What Bus Service Will Replace the SRT?

In about two years, July 2023, the Scarborough RT will shut down and be replaced by bus services until a Line 2 Scarborough Subway Extension opens in 2030. For seven years or more, riders will use buses to reach Kennedy terminal on Line 2, a change that will strain both the transit service and roads.

The TTC has a survey underway to July 16, 2021, to find out how riders think the bus service should operate, and to get a sense of how they use the bus network today.

The SRT operates primarily as a link between Scarborough Centre (aka STC) and Kennedy Stations with Lawrence East Station in a distant third place mainly because of transfer traffic from the 54/954 Lawrence East bus services. A replacement service does not have to duplicate the route of the SRT, but rather serve travel patterns between the major nodes.

Source: TTC Subway Ridership 2018

The TTC plans to extend many routes now terminating at STC to Kennedy, but the challenge lies in the route that they will take. The combined service at peak will be about 1 minute, and that will strain road capacity. A saving grace is that buses will not stop often, and so they will not queue at curbside, but this bring an operational challenge for any mixture of local and express services. A reserved lane works best if buses do not have to pass each other by merging into other traffic.

There are many ways to get from STC to Kennedy on the road system, and the right-of-way of the existing RT presents another option. However, there are trade-offs.

  • Traffic conditions vary at various places on these routes.
  • Any location where vehicles must turn will be a pinch point.
  • Construction on the Line 2 extension will disrupt Eglinton Avenue east of Kennedy Station as well as at the future Lawrence East Station on McCowan Road.

The SRT right-of-way presents an option for at least part of the route, but its varying character limits what can be done.

  • The corridor is widest between Kennedy and Lawrence East Stations. If this is converted to a bus roadway, it would provide direct access to Kennedy Station at the south bypassing construction on Eglinton, and buses could use existing access roads at Lawrence.
  • Between Lawrence and Ellesmere Stations, the corridor is narrower in places making it more challenging for a two-way bus roadway.
  • North of Ellesmere Station the SRT runs through a tunnel that is only big enough for an SRT vehicle which is slightly smaller than a standard city bus, and requires less dynamic clearance because it runs on rails.
  • From the tunnel east to McCowan Station the line runs on an elevated structure which at a minimum would require access ramps for buses at street level to climb onto and off of the elevated.

The tunnel portal north of Ellesmere Station where the SRT passes under the GO Stouffville corridor gives a sense of the limited space available. Dimensions of SRT cars and a New Flyer eBuses are shown below.

LengthWidthHeight
SRT Car12.7m (41’8″)2.49m (8’2″)3.184m (10’7″)
New Flyer eBus12.5m (41’0″)2.59m (8’6″)3.38m (11’1″)
Source: Google Maps

During a recent online consultation session, a question about using the Hydro corridor came up. This corridor, quite visible on the maps, runs north beside the SRT from Kennedy Station, but ends south of Lawrence. The broad Gatineau corridor crosses south of Lawrence East Station, but this only reaches to Lawrence or slightly further depending on which north-south street would be used to complete the link to STC.

TTC staff noted that the Hydro lands do not give the TTC anything they would not get simply by using the SRT corridor, and moreover that Hydro can be difficult to deal with in accommodating new infrastructure on their lands. Use of the Gatineau corridor would also require an underpass for buses to cross below the GO tracks much as the SRT now crosses north of Ellesmere Station.

On-Street and SRT Corridor Options

Several possible routes are suggested by the TTC between STC and Kennedy including dogleg alignments via Lawrence to avoid construction east of Kennedy Station. For any services that will make intermediate stops, a consistent route would be ideal as a focused transfer point to east-west lines like 95 Ellesmere and 54 Lawrence East. However, any route that would run non-stop can take any path. The real issue is whether multiple reserved bus lanes on different streets would be created to handle separate local and express volumes and what the effect on traffic in central Scarborough would be.

The TTC and City are studying how an aggressive Transit Signal Priority scheme might be implemented at key locations. This is a challenge with a headway of one minute on roads that have a considerably longer cycle time for intersection signals, not to mention the effect of pedestrians at locations where buses will turn. Distributing buses to multiple routes, or onto the SRT corridor, could reduce problems with fitting in a major new bus service.

If some or all of the SRT corridor were used, this presents a different, smaller set of options. Between STC and Ellesmere Station, either a route on the SRT guideway or via Ellesmere are possible. Although Ellesmere Station does not have a bus interchange, there is an access road now used by the 95C branch of the Ellesmere bus. The number of buses that would loop through here would be substantial.

Lawrence East station has a bus loop today.

An important issue with using the SRT corridor will be the time needed to convert each segment for BRT operation. For an initial period, only the street options shown above will be workable. Any staging plan should consider opening BRT first on the southern segment to gain an off-street access at Kennedy Station as early as possible. The more of the corridor that can be reused, the faster buses will travel without traffic interference and without disturbing existing streets.

Bus Technologies

In the report discussing the SRT’s future, management presented three options. The first of these, a hybrid SRT and bus operation, was discarded because there would be no guarantee that a reduced SRT service could be reliably maintained until 2030. The remaining two options on the table are:

  • Option 2: SRT to 2023 and Bus Replacement service 2023 to 2030 with new buses.
  • Option 3: SRT to 2023 and Bus Replacement Service within current fleet 2023 to 2026 and new buses 2027 to 2030.

Even without the pandemic’s reduction in peak bus fleet requirements, the TTC has a surplus of buses. In January 2020, peak bus requirements were 1,622, but the fleet is over 2,000 vehicles, a comfortable ratio of spares to service needs of 25%, somewhat higher than the TTC’s target level of 18%. To put it another way, 7% of a 2,000 vehicle fleet is 140 buses that could be providing service but instead sit in garages padding out the maintenance pool. Whether these 140 are actually fit for service is a separate question I will not pursue here.

The TTC claims that 60 additional buses will be required to operate the extension of services to Kennedy Station. This can easily be handled within the current fleet. Whether net new buses are actually required must be addressed as part of an overall fleet plan, something TTC management appears loath to produce. Buying 60 new buses charged to the SRT project would reduce capital requirements in routine fleet replacement plans that are currently underfunded.

One issue both for street and right-of-way operation is the additional noise of frequent bus service in affected neighbourhoods. With the TTC poised to begin “greening” of its fleet in earnest, the SRT replacement has the political allure of a tailor-made place to show off the new technology. If only things were that simple.

The fleet that collectively would operate over the replacement route(s), wherever it/they might be, is not just the buses one would need for an STC-to-Kennedy shuttle. The outer ends of all routes that now terminate at STC require buses too, and if they will be through-routed to Kennedy, they must also be eBuses.

A further challenge is the rollout plan for garage electrification. If there will be a large eBus fleet in Scarborough to operate the SRT replacement, then there must also be garage capacity to charge and maintain the new fleet. TTC plans for system migration to eBuses are not yet settled, but they will have to include a concentration of eBuses in Scarborough at least in the medium term, to make an all eBus SRT replacement practical.

During a recent online consultation session, the TTC mentioned the possibility of on-route eBus charging. This is a different approach from the garage-based charging they appear to have favoured in earlier studies. Each has its benefits and limitations, and on-route charging would require additional road and terminal capacity for buses to sit, albeit briefly, at each stop to top up their charge. That operating model may not fit well with an “express” service.

As a sidebar to all this, a proponent of eBuses with on-rail capability has pitched an adapted version of the New Flyer vehicle to the TTC. If the SRT replacement depends on railed vehicles using the existing corridor, this could drive up the requirement for new buses. There are also basic clearance issues with existing structures given the placement of existing tracks and platforms based on SRT train geometry. Sadly, this is another case of a technology pitch made directly to the TTC Board who lob it over to staff for “evaluation”.

One way or another, it is unlikely that Scarborough will see full eBus operation as a replacement SRT service from opening day.

The table below shows the service levels and vehicle requirements as of January 2020 (pre-pandemic) on the routes TTC plans to extend. This does not include service for demand that originates on other routes connecting to the SRT, or walk-in traffic.

Additional space will be needed at Kennedy Station to accommodate the new bus traffic, and more would be needed to provide for on-route recharging of eBuses here.

RouteHeadway (Jan/20)Vehicles/HrVehicles
38 Highland Creek10’30”5.77
129 McCowan North5’00”1213
131/903 Nugget/STC Express8′7.513
133 Neilson11′5.57
134/913 Progress3’26”17.511
954 Lawrence East Express9’20”6.49
Total1’06”54.560
Source: Scheduled Service Summary for January 5, 2020

One issue that comes up from time to time is the future of McCowan Yard and whether it would be suitable as a bus garage, at least in the short term. There are a few interlocking issues here:

  • Are more buses actually needed to operate the replacement service, and should we be building a small garage for what is supposed to be a temporary situation?
  • Should a new storage facility be dedicated to eBuses to avoid the need for diesel fueling and maintenance capability?
  • Should a new facility be intended simply for storage and simple servicing with buses cycling back to a “home” division for any significant maintenance?
  • McCowan Yard is relatively small and oddly shaped for bus storage. It currently handles 28 bus-sized SRT cars plus the line’s works fleet. There is vacant property north of the yard, but it is unclear what its status would be over the next decade.
  • The yard has an existing electrical feed for the SRT although this would have to be modified for eBus charging.

The Future of the SRT Corridor

Part of the online survey addresses the question of what might be done with the SRT corridor and structures once they are decommissioned. Among the options are walking and cycling paths, parkland, and repurposing existing station buildings as community centres or bike stations.

The type of function possible at stations will depend on the station location and what kind of transit service it will have, if any, once the subway extension opens. As a cycling route, the corridor would provide a long, off-road bikeway.

The elevated structure from McCowan to Midland Station has been proposed by some as a Scarborough “High Line” by analogy to New York.

All of these are on the table, although not as an integral part of the SRT replacement itself.

10 thoughts on “What Bus Service Will Replace the SRT?

  1. Realistically Midland is the best option, and the city should install queue jump lanes with white bar signals to speed up left turns.

    Steve: There will be a big problem at Midland and Eglinton because there will be a huge hole in the road for subway construction both to connect the extension into Kennedy Station and to prebuild the exit for the Eglinton East LRT.

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  2. I also feel that Midland and Eglinton is the best possible route especially if the City can do something with that parking lot on the northwest corner of Midland and Eglinton that is basically sitting empty most of the time. Maybe some kind of bus only road to connect to the south service road east of Kennedy station near the GO station.

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  3. Segregated bus lanes would be needed to keep the single-occupant motorists away from the 40+ people on board the buses. At the same time, convert the SRT right-of-way to pedestrian walkways and cyclists/e-bikes, limited to a speed limit of 30 km/h.

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  4. I looked at the 2018 Mon-Fri bus ridership stats for the current/proposed map here that feeds STC (https://www.ttc.ca/PDF/Transit_Planning/Ridership_and_service_statistics_2018-A.pdf):

    129 McCowan North – 13,000
    939 Finch Express – 35,000* – only 939A and 939B turn from Finch down McCowan
    131 Nugget – 2,000
    133 Neilson – 11,000
    134 Progress – 9,000
    38 Highland Creek – 11,000

    Nearby relevant routes:
    43 Kennedy – 17,000
    57 Midland – 12,000
    95 York Mills (Ellesmere) – 24,000
    995 York Mills Express – 6,000

    I think it’s important to note that there is currently no North/South express service between the Victoria Park Express and the Markham Rd Express. Nothing on Warden, Kennedy, nor McCowan. As Steve has pointed out, STC is an artificial transit node where the normal TTC grid route pattern is disrupted, which feeds the SRT. This now creates the problem where the SRT-Kennedy ridership is too much for buses to easily handle, even without the SSE construction.

    I think many of the routes should be decentralized, and the grid pattern routes should be strengthened. A big question is how many of those 35,000 939 Finch Express riders are on the A/B routes heading to the SRT. If it’s substantial, then if there was an express route on Warden, that would divert some riders from buses heading to Kennedy.

    Adding a Kennedy express route wouldn’t help the congestion at Kennedy Station, but at least it would partially relieve the STC-Kennedy route.

    The 133 Neilson, 134 Progress, and 38 Highland Creek, are meandering routes which could potentially be re-organized to be less dependent on STC and connect with other strengthened routes.

    I think this kind of decentralizing approach, combined with converting the Kennedy-Lawrence (potentially Ellesmere) SRT ROW to BRT, could help make things bearable.

    Steve: Express service is coming on Kennedy and Warden later this year as part of the 2021 Service Plan.

    I agree that the route structure should revised so that at least some service is not focused on the artificial STC node. This came up in the online consultation, although the idea wasn’t clearly understood. There are people who want to travel within Scarborough who are forced to go through STC because that’s where the SRT interchange is. Without the SRT, the justification for some routes might not exist, or there could be a better organization. Something to think about for the 2023 Service Plan.

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  5. I assume they’re smart enough not to choose too effective a bus system?

    A well-designed bus network would probably prove once and for all that the subway extension is an utterly pointless boondoggle. The buses will carry all the traffic with only slight capacity issues at Kennedy Station which could obviously be fixed by redesigning the bus terminal or installing an LRT or two.

    Steve: A “too effective” bus system would require dedication of more road space and green time at signals than Toronto is ever going to give the TTC.

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  6. At times officialdom is officialdumb, and is it the paid staff, or the majority of Clowncillors? So yes, a good bus system could well show up the multi-billion boondoggle of the SSE, and a key to a good bus network is de-emphasizing the artificial node of the STC, and the key to better bus services in all of Scarborough is usage of the Gatineau Hydro corridor, including for semi-express and express buses. And yes, while maybe the Hydro folks are territorial, but maybe we could get Metrolinx interested in the corridor by suggesting it’s 401 Relief, to provide a quicker, bus-only way in to the Eglinton area from the Zoo/401.

    Of course services would have to be super-clean buses and a degree of consult, despite the great width of the Hydro corridor. Billions are being wasted here; few are fussing, and that includes the Official Opposition, (not), so I’ll be taking various ‘outrage’ at cutbacks etc., with a few bags of salt. (And yes, we need to spend in Scarborough, but we also need to spend on transit in the core, and in every other part of Toronto and Ontario and Canada.) There’s now no national bus carrier with Greyhound going down – surely that’s a better investment than this subway folly.

    We also might be better off with a giveaway of tens of thousands of bikes and e-bikes.

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  7. I filled the survey, mentioned that SRT corridor is the best option for buses where possible. And, mentioned that the buses will not fit into the tunnel north of Ellesmere. Hopefully they know that already, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them.

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  8. Being a Scarborough Centre resident, I see 1) a lot of unnecessary and costly work, and 2) not that much relative benefit in trying to run bus service on the elevated east-west portion of the SRT alignment. Locals including myself also want to see the structure be used for some type of urban line park/active connection and the stations turned into community centres and the like, which would be delayed in that case until at least 2030.

    What I feel might be the best steady-state solution for the majority of the decade would be running the bus service both ways in the SRT ROW between Kennedy Station and Lawrence, and then running them one-way through the Lawrence-Ellesmere portion based on time-of-day. Basically, you’d have the Kennedy-bound buses using the northern ROW during the first half of the day and the STC-bound buses using it the latter half. The off-peak direction during each time of day could use Kennedy, Midland, or Brimley, with the kick out to Kennedy in the latter 2 cases when required by construction activity. Then you’d just have both directions using the Ellesmere alignment to go the remaining distance to STC.

    I know it’s not all about rush hour optimization, but that would probably make it faster for more people based on their commutes to and from downtown, while keeping the narrower northern ROW to one direction at a time and avoiding any expense needed to widen it. It would also greatly reduce the throughput on any of the arterials that would be affected otherwise.

    I’m certain there are factors I’m not taking into account, but that’s what I could think of at this point. It would be neat to get your take on this.

    Steve: Actually what you propose matches my position exactly. Convert the stuff that’s easy to change as quickly as possible, and don’t sweat two-way service in the narrow section if it won’t fit. The elevated section is a non-starter for buses. I am constantly amazed by people who don’t think through the physical constraints of converting the whole line. One might almost think some of them have never seen it.

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  9. I agree with Simon H. I’m not sure how much inherent transit demand there is at STC outside of the fact that they forced it to be a transit hub. They should reroute some GO routes to a different transit hub while the SRT is out, and improve connectivity from Kennedy Station to Sheppard and northern Scarborough, provide express routes from Kennedy Station to the big college and university campuses, and basically untangle everything from automatically routing to STC. Perhaps they could add bus lanes along Sheppard or find some weird way to finally allow the Lawrence bus to actually go all the way to Yonge Street. The Eglinton crosstown might also be running for much of this period, so they could also extend it further along Eglinton a bit to help spread out some of the passenger load too.

    Also, can’t they phase the construction of the subway a little better? The whole “build the tunnel first, then build the stations afterward” may be easier in terms of contracting, but I’m not sure if it’s actually cheaper and it seems to often lead to delays because stations take a long time to build and often the whole line needs to be delayed because one key station can’t be built on time, leading to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and delays. It’s also brutal for the local economies because so much of the city is mired in construction at the same time. The Crosstown and York U extension both demonstrated that. Can’t they prioritize getting a station at Brimley or Lawrence opened a few years earlier, to help take on some of the passenger load as soon as possible? They can delay the STC and/or Sheppard stations to do it.

    Steve: The inherent problem on Lawrence is that there is no arterial road between Leslie and Bayview, and the Bridle Path district is not exactly set up for frequent bus service. Today there is the Lawrence-Donway bus every now and then. (I can hear the screams about “neighbourhood character” if a frequent bus service were proposed there.) In any event, before the SRT shuts down, the 54/54 Lawrence East service will be rerouted/extended to Science Centre Station, and the whole point will be moot.

    As for the Eglinton East LRT, there are two problems. First, it’s only at the very preliminary stage and no funding has been committed. Second, the Scarborough Subway makes it impossible to build the link into Kennedy Station until after the subway structure is complete. Ideally the two should be done at the same time, but that sort of sane planning is not what we see these days.

    A big problem with stations, particularly on Eglinton, is that the tunnel is very deep and that makes the stations bigger projects in their own right. In Scarborough, the tunneling starts at Sheppard and works south and west to Kennedy Station. Even if there were a station available, short term operation to Lawrence is not possible. Also, there is no major bus interchange planned for Lawrence East station. If one were built, aside from the land it would require, it would be a throwaway structure once the full route opened and most riders travelled further north.

    Finally, there is no station at Brimley in this project, and if there were, it would have many of the same issues as Lawrence East.

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