Scarborough voters look to Ontario election for transit relief

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Scarborough voters look to Ontario election for transit relief

For some in Scarborough frustrated with the lack of transit options, June's provincial election could be a chance to shake things up and provide what they say is a much needed link to the core of the city.

The region is home to more than 600,000 people — 73 per cent of whom are visible minorities and many rely on public transit to get to work. 

It's something author and playwright Catherine Hernandez has noticed. She says there are many working class people who aren't being prioritized when it comes to being able to travel downtown and that transit times have remained stagnant for decades.

"The amount of time it takes to go downtown hasn't changed since I first moved here at 10 years old, which is ridiculous," she told CBC Toronto. "It still takes about an hour and a half or two hours to make myself downtown and that's completely unacceptable."

The controversial Scarborough subway project is already in the works, and is now projected to cost more than $3 billion. The proposed one-stop extension from Line 2's Kennedy station to Scarborough Centre is expected to replace Line 3, the worn out and obsolete Scarborough RT.

Mayor John Tory and the Liberal government have strongly backed the project, but some urban planners, public transit experts and municipal politicians, like Coun. Josh Matlow, think the proposal's pricetag is much too high, and a terrible use of scarce infrastructure dollars.

They would rather go back to the original plan for Scarborough — a seven-stop light rapid transit line that they say would be cheaper while serving more commuters and bringing badly needed transit to more neighbourhoods.

But Wayne Kodje, who says he briefly tried to take public transit to work from his Scarborough home but had to stop due in part to long travel times, believes the extension is needed and it's a key election issue for him.

The retired school principal and transit advocate says he likes what he sees from Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, who has vowed to bring back the three-stop extension he championed when he was a Toronto city councillor, helping scrap the original LRT plan when his late brother, Rob Ford, was mayor.

But Kodje would like more details.

"I like what he says, but ... there's no explanation of how he's going to make that happen," he said. "There's an awful lot of forces out there that are against Scarborough getting any kind of transit, underground transit, so how's he going to make that happen?"

Party leaders talk transit

Ford made a stop in the region a few days ago to talk transit, and on Wednesday, NDP Leader Horwath visited the area, also choosing to bring up the challenges facing commuters. Among other things, her party is pushing a plan to subsidize 50 per cent of public transit operating costs, a plan the party says would mean more than $300 million more per year for transit in Toronto alone.

The reason may be because Scarborough could present some crucial opportunities to pick up votes in a heated election. The region is spread over six ridings, one new.

With residents voting overwhelmingly Liberal for years, the NDP and PCs are looking to change that. And if the lawn signs are any indication, they might be in luck in a few weeks.

Anne Gloger, principal of the East Scarborough Storefront community centre, doesn't want to say which party she thought might win big in the region. But she notes all parties have shown interest on the jobs front and that transit is a key part of employment.

"I think one of the biggest things of course is transit, and getting to jobs if jobs aren't located here. The amount of time it actually takes you to actually get anywhere. That's a huge piece," she said. 

However, Catherine Hernandez, the playwright, is skeptical about election promises that may include transit.

"As a Scarbarian I can smell false speeches from a mile away, and I'm hoping that other voters can, too."