A diminished version of John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan, which has lost another two stations in its latest iteration, goes before the mayor’s executive committee for debate Wednesday.
An updated report on the proposed transit line now calls for the construction of just five new stations, down from seven in its previous version. Two stations are being removed because they would duplicate service expected as part of the Ford government’s subway expansion plans, according to the report.
The initial SmartTrack proposal, which was the centrepiece of Tory’s 2014 mayoral campaign, promised the construction of 22 stations on existing rail corridors by 2021.
The latest report says the line will be operational by 2026 at a cost of $1.463 billion.
“We were always quite dubious about the plans to begin with,” said Jamaal Myers, an organizer with the advocacy group Scarborough Transit Action.
A SmartTrack station at Lawrence Avenue East and Kennedy Road is one of the stops that has been deleted, since a station near that intersection is now planned for the proposed Scarborough subway extension.
The other deleted SmartTrack station had been planned for Gerrard Street East and Carlaw Avenue. That stop was removed because it would duplicate a station planned as part of the Ontario Line, an entirely new subway route proposed to run from Ontario Place to the Ontario Science Centre.
Tory said the altered plans still mean Toronto will see the construction of multiple new transit stations and the introduction of new service within the next five years.
“Yes, it’s different. Yes, it’s happening at a different time. But it’s happening and I’m going to make sure it does happen,” he said last week when the report was first released.
Scarborough residents ‘getting the short end of the stick’
Myers is also concerned that the latest SmartTrack and subway proposals are overly focused on shuttling people from Toronto’s inner suburbs to the downtown core.
He said most people who use transit in Scarborough travel within their communities, and there appears to be fewer plans to improve that type of transit.
“So you’re building basically two competing mass transit systems for a smaller share of the population,” Myers said.
“The people of Lawrence East, they’re getting the short end of the stick altogether.”
The city in late 2019 approved a plan to build a $4.4-billion extension of the Eglinton East LRT, though it hasn’t been determined how the line will be funded or when it could open.
The aging Scarborough RT is also expected to be decommissioned before the Line 2 subway extension is complete, which could deal a further blow to Scarborough transit users.
Why the new plan might still work
While SmartTrack has been frequently criticized for shrinking so drastically from Tory’s initial proposal, some transit experts say the latest proposal shows a willingness to adapt amid shifting circumstances.
Murtaza Haider, a Ryerson University professor of real estate management and director of the Urban Analytics Institute, said the province’s plans for additional subway expansions have made the original SmartTrack proposal obsolete.
“Maybe we did not need all those stops; maybe there were better ways of serving public transit or providing transit services, not necessarily through SmartTrack,” Haider said.
“I would have been quite concerned if no due diligence was done and the SmartTrack plan was built without any introspection.”
Like other urban planning experts, Haider is also expecting significant changes to the way people move around cities, since many white collar workers are expected to work from home more frequently even after the pandemic.
Haider says that shift could lessen the demand for modes of public transportation designed to shuttle workers to and from the downtown core, though he acknowledged the years of planning and development of SmartTrack mean the line should still be built.