, but — considering that money is an issue — about which plan offers more transit improvement per available buck.

“Talk [about transit] is very important, but what disturbs me at the moment is that there is a lot of misinformation. I hope that people don’t just accept a nice catchy line and become more informed about what the real options on the table are,” said Hartmann.

Students are among the most frequent users of public transit. With a high percentage using transit to get to their lectures, the students of the University of Toronto Scarborough campus (UTSC) resoundingly welcome back the Transit City plan.

“We are absolutely excited and ecstatic that this is happening. We applaud the forward thinking that is finally back on the table,” said Pagalavan Thavarajah, president and CEO of the Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU).

Futhermore, the students of UTSC feel caught up in a political battle that has little to do with their region’s transit needs.

“Ford is using us as a scapegoat for a plan that he wants because of his conservative values. [The Ford administration] confuses the fact that people voted for them because they wanted to see real cuts to what they thought was gravy at City Hall. Nobody in Toronto wanted to see transit cuts.”

The students at UTSC have a lot invested in Transit City. In 2010, the students pledged to contribute $30 million to the construction of a state-of-the-art aquatics centre near the campus for the city’s Pan Am games in 2015. A big part of the appeal was the promise of an LRT stop on campus.

“The actual prototypes for the Pan Am facilities show the LRT going through the campus. The LRT was a very strong incentive that students wanted. So students felt very betrayed when this mayor took [Transit City] off the table,” said Thavarajah.

Even with the current plan, the so called Malvern LRT line connecting UTSC and the new sports facility to the rest of the transit grid will most likely not see the light of day until after 2020 – much too late for the 2015 Pan Am games.

“It will be an embarrassment on an international scale for Toronto if we have buses going back and forth to the facility instead of having a high quality transit connection,” said Thavarajah.

The final transit expansion plan will be decided on after Mar 21 when an expert panel finishes its feasibility study on a subway extension from Sheppard to Scarborough Town Centre. TTC chair and councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16) extended this diplomatic compromise to the mayor to soften the political blow. The final plan will then be subject to the province for approval.

Transit Expansion Overview

View Transit Expansion Overview in a larger map
Map Legend:

  • red line: Mayor Rob Ford’s plan (minus the Sheppard subway extension, which would need an extra $2 billion).
  • blue line: Transit City plan “5 in 10” (Phase 1) starting immediately.
  • orange line: Transit City plan “Big Move” with extended priority projects.
  • green line: Transit City plan “MoveOntario 2020” (Phase 2) as agreed in 2007 by city council. Won’t start before 2020.