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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

City scraps proposed TTC fare hike Add to ...

Barely 24 hours had passed since Rob Ford's reluctant announcement of a 10-cent TTC fare increase when senior political and city officials realized they'd found enough money to scrap the hike.

It was just after noon on Tuesday, and Karen Stintz, the TTC chair; Joe Pennachetti, the city manager; Gary Webster, the TTC chief general manager; Nick Kouvalis, the mayor's chief of staff; and Mark Towhey, the mayor's top policy adviser, were gathered in the mayor's office, scrawling figures on a piece of paper to see if they could reach the $24-million needed to kill the proposal, sources say.

They succeeded, and at 12:35 p.m., Ms. Stintz's office put out a press release inviting reporters to her office for a 2 p.m. news conference at which she presided over the last rites of the shortest-lived proposed TTC increase in recent memory.

"There will be no 10-cent fare increase. I said [Monday]if there was a way to avoid this fare increase, we would find it, and I'm pleased to say that we have found a way," she said.

What changed in that short span? Offers of savings started to trickle in after Mr. Ford threatened to fire recalcitrant managers in his debut budget speech, but one new source of money was key: Police Chief Bill Blair offered significant savings in a previously scheduled 90-minute meeting with Mr. Ford on Monday, sources say.

At the chief's request, the Toronto Police Services Board on Tuesday voted in favour of cancelling all its 2011 recruiting, deferring civilian hires and reducing the force's contribution to its rainy-day fund for a savings of $9-million - the equivalent of more than half the $16-million that Mr. Pennachetti has been asked to find to increase the subsidy to stave off the TTC increase.

Ms. Stintz said that $8-million of the $24-million needed to cancel the fare increase would come from unidentified TTC efficiencies, and $16-million from an increased subsidy from the city.

The force reduced its budget request to 2 per cent more than it received in 2010 from 3 per cent.

While Chief Blair couldn't put a firm number on how many departing officers won't be replaced this year, he said that between 200 and 220 usually quit or retire every year.

"The impact will be felt, probably later in the year or even next year, and by that time, we'll have a better idea of where our finances might be," he told reporters.

There's no guarantee that all of the $9-million in police savings will go directly into the TTC's subsidy - Mr. Pennachetti, who wasn't available to comment, is working over the coming days and weeks to squeeze the rest of the $16-million subsidy from the municipal government wherever he can.

The mayor's office accepted $8-million in unidentified TTC savings in order to reach the deal, even though Mr. Ford had specifically banned such accounting in his four-point instruction letter to the city manager shortly after taking office.

Ms. Stintz said she believed that between $2-million and $4-million of that would come from increased ridership without a fare increase to drive people off the system.

Mr. Ford made it clear privately and publicly all along that he opposed the fare increase, and he publicly challenged TTC brass to kill it before he unveiled the budget.

"He believed right from the beginning that he wasn't doing it hell or high water," said Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's older brother. "In his mind, it just wasn't happening."

Still, the speed of the reversal led critics to accuse Mr. Ford and his political staff of either bungling the file or misleading the public with the empty threat of a fare increase so he could look like a hero the next day.

"I never believed there was going to be a fare increase. That was just silly grandstanding," Councillor Gord Perks said.

"Perhaps this is a rookie mayor learning that, you know what, TTC issues are very, very important issues," Councillor Joe Mihevc said. "One day he makes a mistake, the next day he corrects it."

But TTC and city staff - who had been working with the mayor's office since before Christmas to avoid the increase - simply couldn't find a way to scrap it in the mad rush to assemble a draft budget more than a month before the traditional deadline.

They thought they could get down to a five-cent increase, according to the sources, but not all the way to zero.

Politics entered the mix when the mayor's office considered how to present the fare increase to the public.

Two versions of a speech were written, according to sources.

In both, Mr. Ford would call on the carpet the heads of agencies who had defied his demand for budgetary restraint.

In one, he would reluctantly accept the TTC fare increase but demand significant improvements to customer-service and cleanliness; in the other he would also insist the fare increase wasn't a done deal and push Ms. Stintz and TTC staff to reverse it.

They went with the latter.

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