The irrepressible Michael Walker might have had more than one vote (his own) in support of his quixotic motion to mothball the unfinished Sheppard subway had he only been able to call the real expert to the floor of city council to tell the unvarnished truth about that political hatchet jo -- excuse me, necessary $1-billion investment in our transit infrastructure.
It so happened that David Gunn, former TTC chief general manager and global transit czar, now supposedly filling his days with crossword puzzles down on the family farm in Cape Breton, was in City Hall at the very moment Mr. Walker most needed him.
(When he isn't skipping stones in Bras d'Or Lake, Mr. Gunn is helping mastermind the reconstruction of the London Tube, but why he's back pressing flesh in Toronto is a mystery. One fantastic rumour suggests he could be appointed to head a municipal efficiency drive, a scenario that promises such outrageous fun at the expense of bureaucrats and politicians -- not to mention such obvious public good -- it will never happen.)
But Mr. Gunn could have helped all council in its bizarrely retrograde debate on transit financing yesterday, mainly by reminding everybody of the "rationale" for spending $1-billion to build a subway that will carry fewer passengers than the King streetcar -- and lose an eye-popping $7.5-million annually in the process.
Although he inherited it, Mr. Gunn was the TTC chief who actually started the Sheppard line. He agreed to endorse it in return for a five-year commitment from the province and the city to spend another $1-billion on overdue maintenance of the existing system. The five-year deal was a significant accomplishment at the time, and seems even more so in light of the current fiscal transit drought.
But I'd be interested to hear what Mr. Gunn would say about mothballing the Sheppard line now. Before he cut the Sheppard deal, he was happy to discuss the fate of New York's Second Avenue subway line, which was built and mothballed in similar circumstances to those now facing Toronto and its newest subway line.
He might even repeat the reason he once gave as to why he, as chief general manager of the TTC, refused to attend the opening of the Downsview subway station, the newest in the Toronto system. To wit: Why should I celebrate something that's going to cost me several million a year to operate, resulting in service reductions throughout the system, without producing a single new passenger?
The debate is fruitless now, of course; Mr. Walker was simply being provocative. In the end, council decided to absorb the Sheppard losses by hiking fares and gutting TTC reserves, thus turning back the clock of the fiscal time bomb that threatens to blow up our transit system.
But current TTC officials welcomed the diversion as a useful exercise, on the grounds that it's never too late to learn. A point amply demonstrated when His Excellency Councillor Norm Kelly, illustrious ambassador from the undead duchy of Scarborough, moved that the TTC investigate "eliminating streetcar service in whole or in part" as a cost-cutting measure.
In a rare fit of actual sense, Mr. Kelly withdrew his ludicrous and embarrassing motion before it came to a vote. It would appear he was merely attempting a suburban riposte to the downtowners' Sheppard-bashing.
But it really makes you wonder: Who let this lot run a railway? Four of the six busiest surface routes in the city are streetcar lines, moving 176,232 people every day. They are also among the most profitable routes for the TTC. And yet, here we have a supposedly serious politician -- a transit commissioner, no less -- suggesting they be summarily cut for reasons of economy.
Mr. Kelly, a charter member of Mayor Mel Lastman's ruling party, said he is "thinking outside the box" in proposing to eliminate streetcars.
If that means abandoning all pretense of rational decision-making -- a not unfair assessment of life in Mel's playpen at this low point in municipal history -- I suppose he's right.