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Fare system, cleanliness top concerns of new TTC chair

by John Lorinc

When the new nine-member Toronto Transit Commission convenes Wednesday for its first session, chair Karen Stintz will officially find herself at the vortex of what could be some of the most contentious debates facing the new council: Mayor Rob Ford’s pledge to scrap much of the $8.15-billion transit city plan in favour of a Sheppard subway, and his bid to make the TTC an essential service. Ms. Stintz, who has represented Eglinton-Lawrence since 2003, talks about her vision for Toronto’s transit future.

How do you use the TTC?

I live near the subway line. I work near the subway line, so it’s easy for me to hop on the subway.

What is your main concern in terms of service?

It’s around the fare payment system. The cleanliness of the platforms is [also] a concern. The state of the escalators and the ease with which you can navigate through the stations is a concern that’s been expressed by other members of the community, especially by young mothers. There’s a sense the washrooms aren’t clean. Those are the kinds of things we can address in the shorter term.

What are you going to do with the customer service panel recommendations?

The general manager put together a report that will come to the Commission in January about how those recommendations will get implemented.

Where do you stand on the open fare request for proposals and the pressure from the province to implement the Presto smart card?

I don’t have all the details of the open fare [RFP]. I did write a blog where my initial thoughts were around supporting Presto.

Former mayor David Miller and TTC chair Adam Giambrone said Presto, a provincially funded proprietary smart card that can be replenished online, would be expensive to adopt across the TTC. When will the TTC evaluate those costs compared to those associated with open fare system - which allows riders to pay by tapping their credit or debit cards on special readers?

The Commission needs to wrestle with what are the costs and how broad will the implementation be. When I got a briefing note from chair Giambrone, it was unclear how widespread the implementation of open payment would be. When we’re looking at the kinds of systems that make best sense for the rider, we need to look at what will be the most comprehensive, where will it be implemented across the broadest number of fare payment media, how easy will it be for all riders to use it and costs come into that equation as well.

How far along will you be a year from now?

Very early in the new year, we’ll make a decision on what kind of technology we’re going to use. Once that decision has been made, my expectation of rolling it out is quite soon. Whether or not the fare medium will change in the next twelve months, I can’t say for certain. But if you come back to me a year from now, you’ll have a plan, the dates, timelines and the implementation around the new fare medium. One of my goals for this term is to make sure it is delivered to the riders.

If there’s additional cost, are you prepared to recommend that to council?

Those are the sorts of discussions we’ll work on with the province.

Transit City was initially positioned as a lower cost alternative to subways. What do you say to voters who supported [Mayor Ford] and are now looking at a more expensive form of transit?

When the federal and provincial governments were looking for projects to invest in, the City of Toronto showed great leadership and initiative in developing the Transit City plan. Over time, things changed. The Metrolinx board was established and the Big Move [Metrolinx’s regional transit strategy] was created. Along the way, half the Transit City plan morphed into the regional plan. It became unclear for people what exactly was being invested in. We’re taking this time, six weeks, to see if that regional transportation plan can be adjusted to meet [Mr. Ford’s] campaign commitments.

Does the Big Move make any reference to a Sheppard subway?

No, it does not.

Council and Metrolinx have identified the need for an extension of the Yonge subway into York Region and a downtown relief line. Those evaluations have already been made, haven’t they?

Yes they have.

So how do you square the fact that the mayor and many people on council want to build a subway where the TTC and the other expert say it shouldn’t be?

The TTC and Metrolinx and the province are working very closely to see if subways do make sense, or underground LRT does make sense. In fact, the Eglinton line is already an underground LRT, so there’s no need to review that piece of it. Obviously [we] need to look at costs, timelines, trade-offs, impact.

Is it possible that once all that evaluations have been done, you’ll come to the conclusion that a subway is not viable?

I expect that we would have a report come back to the commission that would be able to answer all of those questions. If there were other questions around funding impact, we would have to get those answered before coming back to council.

Metrolinx says it can afford the Eglinton Crosstown LRT or a Sheppard subway but not both. Do you agree with that position?

I would have expected the benefit of the review before coming back with that kind of assessment. At this point, I would say that’s premature.

What are your thoughts about moving to a zone-fare system?

Over the next four years, once we get the fare system modernized, that review will happen.

Should the province contribute to the operating shortfall of the TTC?

We need to have those discussions with the province, but we need to be looking at other options.

Do you anticipate privatizing any of the routes or service modes?

I can’t imagine that we’d privatize any of the routes or route delivery at this stage. It wasn’t a campaign commitment or what anybody’s asking us to do.

Can you rule out a fare hike for 2011?

Mayor Ford has said he doesn’t want to see a fare hike. That’s the operating principle that will be guiding the TTC’s operating budget for 2011.

Coming back to that operating shortfall, how do you close that gap? Do you roll back service?

That’s something we will have to wrestle with. The direction has been given to the TTC that the funding envelope is the same, we don’t want to see a fare hike, so how do we make this happen?

TTC strikes tend to be very short because the province legislates the employees back to work and then imposes an arbitrated settlement. Isn’t this basically the same as an essential service designation?

The TTC is an essential service, and we treat it essentially as an essential service. If the workers know they don’t have to face any lengthy work stoppages, why don’t you just designate it for what it is? The economic cost and the impact on the riders [of a strike] far outweighs any costs we might be faced with as a result of an arbitrated settlement.

If you asked subway riders, which is more inconvenient - an occasional short strike or poor service and delays, what would they say?

They would say TTC is an essential service.

What will the new Commission look like in terms of composition?

There are skills that can be brought to the Commission that can enhance the overall governance of the board around project management, financial expertise, engineering, and customer service.

What’s your time frame?

I would expect the new board to be in place in the next 12 months.

How many city councillors will be on it?

At least three.

Would they be in a minority or a majority?

It would be dependent on whether one individual is fulfilling multiple skills or we needed more individuals to complement the skills that we need. I’m not sure that’s the most important element.

Are you going to have a TV show?

(Laughs) I have been asked to continue on Ride the Rocket, and I’ve said yes I will.

This interview transcript has been condensed and edited.




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