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TTC’s leadership has been derailed: James
City planners and Metrolinx now call the shots, though the TTC’s expertise is sorely needed, writes Royson James.
March 16, 2016
Royson James

How the mighty has fallen. The once-proud Toronto Transit Commission is now a bit player in its own backyard.

Once esteemed in global transit circles as the small system with high standards, the place to get transferable knowledge on how to move the commuting masses, the TTC is now bypassed at home.

Transit operators used to beat a path to the offices atop Davisville subway station, intent on picking the brains of the TTC brass. The visitors would leave with elevated respect for what they saw in Toronto and spread the word about the little system that could.

Today, Toronto’s transportation planners detour the TTC, contradicting TTC dogma with impunity.

Last week, at the city’s executive committee where key transit direction was being altered, TTC personnel were conspicuously absent. Didn’t see CEO Andy Byford. Ditto for Mitch Stambler, head of planning. If a TTC operative was there, he or she wasn’t asked for a view on anything.

Looking to replace the Scarborough RT that the TTC has operated since 1985? Ah, go ahead and knock yourself out. One-stop subway, two-stop subway, no-stop subway? Your choice.

The TTC is now the small fish in a small pond that’s looking to expand and join the big players; it’s an afterthought just when its years of expertise and acquired knowledge is most needed to guide an unprecedented transit buildout.

It happened without fanfare, without a fight. A bloodless coup, the transfer of power to the city’s planning department and to Metrolinx, the provincial agency, was surprisingly uncontentious.

One cannot imagine Al Savage or Rick Ducharme or Howard Moscoe or David Gunn or Al Leach or any of the strong-minded TTC leaders of the past bending over with such alacrity.

Enacted in 1920, the TTC exists to ferry passengers and carries eight out of every 10 commuters in the GTA. Yet, when the mayor and the chief planner recently suggested that ridership should not be the driving force behind where to spend scarce transit dollars, the “heresy” landed in a silent chamber at TTC headquarters.

TTC chair Josh Colle showed up at the executive committee meeting and made a few comments about his fears concerning costs being downloaded on the TTC, but he carried no gravitas.

Observers at TTC headquarters hang their head in disbelief at how far the venerable institution has fallen.

“There is no doubt that this has happened. It’s the biggest shock,” when I got here, said one TTC board member.

Another said CEO Andy Byford ceded planning to the city to focus on operations and service, but he anticipated the TTC would be more of a partner — not sidelined.

“The pendulum swung far too much one way during (Mayor David) Miller’s time, (with the Transit City launch). Now it’s swung too far the other way,” another commissioner said. TTC experts sat “squeamish” in their seats as city planning staff answer questions that “clearly, technical people should have been giving.

“There is an alternate TTC universe at city hall,” the observer said. “Maybe this is the right way, but it has to be a proactive position — not because of a strong personality (chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat) and not by default.”

Most of you couldn’t give a rat’s behind. You blame the TTC for everything that’s wrong with your commute.

You blame the TTC for traffic snarls and late buses; for delays on the trains when someone gets sick or jumps in front of a train; for foul-ups caused by faulty switches that failed, waiting for delayed maintenance, thanks to budget squeeze; for the crowding south of Eglinton station that forces you to wait several trains to get a seat; for new streetcars that arrive late from Bombardier; and old streetcars that arrive slow and late along King and Queen because the city allows a few cars to make left turns that hold up hundreds that are pancaked in the corridor.

You blame the TTC for the Sheppard Stubway that eats up tax subsidies; for the streetcar line on St. Clair that morphed into a “solve all our urban ills” project to the point that its mission was compromised; for the fact the Relief Line is still far down the priority list after a century of identified need; that the extension to Richmond Hill can’t go ahead because it would swamp the Yonge line; that the university line is shut down on weekends — like the Don Valley and Gardiner — for critical maintenance.

And you blame the TTC for the delays and cost overruns on the Spadina extension to Vaughan.

Years from now we are likely to scratch our heads and ask, “What happened there? How did we sideline our transportation experts in exchange for bureaucrats more easily controlled by the mayor and city council?”