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Toronto Augimeri takes reins at TTC as a ‘caretaker’ chair

Toronto Councillor Maria Augimeri is shown on Nov. 5, 2013.

FERNANDO MORALES/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

There's a new bus-champion in town, with the incoming TTC chair trying to move past divisive debates about subways and tackle crowding on transit surface routes.

Veteran councillor Maria Augimeri – who narrowly beat rookie Josh Colle Wednesday evening for the high-profile position – said she had no interest in reopening debate about rapid transit in Scarborough. She promised to be a "caretaker" as chair, not staying in the role past this year, but quickly made clear that she was ready to be a vocal one.

"I'm very concerned about crowding," she told reporters shortly after the 23-21 vote at Toronto council, in which the brothers Ford both supported her opponent.

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"People feel like sardines and, hopefully, if we can get the buses running better, that's a one-up on what we've done for decades, and that is centre on subways versus LRT and the sexier forms of transit. People ignore the buses and the streetcars, so we want to put more emphasis on those."

Better bus service also was floated recently by chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat as a relatively quick win for the city`s transit. And TTC head Andy Byford said Wednesday evening that Ms. Augimeri was "preaching to the converted," listing a number of surface improvements already underway.

"She'll certainly find someone brimming with ideas in me,`` he said in a phone interview.

The incoming TTC chair spoke after the vote about the downtown relief line as the crucial next big project for the city. But in the meantime, she said, there are cheaper improvements to be made to the surface routes if money can be found.

"It all comes down to lack of support from upper-level government," Ms. Augimeri said, noting that the TTC is putting together a lobbying effort that she will join. "Both governments are situated at a precipice right now. Both of them need Toronto, both of them are going to be going into imminent elections and both the Prime Minister and the Premier are positioned in a way so as to listen to us better."

Mr. Colle was supported by outgoing chair Karen Stintz, who is running for mayor. Her backing may have hurt his case, he acknowledged, given the manoeuvring on council as people gear up for the next election.

Ms. Stintz said she will officially enter the race for mayor on Monday.

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Ms. Stintz, who stepped aside as chair of the TTC in order to focus on her bid for mayor, said she would begin her campaign after her replacement was chosen by council.

"I'll have plan next week to formally register," Ms. Stintz told reporters Wednesday. "I'm looking at Monday."

With a report from Elizabeth Church

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