With the Scarborough RT closing, residents say they’re tired of being ignored. It’s time they had a voice in the future of their transit

·4 min read

With the Scarborough RT officially slated to close in 2023, attention is back on how public transit works in the east side of the city.

And if you ask the riders, they have a lot to say.

The Star asked residents from Scarborough to share voice notes about what using the TTC is like for them. One called it the worst, yet “most reliable” option they had. Some barely used the RT to begin with. Another wondered if the TTC could deal with the sewage smell inside Kennedy Station while they were at it.

Listen to what people had to say here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kdo70iBgl48&feature=youtu.be

But something community leaders in the area have wanted for a long time is for decision-making with public transit to really include them.

Masooma Ali said growing up in Scarborough and seeing the way decisions like transit plans are made is what inspired her to become an urban planner.

She’s noticed that people of colour and people with lower incomes often get their needs met last, and when they do have the opportunity to contribute to a consultation, it’s not always what they’d expect.

“(Leaders) will come, and they will listen, but they will ultimately do what they think is best,” Ali said.

“There (have) been so many different options that have been promised to Scarborough over the years that haven’t come into fruition,” Ali said, but she sees how this could be “a moment of great change,” if community members are involved.

She pointed out the fact that the SRT is so outdated — it was built in 1985 and is still chugging long past its 25 years life span — and yet Scarborough residents have fought hard to maintain it because it is all they have.

“It really speaks to the situation of transit in Scarborough,” she said. “It’s not a great system, but it’s still better than the alternatives that exist.”

Jamaal Myers, a long-time transit advocate, has noticed that much of the transit solutions that come out of city hall over the years aren’t necessarily based on what would really serve Scarborough.

One change Myers would like to see going forward is a requirement that the people on the TTC board actually take public transit. With too many drivers in the mix, the priorities can be clouded by trying not to inconvenience drivers, as opposed to serving transit riders, Myers said.

The SRT only serves 6.4 kilometres and the subway replacement plan would add a kilometre and a half. Meanwhile Scarborough in full stretches nearly 190 square kilometres.

Meanwhile riders like high school student Zain Khurram rarely use the SRT. The 116 Morningside bus, which he used to get to and from school pre-pandemic, is his stomping ground.

COVID-19 lockdowns have amplified what was already the case — people in Scarborough tend to use bus routes to get around the area, Myers said.

Both Myers and Ali say a comprehensive consultation process is necessary going forward. One that takes into account the fact that maybe after working long hours at a low-paying job and multiple hours of commuting, the last thing someone would want to do is stop off on the way home and join a town hall.

More meetings happening online as a result of the pandemic is helpful for some, but the digital divide can still leave some residents out of the conversation, Myers said.

Talking with and understanding the community needs would set everyone involved on the right path, and open opportunity for ideas, like how to reuse the SRT stations post-closure.

“I think it’s about going to the people, instead of expecting the people to come to the process,” Ali said.

Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: afrancis@thestar.ca

Danica Samuel is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: dsamuel@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @danicasamuel

Angelyn Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Danica Samuel, Toronto Star, Toronto Star