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Subway versus LRT debate continues along Sheppard Avenue in Scarborough

TTCriders group seeks support for LRT among bus riders on the Sheppard 85 route

Scarborough-Mirror July 3, 2015 Mike Adler

Riding the Sheppard 85 bus on a pleasant afternoon last week, it was hard to remember the Sheppard East light-rail transit line, or why it mattered.

The province had delayed the project – approved, started, cancelled, resurrected, now shelved again – until sometime “after” 2021.

A few TTCriders, members of a transit advocacy group, persuaded some passengers to sign their names to a pro-LRT petition Thursday.

But almost as many, though these were the very people who might ride the LRT every weekday, refused to sign.

The first, a woman named Anne waiting on the platform at Don Mills Station, said she’d commuted on the Sheppard 85 to and from Meadowvale Road, as far as the LRT would go, for six years.

“This is on the street, right? And look at (the congestion) downtown,” she said, declining to give her last name. “Leave the buses and take your time and do the subway.”

The activists had better luck with Robert, who also takes the bus to Meadowvale and has done that for 12 years.

Sometimes, behind schedule, the TTC driver short turns, he said. “That makes me late for work,” added Robert, who also wouldn’t say his last name but thought the LRT offers more consistency.

A neighbour told him the light-rail line, once finished, would boost the value of Robert’s condominium, and he concluded “the pros outweigh the cons.”

But he said he didn’t know anyone upset to hear the LRT line, once scheduled for completion this year, is delayed again.

“People are like creatures of habit,” he explained.

Puneet Loiya, another man on the bus, had taken the Sheppard 85 for four months and said the LRT was more sensible than a subway on Sheppard Avenue East.

“Hopefully, It’ll improve my life and get me home faster. It’ll have much more frequency,” Loiya said before getting off at Birchmount Road.

“I don’t see any plan (for a subway) right now,” he added.

The TTCriders were aware the idea of a Sheppard Subway extension – relentlessly promoted by Toronto’s ex-mayor Rob Ford, and still backed by a number of Agincourt residents and Scarborough politicians – was seductive, even without a source of funds or a clear destination (Will it go to Markham Road? Scarborough Town Centre?).

Slightly-outdated literature the activists handed out (one flyer said Sheppard LRT construction “is slated to resume again in 2017”) warned against the “narrow interests of the ‘subway or nothing’ crowd.”

Members of the group told bus riders the subway wasn’t ever going to happen, but Kingsley Kwok conceded a pro-subway petition would do at least as well on the Sheppard 85 as a pro-LRT one.

The LRT project is known quantity, he argued, while promised subways, “everyone will sign, but no one will know what that means.”

Kwok and Herman Rosenfeld, another TTCrider, finished their trip with 15 signatures between them. A second activist pair had 36.

Rosenfeld said getting the province to build the Finch West LRT, starting in 2017, had been easier.

“The pro-auto lobby (on Finch West) was older, weaker, smaller. But I think here it’s different,” he said before the few remaining other passengers left the bus at Kingston Road, and the Sheppard 85 continued nearly empty to Rouge Hill GO Station, where it would turn around to head to Don Mills.

The pro-subway forces haven’t given up on Sheppard, though.

Scarborough-Agincourt Councillor Jim Karygiannis said he’ll be getting a petition going.

“We have to mobilize,” he said last month, and though council recently told him to “take a hike” on a motion supporting a subway extension, Karygiannis said there could be a different result one day.

“I’m hopeful I’ll be able to change people’s minds,” the former MP said last month, adding, “2018 is not too far away.”