Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Toronto City Council revamps transit agency

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In a remarkable and continuing visible display of modal political strife, Toronto's City Council Monday removed five allies of Mayor Rob Ford from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), replacing them with new members likely to vote to reinstate a rail capital program largely driven by light rail transit.

Mayor Ford still will oppose any move by the Council to favor LRT when the Council votes March 21 on the future of transit along Sheppard Ave. East in Toronto. But "Council has control over council," Councillor Joe Mihevc declared.

The development is the latest setback for Mayor Ford, who on Feb. 8 vowed to ignore the Council's rejection his prefernce for subway construction. The Council moved to reinstate an LRT plan similar to the "Toronto Transit City" concept advanced by Ford's predecessor, David Miller. Ford willed TTC to defy the council, rebuffing any attempt by TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster to outline he differences in cost and effectiveness of LRT and subways. In a 5-4 vote, TTC's board subsequently fired Webster.

On Monday, the City Council retaliated for Webster's dismissal, firing the five Ford allies on the TTC and expanding the commission from nine councillors to 11, consisting of seven councillors and four citizen members—the latter presumably challenging Mayor Ford's determination to bring the subway-LRT dispute "to the people." The four citizen members will be added this fall.

"Could it be the citizens of Toronto will actually come out the winners for once? We can only hope," one Toronto rail advocate told Railway Age, noting Toronto's on-again, off-again plans for LRT expansion have existed since the 1970s.

Rail industry suppliers and the Greater Toronto Area's regional transit planning agency, Metrolinx, have remained on the sidelines throughout the dispute as interested and (for suppliers) concerned observers (Railway Age, Feb. 2012, p. 26). Ontario provincial and Canadian federal officials have signaled their intent to heed the City Council's vote as decisive, however.