The head of the TTC is ready to push personally for more transit funding, laying out his plan for the next five years and saying he will start “banging the table” at the provincial and federal governments.
In a blunt speech followed by blunter comments to reporters, transit CEO Andy Byford bemoaned the political system in Toronto.
“It’s certainly a challenge,” he told reporters. “I’m dealing with 45 different opinions [in council].”
Mr. Byford spoke Monday at the Empire Club of Canada, saying that the current level of funding will not support expected growth. He pleaded for “political support,” more money and a free hand to remake the transit service for the future.
The speech was a shift into overt advocacy for Mr. Byford, who has tended to keep his head down amid increasingly polarized debate at city hall over transit.
“I’m going to keep banging that drum for sustained funding and I’m going to keep banging the drum that we need to expand capacity in this city,” he told reporters.
“What I should be doing is walking down to Queen’s Park. I should be getting on a train to Ottawa and I should be lobbying, probably with politicians, with people like the CEO of Metrolinx, I should be banging the table for sustained and sustainable funding. That’s what I intend to do. But I just need to get the TTC working well in the interim.”
In his address, he promised a new corporate plan laying out goals for the next five years, including a change in corporate culture and greater focus on high-quality staff. Specifics in the plan included a move toward one-person staffing of subway trains and an end to fare collectors in subway stations.
But he warned that the transit service is facing an increasing challenge: carrying ever-more riders at current funding rates. “The TTC simply cannot continue to accommodate millions more rides without an affordable increase in subsidy,” he told the lunchtime crowd.
Mayor Rob Ford insists that the public should not be asked to bear the cost of increased transit, arguing instead for private-sector support and smarter spending of existing government revenues. Although he warned that finding efficiencies will not be enough, Mr. Byford would not be drawn on whether Toronto had the right mayor to lead the transit file.
“I’m not going to get involved in the politics,” he told reporters. He did say that Mr. Ford had recognized the importance of a downtown relief line taking pressure off the Yonge subway.
In his remarks, he acknowledged the rancorous debates at city hall. He referenced constantly changing council priorities in a joking aside to TTC Chair Karen Stintz, who was at the head table with him, while discussing the conversion of the Scarborough RT to an LRT: “That’s the current plan, right?”
He accepted that the transit agency needs more allies on council to bring about the sort of evolution he wants.
“To deliver this sea change, I need political support and freedom to do what needs to be done,” he said. “In Karen Stintz, I have a boss that gives me both. But that support needs to come from across council and the TTC needs to work on regaining the trust of our elected officials.”
At city hall, Councillor Doug Ford, the brother of the mayor, was asked if he had any problem with Mr. Byford being so complimentary of Ms. Stintz.
“You know something, Andy Byford supports the mayor, too, just as much as [he supports] Karen Stintz,” Mr. Ford said. “He’s caught in the middle.”
Mr. Byford has seen first-hand the effect of getting trapped between warring politicians. He came into the transit agency as a subordinate to then TTC head Gary Webster, only to be thrust into the top spot after Mr. Webster fell afoul of Mr. Ford. He has watched transit serve as a piñata for hostile politicians. Last week he saw council turn a debate over transit funding into a parade of councillors demanding expensive pet projects for their own wards.
With a report from Sunny Dhillon