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What's in store for the TTC's new chair

Mayor-elect Ford has a different agenda for transit system than Miller

by David Nickle

When Mayor-elect Rob Ford takes a look at the makeup of the Toronto Transit Commission this month, it’s unlikely the new chair will have much in common with the current one.

Adam Giambrone will be leaving Toronto City Hall and the TTC after December, when the new council’s sworn in. Giambrone oversaw the commission during a fractuous and hopeful time. On his watch, the TTC embarked on a massive transit expansion plan that eschewed short subway spurs for city-spanning light rail lines, weathered labour troubles and a very public failure of customer service, and enjoyed the most dramatic growth in ridership in decades.

Mayor-elect Ford, meanwhile, will be coming in with a radically different agenda. During the campaign, he promised to scrap the Transit City-inspired Metrolinx light rail expansion plan and try and redirect the provincial funding to the construction of two new subways in Scarborough.

He’s promised to review and possibly remove all or part of the city’s network of streetcars and replace them with buses. And in promising to cut expenditures across the board by 2.5 per cent, he’s created a funding challenge for a service that’s more in demand than it ever was.

The plan has past TTC chair Howard Moscoe skeptical.

“It’s a platform that’s doomed from the start,” said Moscoe, who’ll also be leaving city hall when the new council is sworn in.

“It can’t be made to work unless you tear up the last eight or nine years and start from scratch. But the TTC is tied up in millions of dollars worth of contracts. It would be like turning an ocean liner on a dime, and this ocean liner - if Fords’ plan goes into effect - it’s liable to be the Titanic.”

A few councillors who’ll be on board for the next four-year term are hoping for the opportunity to help run the TTC.

Peter Milczyn, who was narrowly re-elected in Ward 5 (Etobicoke Lakeshore), served with Giambrone as a TTC commissioner this past term and has asked Ford’s transition team to at least be returned to the commission.

“There are lots of things that need to be done at the TTC,” said Milczyn.

“A huge issue is implementing the customer service strategy - that’s an overriding thing. Tackling funding issues with Metrolinx, as to what money is coming and what it is coming for. The premier has said he will sit down with the mayor elect and discuss what the city’s priorities are in terms of transit and transit funding. If it ends up being subways versus light rail - certain lines over other lines - that’s part of the discussion.”

Milczyn said the TTC needs to start looking at transit on a more regional basis.

“David Miller was very ambitious around transit but where he had one gaping failure was trying to address transit on a regional basis - it was very Toronto focused,” he said. “The mayor-elect spoke more about transit in the suburbs than elsewhere, and North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke haven’t been well-served by transit. How do you get people from Scarborough to work in Mississauga - Etobicoke to work in Markham? Nobody’s discussed that before.”

Ward 16 (Eglinton-Lawrence) Councillor Karen Stintz has also expressed interest in chairing the TTC - although she described herself as a firm supporter of the Metrolinx plan.

While Ford’s plan would take all the funding from Metrolinx and put it into subways, Stintz maintained she didn’t see that decision as a plan to cancel Metrolinx light rail plans like the Eglinton cross-town LRT, which would intersect her ward.

“During the election campaign I didn’t get the sense that the Eglinton line was in jeopardy and I don’t believe it is,” she said.

Also interested in the job is Michael Thompson, re-elected in Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre). Thompson is pushing hard for the job - but he’s making it clear that he doesn’t see how Ford’s subway plan can work and supports the Sheppard LRT and other aspects of the Metrolinx plan.

“Affordability is a big issue - we have to understand how that is to happen, if we’re to look at subways,” said Thompson. “The reality was that we looked at the response from the taxpayers saying we can’t afford any more and the province and the federal government weren’t coming up with any additional funds for subways.”

Thompson said that even if the city can get the capital money moved from light rail to a subway plan, the operating costs of the new lines will be staggering in the first few years.

“We know now that the Sheppard line (to Don Mills Road) costs $10 million a year, and the soon-to-be line going up to Vaughan will cost $14 million a year, because the ridership isn’t there,” he said. “That’s the reality. I know that I’d like to have a Rolls Royce — well, I can’t afford one.”