Commuter students at UTSC may soon have their transit woes alleviated, after Toronto Mayor John Tory released a new transit proposal for Scarborough, which includes a subway station at Scarborough Town Centre and a 17-stop extension of the planned Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) connecting to UTSC.

“The civil war is over,” Tory announced during a press conference on January 21. “We are going to build transit.”

The new proposal will be built along with SmartTrack, a surface commuter rail for the city that was featured as part of Tory’s 2014 municipal election campaign.

In an interview with Metro Morning host Matt Galloway on CBC Radio 1, Tory said the proposal has a “political consensus” among city councilors.

“This is a better plan, more transit for Scarborough for the same money,” the Mayor said. “If I can find a better way to do things that goes along with expert advice, that gets more value for the money, I’m going to go with that.”

Students “very excited”

In 2009, the Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU) voted to provide $30 million in student levies for funding of the Toronto Pan-Am Sports Centre. Although not an official agreement, the students believed that their contribution would result in a direct LRT line for commuting to their campus. The intermediate plans did not include a direct link to UTSC, which led to student protests.

The SCSU released a public statement on January 20, 2016 expressing their support of Tory’s transit proposal.

“The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union is in support of Mayor Tory’s proposal, and the students are very excited,” SCSU vice president, external Yasmin Rajabi said in the statement. “UTSC students have been fighting for more accessible transit options for a long time.”

The SCSU stated that transit has been an issue among students for years, especially for commuter students. Currently, students travelling on the TTC between the two campuses have to take the 198 Rocket, an express bus that connects the Scarborough Campus with Kennedy Station.

Earlier this month, SCSU collaborated with the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students to operate a shuttle bus between the Scarborough and St. George campuses for one day on January 13. Both unions pooled their resources as part of their campaign to lobby the administration for a direct method of transportation between the campuses.

Though they are optimistic, SCSU still wants to see a shuttle bus for the duration of the project as a short-term solution.

“The gap in service provision is an issue that students have been facing for years, and waiting for construction to be completed only prolongs limited access to the downtown campus for an indefinite amount of time. While we support the new proposal, we continue to advocate for a relief line from UTSC to UTSG for the duration of this project,” Rajabi said.

A deal in the making

In 2006, former mayor David Miller and the TTC announced Transit City, an expansion project that would have provided LRT routes throughout the city, including UTSC.

The Transit City project was scrapped by Former Mayor Rob Ford, because he claimed that subways were the best option for Scarborough on his first day in office. In 2012, City Council voted to reject Ford’s subway plan and opted for a seven-stop LRT line from Kennedy Station to replace the existing Scarborough RT (SRT) and be fully funded by the provincial government.

Ford, however, continued to advocate for subways and pressed for a more expensive three-stop subway line, which would have required additional funding from the federal government and an increase in municipal property taxes.

There was much debate among councillors over whether to implement the subway plans or keep the existing LRT plans. In 2013, City Council ultimately voted to reverse its decision and Ford’s plan was approved.

Former UTSC professor Zack Taylor, who is now teaching political science at Western University, believes the new proposal is a good plan from a “bang-for-buck perspective.”

“Subways are very expensive and require a lot of ridership to justify their construction,” Taylor said, regarding the previous proposal for a three-stop subway. “Repeated analysis of corridors in Scarborough has demonstrated that the ridership, even in the future, is unlikely to be sufficient to justify a subway.”

Taylor also lauded the plan as a replacement for the old SRT, which he calls a “costly technological orphan.”

“In the future, the TTC will only have to maintain three kinds of vehicles instead of four: buses, subway cars, and LRTs. This will save money and make for a more efficient system.”