On September 27, 2013, UTSC students protested against the city’s cancellation of two Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines proposed to run through the Scarborough campus. Transit has long been an issue at UTSC, with some students facing up to two-hour long commute times. According to Guled Arale, the vice-president, external of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), travel times for students have only increased in recent years due to numerous TTC service cuts.
Discussion of the proposed LRT lines began in 2007. The lines were originally intended to improve transit for the Pan Am games in 2015 and significantly reduce commute times for UTSC students. The lines would have encircled the campus and provided easier access to the university.
UTSC students held a campus-wide vote on whether to contribute a portion of the cost of the Olympic-sized pool for the Pan Am Games. Although not a direct LRT vote, students thought that building for Pan Am would allow for the construction of the LRT. This resulted in a commitment from students to contribute $30 million towards the building of the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games facility, which are being built on UTSC property. According to Arale, the main reason for the contribution was to get the two LRT lines to run through campus. Students have held to their commitment and blame Toronto city councillors and administration for not holding up their end of the deal.
The plans for the Scarborough-Malvern LRT line came to an abrupt halt in December 2010 when, on Mayor Rob Ford’s first day in office, he met with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and cancelled all light rail projects in favour of underground subways. During these meetings, Ford said: “the war on the car stops today.”
The administration at UTSC has advocated for the LRT lines since 2007, when the plan was first announced as a part of Toronto’s Transit City plan. However, UTSC’s chief administrative officer, Andrew Arifuzzaman, said: “Unfortunately, it became a political issue, and it has sort of been running back and forth now on what the strategy is for higher order transit.”
Arifuzzaman was in support of the LRT line because it was more cost effective and easier to build than a subway line, which can take more than 20 years to complete.
When asked about what UTSC’s administration is currently doing to help students with their commutes, Arifuzzaman said the school was working to increase the number of express buses from campus to subway stations, in order to alleviate students’ travel time. To this end, Durham Regional Transit now has a direct bus from the campus to connect students to other transit lines, and the administration is hoping this will be the first of many.
Some city councillors have also recognized the need to improve transit systems for students in Scarborough. Councillor Chin Lee expressed confidence in the Big Move Transportation Line, which includes a series of improvements, extensions, and renovations to the existing subways and transit lines throughout Scarborough and the GTA.
Other facets of the Big Move Transportation Line included plans in the near future for additional Scarborough-Malvern LRTs, which would run from Kennedy Station north on Morningside Avenue, connecting with UTSC. However, these proposals have not yet been approved.
Lee says that “the goal of The Big Move is to create a regional transit network. The idea is that it doesn’t matter where you live in the city or where your destination is, you should be able to get from point A to point B using public transit.
With no plan yet approved, there is concern for transportation in 2015, when thousands of people are expected to attend Pan Am/Parapan Am events at the aquatics centre and the field house are located on the UTSC campus. Recent service cuts to the TTC and the lack of an LRT line would mean very limited accessibility to this part of the city.
City Council’s response is to place temporary express buses that will run from Scarborough Town Centre to campus, although there is concern that this may not be adequate for the expected number of people who will be travelling to and from these arenas.
Additionally, the Sheppard East LRT line, which will run from Don Mills Station to Morningside Avenue, is scheduled to be ready for the 2015 Pan Am games. This line was partially built with funds from UTSC students.
Arale further criticized Ford and his administration, saying that “[They] don’t seem to know there is another half of Scarborough past STC [Scarborough Town Centre].” He went on to say, “We need strong leadership from the next mayor and city council to address the issues facing UTSC, but also Scarborough in general when it comes to transit.”
Neither Arale nor the UTSC administration expects certainty or resolutions any time soon, but both will be decided after the municipal elections later this year. Both the UTSC administration and students remain in talks with the city. In the meantime, the UTSC administration is working to decrease commute times for students by increasing express buses, but recognize that it will not be enough to handle the magnitude of volume that will come in for the Pan Am Games.