Vera El-timany

Transit service to suburban colleges, universities lacking, students say

Toronto's three mayoral front-runners each tout own plans as best for underserved schools

Four days a week, Whitby resident Vera El-timany gets up at 6:50 a.m.

She’s out the door by 7:30 to arrive at the train station at around 7:50.

“I take the train, which takes me an hour, and then I walk to the bus station, which takes five minutes, and I wait for it until it comes, which takes around 15 minutes to arrive if the weather conditions are good,” she said.

The long commute is what the Centennial College journalism student has to deal with to get from her home in the suburbs east of Toronto to the college’s Story Arts Centre campus in East York

“Altogether I spend at least three hours commuting,” El-timany said.

She’s not alone in her frustration with taking transit to get to school.

“For students it all comes down to accessibility,” said Anika Ahmed, vice-president external with the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. “You come to school to go to class and to have a good education, so to get to campus to do those things is extremely important.”

Though the frequency of TTC service to UTSC has improved — thanks to the 198 U of T Scarborough Rocket that comes every 10 minutes instead of every 25 — it’s not enough, Ahmed said.

“Students are trying to get to a meeting or a class at a specific time and you’re leaving earlier to be there at a specific time but the TTC always let you down,” she said.

At a mayoral debate at Centennial College’s Progress Campus on Oct. 6, Toronto’s three front-running candidates explained how they would improve transit to the city’s suburban post-secondary schools if elected Oct. 27.

“Your fares have gone up by nine per cent, but the bus routes coming here and to other campuses have been cut,” Olivia Chow said. “I will restore the bus services and improve them by 10 per cent.”

Doug Ford disagreed, saying subways are the best option.

“My plan is very clear for the people of Scarborough: my line will go right to Sheppard and McCowan,” he said. “I know it’s not right outside the door but it’s a rapid underground transit system.”

John Tory, whose transit policy centres on his SmartTrack rail plan, said a targeted use of buses may be the answer.

“If we have to make a special bus arrangement to have an express bus that comes right here — as they did at York [University] and as they’ve done at other places where there is significant populations of students — then that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

That sort of bus service works for students at Humber College’s North Campus in Etobicoke, said Candace Pellew, vice-president of student affairs at the college’s Lakeshore Campus.

“Our North Campus, which is our main campus, has a lot of buses that go there directly, [inlcuding] a shuttle bus directly from Kipling station,” she said.

Access to transit is also good at her home campus in South Etobicoke, Pellew said, but even so some students say more should be done.

“Lakeshore students complain about paying twice [when using more than one transit system] and wishing they had a shuttle from Brampton that brought them directly down,” she said.

For post-secondary students at the city’s suburban schools, there’s more riding on improved transit than just a quicker commute, Ahmed said.

Inadequate service, she said, “discourages you from accessing your education.”