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GO chief transfers to TTC

Rick Ducharme says predecessor did ‘lot of damage to this city’

By Joseph Hall
Toronto Star Transportation Reporter

A new man has been chosen for the helm of the Toronto Transit Commission, The Star has learned.

Rick Ducharme, who will be officially named the TTC’s chief general manager at a meeting today, says he won’t even bother trying to fill David Gunn’s big shoes. He’ll likely just throw them out.

“I’ll be frank with you, I’m not a David Gunn fan,” said Ducharme, who has been head of GO Transit for the past six years.

“People think he’s left big shoes to fill but I think he did a lot of damage to this city.”

In a move that continues the tradition of passing over internal TTC candidates for the system’s top administrative job, the city’s seven-member transit commission will name Ducharme to Gunn’s vacant position today, sources said.

One of the most respected managers in North American transit circles, Gunn quit in April, two years before his contract ran out, saying he was fed up with interference and abuse from TTC chair Howard Moscoe.

Ducharme said he will strive to make peace with his political masters on the commission. Unlike Gunn, he’ll do what they say.

“When I was interviewed for the job I said there are two things you can’t make me do - anything unsafe or anything illegal,” said Ducharme, 51.

“Otherwise, they’re my board of directors and if you don’t follow directions of a board, you shouldn’t be working there.

“So I’m not there to fight with politicians, I’m not there to bad-mouth them in the press. The only time I will respond is if they do that to me.”

Ducharme said Gunn left the TTC’s reputation in tatters through bouts of public and private bad-mouthing and poisoned the well for many potential replacement candidates who heard the clamour as it spread through the continent’s close-knit transit community.

“When I applied for the job, everyone was telling me I was nuts, why would I want to go there,” said Ducharme, a professional engineer.

“They said it’s dysfunctional, Dave said so, and that really, really bothers me… . I don’t believe any of that.”

That said, Ducharme promises he’ll continue to pursue Gunn’s No. 1 priority at the TTC - a state-of-good-repair program that rejuvenated the system’s rolling stock and infrastructure, both of which were badly degraded when Gunn took over in 1995.

“I don’t think there’s any difference between what we had (at GO) and what David Gunn was involved with,” Ducharme said. `

“He called it state of good repair, we called it rehabilitation of our entire infrastructure and we were doing it two years before Dave started and it has to continue.”

Ducharme is not so sure about maintaining another project that Gunn counted as one of his most important achievements during his four Toronto years: creation of a new management team to run the system.

‘My criticism of the TTC has been for some years that it plays, to some extent, the bully.’

- Rick Ducharme
New TTC chief general manager

“I don’t know them well, and the people I do know I’m impressed with. But until you get working with them, I can’t judge people from the outside.”

Some of the people Gunn ousted from the system’s Yonge St. and Davisville Ave. headquarters were good transit managers, Ducharme said. “Knowing some of the people that were gone, that he pushed out the door, I don’t think they were not talented - they had a lot of depth.”

He stressed it will take him at least six months to properly evaluate his current management team.

Ducharme is the second GO chief to take over the TTC - former Ontario municipal affairs minister Al Leach made the jump in 1987. He said his main goal will be to push for more co-operation with the 15 other transit agencies in Greater Toronto.

After 23 years’ experience with the GTA’s only truly inter-regional carrier, this may not be a surprising objective, he said.

Yet he’s well aware that such co-operation must be instigated and driven at a political level and that it might prove unpopular with many people at Toronto City Hall.

“But we’ve got to work together and the city doing its own thing is harmful, and maybe I can’t stop that but I would openly make the comment that this shouldn’t be done, we have to fight together as 16 transit agencies,” Ducharme said.

“My criticism of the TTC has been for some years that it plays, to some extent, the bully… . I think rather than taking that role, it should be that we’re the leader, start being the leader, start acting like the leader. Why doesn’t the TTC bring the other agencies together?”

Ducharme said he’ll push Toronto and regional politicians to locate and co-ordinate all transit funding from the Greater Toronto Services Board.

While this would not necessarily integrate the systems, their individual planning would be based on region-wide priorities.

“My vision is to try to convince the City of Toronto - and I know it’s politics and it’s easier said than done - to look past boundaries,” he said.

Ducharme said he’ll also push for the provincial or federal government to augment local transit subsidies, which were downloaded last year by Queen’s Park on to the municipal tax base.

“Municipalities cannot afford to fund transportation on the municipal tax base,” he said. “It works nowhere in the world, it won’t work here.”

Without more funding, Ducharme sees no use in planning future TTC expansion.

Indeed, he questions whether the new Sheppard subway should even be opened when it’s completed in about a year.

“The first thing I will ask staff is, can we afford to operate it? And I really don’t know if we can.”

The TTC has estimated the Sheppard line will lose about $5 million annually in its first years of operation.

On a personal note, Ducharme said he was becoming bored with his role at GO and relishes the new, larger challenge at the TTC. “I’m driven by new challenges, that’s what really makes me happy.”