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TTC puts new hires on hold

by Anna Mehler Paperny

More than 100 new jobs and the work of several design consultants are on hold as the Toronto Transit Commission figures out how to rethink the city’s transit priorities in a way that will please its new mayor.

TTC General Manager Gary Webster said he put a freeze on planned new hires immediately following his conversation with Rob Ford on the mayor’s first day in office. During those talks, Mr. Ford declared Transit City “over,” saying Torontonians prefer subways to light-rail transit.

Work on the Eglinton cross-town line, whose light-rail was supposed to be underground anyway, is continuing, Mr. Webster said, as is construction on an Agincourt station.

Mr. Webster said although there was no commission vote on holding off on the hiring, he sent the commission a letter explaining he was complying with the mayor’s wishes.

It’s not clear what effect the pause will have on the ambitious provincially funded projects formerly known as Transit City. It’s also not clear what projects the city, along with provincial transit body Metrolinx, will pursue - just that they won’t bear the same name or identity as the light-rail projects David Miller championed.

“Obviously there’s some sensitivity, clearly, around the branding of Transit City,” Mr. Webster said.

Although Transit City wasn’t on the agenda at Wednesday’s TTC meeting, the proposal to make the TTC an essential service was. A motion in favour passed unanimously save for Councillor Maria Augimeri’s dissenting vote. The Mayor’s proposal, which passed at executive committee, will come to council this week.

The decision, however, is the province’s to make. Premier Dalton McGuinty, who suggested early in the mayoral campaign that candidates should debate whether the city’s transit system be declared an essential service, has said he’s open to the possibility. But the Premier has not promised to acquiesce to the city’s request, if Mr. Ford is successful in getting a majority of councillors to vote with him on the issue.