By Gabriela Silva Ponte
A large portion of Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) student commuters are noticing the effects of some current major Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) changes and road closures.
From the bus restrictions at Broadview Station to the major road work along Yonge Street, students traveling to school by TTC or car are dealing with their fair share of difficulties.
Third-year professional communications student Leah Mascarenhas takes the TTC from Scarborough, which has recently seen its own changes.
The TTC announced the Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) would be permanently closed after a derailment on July 24. Line 3 was initially supposed to close in November, but the date changed to Sept. 3, just two days before classes began at TMU.
“I definitely think [my commute is] lengthier now because taking out…[the RT] makes you more dependent on taking a bus, especially [for] me because I’m in the heart of Scarborough, so I’m not close to any direct subway stations,” Mascarenhas said in an interview with The Eyeopener.
“You have to completely reroute [from] a route you’ve been taking for three or four years into something different. You have to learn how to take a different bus and go to a different station.”
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said that transit services go through schedule changes and service adjustments based on ridership and demand every six weeks.
“The Scarborough line has been closed since July 24 and we’ve been running replacement shuttle service,” Green said. “There’s plenty of service on the Scarborough line that’s been in place since July.”
Organizer August Puranauth from TTCRiders–a grassroots transit rider advocacy organization–said the shutdown of Line 3 is especially affecting students with school back in session.
“A lot of people are saying that it’s taking 15, 20, 30 minutes longer to get to school anywhere across the city. We need to make sure that buses have priority, make sure that they’re reliable,” they said.
Mascarenhas confirmed the buses have added an extra 30 minutes to her already hour and a half long commute to school.
Other students who drive to school, like second-year business management student Cassandra Paiva, are experiencing the added time to their commute due to construction and frequent road closures.
Paiva has dealt with her a number of inconveniences, from almost popping a tire due to a pothole to nearly driving into oncoming traffic because construction forced her to. She has even debated if taking an Uber might be an easier way to get to school.
“I’m from Etobicoke. So it can either take me 20 minutes or…two hours,” she said in an interview with The Eye. “It’s very tiring and time consuming.”
Paiva suggested the city should add more turning signals and lanes so that cars are not blocking intersections, causing more traffic.
“If you’re going to do construction on one street, at least [make] another street [more available] because it’s causing mayhem for no reason. To get from Harbour [Street] to Adelaide [Street] will take 12 minutes in the morning but it should only take two minutes and you can walk it within three minutes,” she said. “It’s not just affecting [drivers], it’s affecting pedestrians because now they don’t have a sidewalk so they’re brimming to the cars, bicycles usually have the bicycle lane [but now they don’t]. Everyone is in the way and you have [to have] so much more caution.”
The city has closed off one lane of the expressway ramp at Lake Shore Boulevard from Lower Jarvis Street to Yonge Street. According to the city’s map, this is due to the drilling of two boreholes and the lane reduction will continue until Sept. 21.
Just 950 metres north, two lanes will be blocked off on Yonge Street between Wellington Street East and King Street East for “construction” until Sept. 30, according to the map.
One lane is also occupied on a portion of Bay Street near Front Street both westbound and eastbound due to the drilling of two boreholes until Sept. 21.
“I take the Gardiner [Expressway]. Sometimes I’ll take Lake Shore [Boulevard.] because it’s easier since I can just turn on Bay [Street]. But I find it more time consuming because then all the streets are closed and it’s just one lane,” she said. “Especially with Yonge [Street], there’s [a lot of construction] and police are [directing traffic].”
But Paiva said this doesn’t make her more inclined to take the TTC.
“I would never take the TTC. Ever since [COVID-19] and ever since the stabbings and everything, no thank you, that’s not for me,” she said. “I’m not close to [a station]. I have a bus, but to get to the station, it takes me 20 minutes. It would be different if I was centred at a station or a GO train but…one bus comes every half an hour.”
Mascarenhas said her parents only drive in Scarborough and thus she has to commute to school using the TTC. But she said her family has noticed how much road work is being done even in Scarborough.
“There’s a lot more construction, especially in our neighborhood. We never really got too much construction because it’s mainly a bus area…But the fact that [it’s] slipping into the cracks here in Scarborough is a little bit annoying,” she said.
Puranauth said that although they are thankful to mayor Olivia Chow for the increased TTC service, there is still much more to do.
“We’re seeing work being done, we’re seeing bus lanes being painted. Olivia Chow has kept her promises by approving bus lanes, but we want to see more done,” they said in an interview with The Eye.
“There’s still a lot more people coming back to the TTC and we need so much more service, otherwise it’s not going to be a reliable option for many students. And for some students that means they’re going to switch to driving, or they’re going to not actually attend class,” Puranauth added.
But Green said the TTC does its best to “minimize the impact.”
“We understand that there is inconvenience involved but it’s unavoidable. It’s really short-term pain for longer term gain. We need to keep the system in a state of good repair and that requires construction and service and route diversions,” he said.
Murtaza Haider, a professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at TMU, said the TTC is in a “vicious cycle” of a lack of ridership.
“The revenue TTC generates is less than what it used to be,” he said. “The downside of it is that there will be fewer funds that will be generated by TTC to be able to pay for its operations so it will rely on funding from other governments (municipal, local and provincial) to cover the operating cost. If those costs are not covered then TTC would have no other choice than to cut service.”
Other TTC impacts include the Broadview bus reduction services. According to the TTC’s website, the project to renew “streetcar track infrastructure” started on Sept. 11 and road closures due to it will officially begin Sept. 25. Green said these will likely last until November of this year.
“We have to divert service around them, we can’t be working buses or streetcars through areas where there’s active construction,” he said. “A lot of this construction is required to keep our system in a state of good repair.”
Puranauth said a lack of communication and transparency is one of the TTC’s biggest flaws.
“Generally, one of the biggest issues is that there isn’t clear communication and people don’t always understand where the diverted routes are going to, so that’s something the TTC can work on,” they said.
“We communicate [these closures] to our customers using the [TTC] website [and] Twitter. We have a very active social media account, there are route alerts and service alerts that people can subscribe to,” said Green. “The best advice is to use a trip planner and it will help people get around.”
St. Clair is also seeing a change in its streetcar service. The 512 will be replaced by buses from St. Clair Station to the Gunns Loop until mid-2024, according to the TTC’s website.
“We know that the St. Clair streetcar is no longer running because they’re doing work on the overhead wires,” said Puranauth. “A concern about all these streetcars being replaced by buses is overcrowding and them being slow.”
“When transit is unreliable, it really hurts access to education,” they said.
And Haider agrees. He said TMU is not a regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. institution, but rather it operates on an 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule.
“If in the dead [of] winter you are waiting for a bus at 6:30 [a.m.] and the bus comes every 30 minutes or every 15 minutes, these are challenges that impact the quality of education students receive…It may not necessarily be tied to what is inside the lecture room but it is tied to how you get to the lecture room and how you get back from the lecture room to your home,” he said.
Among the many students who have been late to class due to the long wait times is first-year sociology student Katarina Stamatov, who commutes from Etobicoke.
“They had to stop the transit sometimes and then I would be late for class, or some accidents would happen, or [there would be] overcrowding,” she said.
Stamatov added she thinks there should be more safety protocols in place.
“Especially when you’re waiting for the subway, it can be dangerous sometimes.”
Puranauth understands this worry.
“Especially if you’re taking late night classes, you don’t want to be waiting long for your bus or streetcar or subway on a lonely platform, it’s not safe,” they said.
Puranauth concluded by urging students to speak out for proper transit to differing levels of government.
“I encourage TMU students to advocate for better transit and pressure the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government to properly fund transit using various tools to make sure we have a great TTC,” they said.
Haider believes the provincial government is in a place where it is able to provide funding to prevent service cuts while the TTC gets back on its feet.
“I would ask public representative members of the Ontario legislature to take a deep look at TTC and decide how much more we should invest in it so that Toronto’s downtown continues to be the employment hub,” he said.
But, despite these problems, Haider noted that the TTC is doing the best it can.
“We are so focused on complaining at times that we don’t understand the good things that are happening. If you have made it to your classroom on time, most of the time in the last year and you travel by public transit, then there are people that are doing this, it doesn’t just happen by itself,” he said.