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'The car rules' T.O., says TTC ex-chief

Worried about future of transit

Blames Miller, Moscoe for exit

Jun. 9, 2006. 05:51 AM
KEVIN MCGRAN
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Toronto is just not a transit city.

“This is a transit city? Oh, my God,” chuckles Rick Ducharme, the city’s pre-eminent expert on the matter, who took some time between packing boxes in his office at TTC headquarters to talk about his seven years as chief general manager of Canada’s largest public transit system.

“The car rules. That’s just Toronto; North American city.”

In a wide-ranging 90-minute interview in his soon-to-be-vacated office overlooking the Davisville subway station, Ducharme laid the blame for his departure at the feet of Toronto Transit Commission chair Howard Moscoe and Mayor David Miller, both of whom he said meddled in union matters that were better left to management.

And he fretted about the future of transit in Toronto, which looked solid when the province announced subway funding in its spring budget. Ducharme says transit’s future now may not be as rosy.

“The province has changed the rules since the budget,” Ducharme said. “There’s no such thing as consistency in this stuff.”

Ducharme declined to go further, saying it was a matter the city’s budget team would have to deal with. But when talk turned to whether Toronto is on the right track as a transit city, as laid out in its official plan, Ducharme laughed, bringing up the example of the legal fight it faced in trying to hand over two lanes of St. Clair Ave. W. to streetcars.

“I’m not building a new streetcar line. I’m fixing the tracks. And when I do, I want to put the concrete six inches high. That’s all St. Clair is. It’s that simple. And look at what we’re going through. And we’re a transit city? Oh yeah, right.” The city’s official plan calls for more streetcar rights-of-way on major arterial roads.

Ducharme said Torontonians don’t understand how much better the streetcars could be if they could operate without cars trying to make left-hand turns in front of them.

“You can give me another 100 streetcars and I’ll park them. What good are they operating in mixed traffic? Same with buses,” he said, adding that a transit city would have no problem turning over roadways for use only by buses and streetcars. “I can move a lot more people with what I’ve got out on the street. I’m not allowed to.

“Our mistake was we kept streetcar lines,” Ducharme said. “In the United States, they ripped them all out. Now they’re rebuilding them on dedicated rights-of-way, which is a lot easier.

“St. Clair to me � unbelievable � is more difficult to do than building a brand-new right-of-way in the States. They’re doing it everywhere. We should have ripped everything out, have no streetcar lines and come and rebuild them, and oh, we’d be heroes.”

As head of the TTC, the sheer size of the system meant Ducharme was responsible for 85 per cent of all transit in the Toronto area.

He has always called it the way he saw it. He was never out to make friends. Before the TTC, Ducharme was managing director for GO Transit and he voiced the same opinion: Transit vehicles should have the right-of-way. He just wanted the buses, streetcars and subway trains to run on time.

If the TTC wasn’t up to the challenge, he said so. He infuriated his political bosses in 2003 when he told Torontonians they’d have to walk to the post-SARS Rolling Stones concert because the system simply couldn’t carry 200,000 people to Downsview Park.

Politicians on the commission were red-faced at the day’s headlines, but Ducharme got the message out, and the walk to and from the all-day concert became part of the day’s memories.

If he has a legacy, it’s in a single acronym: SOGR. He got politicians and the media to repeat his mantra: State of Good Repair.

They could talk all they wanted about subway expansion and new buses, Ducharme said, but he demanded that the state of good repair budget � which kept the current fleet on the road and operating safely � be met first.

Ducharme agrees the extension of the Spadina subway line to Vaughan is the correct next move, which should be followed by completing the Sheppard subway line to Scarborough. And he believes the Scarborough RT ought to be refurbished, that a subway is not needed between Kennedy and the Scarborough Town Centre. “That’s insane,” he said of that possibility.

But none of these should go forward at the expense of keeping the buses, trains and streetcars operating safely.

Ducharme granted the interview because he believes Miller and Moscoe have shown him such little respect this week. In the interview, he levelled more blows at the mayor and the TTC chair.

Ducharme said:

  • They both meddled in recent labour talks leading up to the wildcat strike, essentially pulling the rug out from under him.

  • Moscoe came out of nowhere with a deal with Bombardier to be the sole source of new subway trains.

  • Miller just about blew last year’s collective bargaining talks with the union and almost incited a strike with a phone call that Ducharme said left union president Bob Kinnear seething.

  • Moscoe and Miller took the credit for avoiding a strike last year when Ducharme’s staff and Kinnear’s key negotiators had spent the weekend secretly hammering out a deal.

“That’s why I’m leaving. I can’t handle it anymore,” Ducharme said. “There are no limits to what Howard can do. I’ve been through his issues. He’s bulletproof. This notoriety is going to make sure he definitely gets re-elected.

“Is this frustrating? Of course it is. I wouldn’t be leaving if it wasn’t frustrating, I’d just keep putting up with his crap. But my family comes first and they told me more than once, why am I doing this? They watched me change the last two or three months. I’m not sorry, I’m just sorry for staff because they’re going to suffer.”




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