The Cost of a Scarborough RT Busway

On May 2, Toronto’s Executive Committee considered a report on the future bus service to replace the Scarborough RT which will shut down in late 2023. The “debate” was notable for a few key reasons:

  • The staff report took the position that a busway in the SRT corridor was not on the table because it is not “funded” in City budget parlance. Therefore, the report concentrates on buses operating over city streets between Scarborough Town Centre and Kennedy Station.
  • There was considerable confusion about the cost of the SRT busway option, although it has been under study by the TTC for a few years.
  • Completion of the design to 30% lacks only $2.9 million in funding. The position of most Councillors and of staff is that the province should pay, and talks are underway as part of the wider Scarborough Subway funding arrangements. Meanwhile the design work sits.
  • The Committee was misled by City staff about the busway’s cost by confusion of busway-specific costs with other elements such as the eventual dismantling of the SRT which is a common cost for any scenario.
  • Several City staff appeared to have done little prep work for the debate even though it was well known in advance that this would an item of interest on the agenda.

Meanwhile, the hapless transit riders in Scarborough wait for a fast route to replace the SRT, but see this drifting off into the mist. There is a strong sense that this project is not a priority for the City unless someone else pays. That may sound very good as a negotiating stance, but it does little for riders.

This article reviews the estimates for the busway to sort out the confused material presented to Executive Committee. Possibly, if the planets all align over Scarborough, Council can unscramble this at its meeting on May 10.

Line 3 Bus Replacement Study Final Recommendations

In April 2022, the TTC Board approved management’s recommendation that the SRT bus service operate over a busway to be built in the existing SRT corridor between Ellesmere and Kennedy Stations. The table below summarizes the capital costs.

The total cost from 2022-2030 is $108 million, but only $49.5 million of that is due to the busway. Of that $2 million would be spent in 2022. Other costs have nothing to do with the busway option and will be incurred regardless of which option is chosen. This leaves an unfunded requirement of $62.7 million of which the lion’s share is due to the busway.

The report explicitly states that this cost includes demolition of the existing infrastructure, a cost that will have to be incurred whether buses run in this corridor or not. The dollar value of this work is not split out.

The next table shows operating costs for the replacement bus service.

There is a small loss of revenue because the temporary bus terminal at Kennedy will occupy space now used for parking. This foregone revenue is common to any option chosen for the bus link to STC.

The cost of bus replacement service is low in 2023 because it will not begin until November, then jumps up to a full year of operation in 2024. This would be done over city streets because the SRT busway cannot be opened within 2024. However, there is only a small rise in cost in 2025, well below inflation, and then a drop in 2026. This represents the saving of about $3 million annually because of shorter travel times via the busway. Without the busway, the total for 2023-2030 would be about $21 million higher.

There is an offsetting drop in costs thanks to the SRT shutdown which saves about $21 million annually. Note that the figures above are the same in each year, and the saving would probably be higher due to inflation. This shows as a “credit” of $148.8 million, although it is not real, spendable money, merely a reduction in future costs. The net increase in operating cost is $67.8 million. Without the busway this figure would rise to about $89 million.

In this and other estimates, there is a separate large future expense to demolish the existing SRT structure. Although this might be repurposed as a Scarborough “High Line”, from a budgeting point of view provision must be made for its removal absent any other committed plan. The cost of this work is $150-175 million, and that cost will exist regardless of which bus routing option is chosen. City staff mingled this very large cost with the discussion of the busway, and that misled the Committee about the eventual busway cost.

The pie chart below appears in the presentation deck provided with the report. The capital chart on the left mirrors Table 1 above with a total cost of $108 million of which $62.7 million is unfunded. However, I must repeat that only $49.5 million of this is due to the busway and the remainder is an unavoidable cost related to the SRT shutdown.

On the operating side, the avoided cost of running the RT of $148.8 million is treated as available spending headroom. The remaining $67.8 million is the amount needed to fully fund the bus operation, but this assumes the savings of the SRT busway from late 2025 onward. The gap would be larger without the busway in place.

Transit Network Expansion Update

This report from February 2023 notes among many other items that the projected cost of the busway has risen from the earlier estimate in 2022 to $58.6 million, or $9.1 million more. This is a recent report and so the estimate must be treated as current.

Again the report states that the cost of demolishing existing infrastructure is included in this price.

As stated in the April 14, 2022 Board report titled, Line 3 Bus Replacement Study Final Recommendations, it is recommended that parts of the existing Line 3 be converted to a right-of-way (ROW) for bus operation in order to provide customers with the fastest and most reliable bus replacement service. The updated total estimated capital cost for this is $58.6 million (Class 4 estimate). It includes the construction costs to remove existing track infrastructure and systems for the trains; costs to assemble required property for the busway and bus stop platforms; and costs to install new pavement to allow buses to

Financial and Major Projects Update for the Year Ended December 31, 2022

From the Executive Committee debate we know that the TTC requires $2.9 million to complete the 30% design for the busway and hence have a solid estimate with which to seek funding. Work has stopped because this money is not available.

However, that stoppage must be viewed in light of a general slowdown on capital spending that was implemented to reduce the TTC’s call on City funds in 2022.

According to the Major Projects Update from April 2023 [p. 1]:

Of the total 2022 capital underspending of $259.5 million, $87 million is directly attributable to the paused spending of capital projects necessary for the TTC to contribute towards the City’s $300-million COVID-19 Backstop Funding Plan.

Later in the report [p. 23] we learn

[…] some design work related to the SRT Transition (Bus Replacement Infrastructure) progressed slower than anticipated, resulting in underspending of $2.2 million for that capital work.

Whether this “slower” work was a result of complexity or available workforce, or if it was part of the contribution to the City’s capital crisis, we do not know. Clearly, however, most of the money needed to finish the design was in the 2022 budget originally, and if necessary could have been carried over into the 2023 budget, a common practice for multi-year work.

A Confused Debate About Funding

During the Executive Committee debate, nobody simply asked “can we find $2.9 million somewhere to get the design work done”. As long as this sits unfunded while the City and Province grind through political and legal agreements, the actual construction will be further delayed.

With a question about operating costs, the committee tiptoed up to asking about cost tradeoffs, an obvious tactic especially considering that the TTC’s 2022 report was based on this approach. But, no, this was not to be. Councillors were left with the impression that the busway would be at least $58 million, possibly much more, and the issue of operating savings was ignored.

Finally, the question of service quality for riders did not receive much attention. This is rather sad considering the billions in capital spending on rapid transit projects that has been justified on the premise that saved travel time has a value. It does not accrue to the City, but has a value to the riders, and contributes to the attractiveness of transit service, something the City claims to be of great concern.

Throughout all of this, there was clear confusion among Councillors who are unfamiliar with the details of the file, and among staff who should have arrived at the meeting fully up-to-speed on what was expected to be a major item. Saying “we will get back to you” is simply a recipe for further delay, and strongly implies a lack of urgency. Some questions could have been addressed by a direct report to Council rather than waiting through an entire meeting cycle to the next Executive Committee meeting.

I was left with the sense that haggling with the Province over cost sharing took higher priority than finishing a credible design, one that will save future operating costs and speed buses on the SRT corridor. City Council should amend the Executive Committee’s position and direct that funding be located within the capital budget to complete the design. It is ludicrous that politicians who claim to be ever so worried about Scarborough constituents are perfectly happy to make them wait longer for the SRT bus option that will so clearly benefit every rider.

14 thoughts on “The Cost of a Scarborough RT Busway

  1. What’s going to happen with the SRT corridor after the trains are gone? Are the tracks staying where they are, rusting away? Likely they’ll have to recycle the tracks anyways, and fill in any depressions. Will they have to pave the corridor for bicycles and/or joggers? Would they be doing that now or later?

    Will they remain like the old Roman roads as an monument to Bill Davis?

    Steve: Er .. ah .. the whole idea is to replace the tracks south from Ellesmere with a bus roadway. However the elevated structure is another matter. Maybe it could be a Scarborough Henge used to predict momentous occasions like the opening of Line 5 when the sun lines up with the columns.


  2. What a gong show. While it is understandable that Councillors, especially new ones, may not know the details or even how to discern fixed versus incremental costs, it is inexcusable that City staff don’t clearly lay out the various options. That they were not prepared is unconscionable as a tax payer.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The real solution, for taxpayers, Scarborough, transit riders and envirors, is using the Gatineau Hydro corridor or parts thereof for a busway, to start. It goes all through Scarborough on the faster and off-road diagonal and yet has easy access to multiple destinations and roads. Alas, it’s been consistently left unexplored as what are a few billion of tax dollars and extra years of grind?? As with the Smart Spur, and failing to get another hydro corridor years back, it’s a pathetic set of political fails that those responsible aren’t paying for bt should. Frod the people….


  4. At least Olivia Chow had some idea on how to pay for the busway. Can’t say the same for the other mayoral candidates. If only Chow won the 2013 mayoral election.


  5. Hi Steve.

    City councillors in Scarborough for the most part, have been so busy cutting taxes & pinching pennies, that they ‘forgot’ about the biggest issues for their residents, proper TTC service.

    The worst offenders are Michael Thompson, Jennifer McKelvie & Gary Crawford, with Nick Mantas not far behind, only Jamaal Myers & Paul Ainslie, seems to be ‘on the ball’, when it comes to what Scarborough residents really need, as far as TTC is concerned.

    Let’s not even get into the real Albatross in the room that excludes People with disabilities who live in Scarborough, Warden Stn, as well as the SRT..

    I pushed hard for the BusWay, it’s the best option, for many reasons.

    It’s not hard to make any of the current SRT stations accessible, (think of Keele or Eglinton West elevators)

    I’m frustrated that yet again city staff (mainly those who answer to Rick Leary, are yet again dropping the ball) as well as those who are in transportation, for not making a better design of on street bus service, the streets near the current SRT are too small & busy for full SRT replacement bus service.

    Yet again the TTC users of Scarborough are being shafted by both their elected officials & by TTC..

    I actually miss living in Scarborough, except for the 2+ hr commute (accessible version) into downtown Toronto.



  6. Think outside the box is a popular old saying. I say, Throw out the box!

    There is a way to use the existing infrastructure at a modest cost AND really quick. Put steel wheels under those spare buses of which there are plenty and run them on the current track. Run at a safe distance between them. KISS

    Railways have long used rubber tire road vehicles equipped with steel wheels. They are Hy-Rail (Highway-Railway) vehicles. There are full-sized school buses to transort work crews to/from work sites. There are also small trucks and BIG trucks with cranes etc. They run at good speed. Rubber tires only on road. Rubber tires on rail PLUS steel wheel sets that drop down to sit on rails.

    Let’s have a “pilot” !


  7. For all this money and time wasted, the TTC could have, should have and still could convert the SRT to MarkII and order some new trains for it the same as Vancouver. And keep the line operational. In the future it could be expanded too. For a fraction of what a subway extension would cost. I can’t think of a single reason why this option should not be given more credibility. It would probably take them 6 months to convert the physical infrastructure and maybe 14 month lead time on new cars. And it would probably cost a few million more then the BRT idea.

    Steve: The Mark II cars will not fit through the tunnel at Ellesmere. You can thank the province for this because they forced the TTC to build a small tunnel so the line could not be converted back to the originally planned LRT with larger cars.


  8. I spoke to my brilliant Chinese friend who is an engineer at the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) in Beijing in the People’s Republic of China. He said that the CRRC has the expertise to manufacture new trains configured to fit the SRT requirements and using the third rail as power supply costing only about 20 million CAD a train and that about 12 trains can be delivered in an year. Therefore, I think that it is best to order new trains from the CRRC and the stations, bridges, etc can be structurally repaired in the meantime. A station at Brimley can also be constructed.

    Steve: The issue with the SRT technology is that the cost of expanding a dedicated network, and I emphasize the word “network”, was always far too high. Simply replacing the existing trains does not address the larger needs. That is why Transit City was designed as LRT. Of course the debate is entirely moot thanks to the Ford subway plan, first Rob’s then Doug’s.


  9. If the TTC still had the leadership of days past, they could realize savings by doing the following:

    1. Remove the existing track and 3rd rail.
    2. Fill in the concrete to level out the guideway, perform engineering for the load of the existing bridge to accommodate the concrete.
    3. Salvage the steel on a shared cost with remover.
    4. Reinstate a few of the articulated buses sitting around (or buy new smaller buses that fit).

    This could be done less expensively and faster.

    It’s a shame that the great minds have all left the TTC.


  10. Further to my earlier post about using railway steel wheels on spare buses.

    Railways also have very big and powerful Hy-Rail trucks that can pull several loaded freight cars for work trains. Some of these might well work to haul existing cars minus their wornout power assemblies. Keep contact shoes to pickup hydro for light/heat/AC.


  11. I find it bemusing that Scarborough transit, in particular, seems to prompt proposals that, in their impracticality, approach looney-tunes standing.

    The worst that happens in Etobicoke is we have a locally-living Premier who buries a perfectly-feasible surface LRT. (Fortunately, he was unable to get his hands on the other LRT across Etobicoke….or perhaps he cared less for the less affluent residents of those areas.) And a proposal for a not-terribly-needed subway extension to Sherway Gardens, where yes the mall parking lots are being redeveloped, but there are serious barriers to the west (Etobicoke Creek valley lands) and south (QEW) and east (427), and more sprawling industrial parks than residential areas in the vicinity.


  12. Hi Steve

    What a shit show Scarborough transit has become. Starting with the RT replacing the LRT. Then the Scarborough subway. The construction and operating costs of this line would have paid for a lot of good transit in an area that desperately needs it. The Scarborough LRT would be up and running by now. Money would not have had to be spent on keeping the RT on the road.


  13. This is due to people like Josh Matlow constantly waging war on Scarborough. Now, Matlow who leads in every other borough has less than one percent support in the largest borough of Toronto which is Scarborough. This is why Matlow is a distant third to Olivia Chow in the mayor’s race. And should sitting councillors be allowed to run for mayor without having to first resign their council seat? Matlow who is busy campaigning is unable to respond to the needs of his constituents while still collecting his taxpayer funded councillor’s salary, benefits, and expenses; how is this fair?

    Steve: The problem with the SRT busway is that it should have been planned for a few years ago, but the Tory council and TTC dropped the ball. They seemed to think that buses on streets would work out ok.

    As for polling, show me the poll where Matlow is at 1%. If he really is that low in Scarborough, his support must be spectacular elsewhere to balance that off. That sounds more like your own fantasy world.

    Councillors running while keeping their seats? That’s the rule, and if you don’t like it, ask that nice Doug Ford to change the City of Toronto Act (again). Also he has an office staff who are capable of handling constituency affairs.


  14. To be fair, the busway would only be useful for the 10 years or so it would take to finish the subway extension. It’s too short and too oddly placed to have any long-term use in the transit network. Long-term, it would be better to spend the busway money on Kennedy bus lanes or on Ellesmere/Lawrence GO “SmartTrack” train stations.


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