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.
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.
|SRT Car||12.7m (41’8″)||2.49m (8’2″)||3.184m (10’7″)|
|New Flyer eBus||12.5m (41’0″)||2.59m (8’6″)||3.38m (11’1″)|
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.
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.
|38 Highland Creek||10’30”||5.7||7|
|129 McCowan North||5’00”||12||13|
|131/903 Nugget/STC Express||8′||7.5||13|
|954 Lawrence East Express||9’20”||6.4||9|
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.