TTC Karen Stintz got even more support than bargained for: city council passed her motion to unbury key light-rail lines by a final vote of 25-18, defeating Mayor Rob Ford's plan to put them underground.
On the second part of her motion, calling for an expert panel to study transit options for Sheppard, passed 28-15, with an amendment that leaves the door open for a subway.
The vote to unbury the eastern leg of the Eglinton Crosstown had to be taken three times, after councillors said they pushed the wrong button (the first vote was 26-17, then a second tally was 27-16). The final and third vote passed the motion, 25-18. Two councillors were absent: Ron Moeser and Gloria Lindsay Luby.
At a news conference right after the vote, the mayor's ire was on display.
"Technically speaking that whole meeting was irrelevant,' he said.
“It’s a provincial project and I’m quite confident that the Premier is going to continue building subways. He’s starting with subways and he’ll end with subways,” the mayor said.
The debate over the future of Toronto transit turned into a battle over expert panels Wednesday, with the mayor and Ms. Stintz lining up competing proposals to study the issue.
Their focus: how best to spend $8.4-billion in provincial funding for transit in the city.
However, Mr. Ford lost his motion to delay council's decision on transit for 30 days so that an expert panel could be appointed to examine the issue. Mr. Ford’s panel, which would look at options for the proposed Eglinton Crosstown line east from Laird Avenue, would be chaired by a “prominent, trusted and neutral leader” selected by the mayor, TTC chair and head of the planning committee. It would also include staff from Metrolinx, the TTC and the city and two other members selected by the chair who are not current or former elected officials. The mayor's motion was defeated 19-24.
A letter from Ms. Stintz, circulated just moments before the start of a special council meeting, includes a recommendation that a different expert panel look at transit options for Sheppard Avenue. That panel would include former mayor David Crombie, University of Toronto professor Eric Miller and Gordon Chong, Mr. Ford’s hand-picked adviser on his Sheppard subway plan.
It would also include senior representatives from Metrolinx, the TTC, the Toronto Board of Trade and the CivicAction Alliance.
Mayor Ford told the meeting that more facts and figures are needed before councillors can debate the issue. He also repeated his argument that the public wants underground rapid transit. “The people of Toronto have spoken loud and clear,” he said. “People do not want streetcar city. They want a subway city.”
The plan presented by Ms. Stintz puts aside Mr. Ford’s controversial Sheppard subway plan for the moment. It calls for the panel to report back to a special meeting of council. The original plan asked for a report no later than Feb. 21, but that date will be pushed back to the end of March, Ms. Stintz told reporters.
Ms. Stintz, who as recently as Tuesday met with Mr. Ford to try to reach a solution he would support, said her proposal acknowledges the importance of the mayor’s pledge to extend the Sheppard subway. “Council should give him the opportunity to honour that campaign commitment,” she said.
Wednesday’s special meeting was requested by Ms. Stintz and a majority of councillors who argue that an agreement reached last year between the province and Mr. Ford is not the best use of transit dollars. That deal calls for the province to bury the Eglinton Crosstown line, with the city responsible for finding private sector partners to help fund a subway line on Sheppard.
That deal has yet to receive council’s approval and Wednesday’s meeting was called in response to a letter from the province’s transit agency asking council to make a decision on transit.
In addition to the expert panel, the motion from Ms. Stintz proposes:
Council affirm support for a light rail plan and the early implementation of three projects – an LRT on Finch from the Spadina subway extension to Humber College, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Jane Street to Kennedy Station, and conversion of the Scarborough RT to an LRT with an extension to Malvern Town Centre as funds become available.
Continued discussions between Metrolinx and the TTC on the operation and delivery of light rail projects
Authorize the TTC to enter discussions with Metrolinx to study the future of five other transit projects
An extension of the Sheppard subway west to Downsview station
An extension of Sheppard LRT to the Toronto Zoo
An extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line east to Scarborough Town Centre
An extension of the Eglinton Crosstown from Jane to Pearson Airport
Construction of the downtown relief line.