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A Scarborough Rapid Transit train near Ellsmere Station in Scarborough, Ont. on June 9, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The board of Toronto’s transit agency has approved a plan to stop running an east-end train line in 2023, putting its passengers onto buses for at least seven years as they wait for the Scarborough subway extension to be built.

The future of the Rapid Transit (RT) line, which connects Scarborough Town Centre with the eastern terminus of the Bloor-Danforth subway line, had become increasingly uncertain as its trains aged and wore out. The RT was initially supposed to stay in service until it was replaced by a subway extension, but that project has taken much longer than its supporters promised and is not expected before 2030.

The RT trains are now 10 years past their expected lifespan and transit staff recently recommended against spending more to keep them running even longer. This is the end of the line for a train pushed on the Toronto Transit Commission by a province eager to showcase a new technology.

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As they approved the end of the RT, the transit agency’s board left open two options for replacing the train service. The TTC will consider now whether to replace the RT with new buses starting in 2023, or to use existing buses until 2026 and then add new ones. Costs for the two options range from $357-million to $375-million.

Either way, the TTC is promising a bus every 60 seconds.

City councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who represents a Scarborough ward and sits on the TTC board, said high-capacity bus service could have the benefit of attracting people turned off by the limited space and poor reliability of the RT.

“I think we have two issues to solve,” she said. “There’s [providing] transit along the corridor, but we also just can’t forget that this is also an opportunity to increase capacity and bring people back to this line that many have deserted.”

The Scarborough subway extension was first approved in 2013, with its opening set for 2023. The project’s budget included $132-million to keep the RT running until the subway was ready.

The shutdown of the RT undermines one of the key early arguments for a subway extension.

Originally, a fully funded and approved light-rail line was to have been built on the route of the RT. But this would have forced passengers onto buses during construction, while one type of transit service replaced another. Subway proponents were opposed to this period of bus ridership and argued that the RT could stay in service while an underground train was being built.

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However, development of the subway has been so protracted – amid changes of provincial government and repeated changes to the plan – that the RT is reaching the end of its practical lifespan before its replacement is near ready.

“It is not fair for Scarborough commuters who will have to wait seven more years for a replacement subway line,” said Zain Khurram, who sits on the City Youth Council, which liaises between Toronto and its young residents.

“The TTC knew that this day would come, yet decisions were [made], actions were postponed and now we’re ultimately left with nothing.”

Before the pandemic, the RT carried about 35,000 passengers daily. Once these people are required to ride the bus instead, the TTC is projecting that figure will drop an unspecified amount.

“Overall, the bus service plan is expected to decrease ridership on the [RT] corridor in 2023,” staff wrote in the report underpinning their recommendation to shut down the train.

The passengers riding these buses will find the journey slower from Scarborough Town Centre to Kennedy subway station. Instead of 10 minutes on the RT, the TTC says, they should expect the bus to take 15 to 18 minutes.

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Transit advocates have argued that the bus ride should be sped up as much as possible, including by setting aside space on the road exclusively for these vehicles. The TTC has said it will look into the idea.

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