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Metrolinx opts for private partner to operate new transit lines

As Metrolinx prepares for the underground Eglinton light-rail line, Eglinton residents are concerned that the street itself will miss out on needed repairs and pedestrian facilities.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The chair of the Toronto Transit Commission says she was blindsided by the province's decision to ask a private partner to operate four new light-rail lines, a move she fears will jeopardize a seamless commute for riders.

Councillor Karen Stintz learned Wednesday afternoon that Metrolinx, the province's transportation agency for the GTA, has determined the TTC will not operate the $8.4-billion LRT network as expected.

"[Metrolinx President Bruce McCuaig] said those discussions had been ongoing and it should have come as no surprise to me," Ms. Stintz said. "And I told him that it was a surprise and that it would have been nice to have a discussion because there's some issues that need to get worked out."

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Ms. Stintz is concerned about fares, and about how commuters will switch from the TTC's existing lines to the new Metrolinx routes.

But Jack Collins, Metrolinx's vice-president of rapid transit development, pledged in an interview Thursday that moving from one system to the next would be seamless.

"This is a one-fare system, an easy transfer," he said.

He said the cost to riders would be pegged to the transit fare at the time the system is implemented. How revenues will be split is subject to negotiation between the TTC and Metrolinx.

The new lines are slated to run along Finch, Sheppard, Eglinton and as a replacement for the deteriorating Scarborough RT. They are the first major transit projects in Toronto in decades.

Already contentious – they have led to several showdowns at city council – they are not expected to be operational for nearly a decade.

Earlier this month the TTC outlined two possibilities for the new LRTs, saying that it would "provide the same level of safety to passengers and workers" for them to be operated by the transit system or done with the private sector. But it stressed that the private model would require a "seamless customer experience and free movement between the two stations."

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Ms. Stintz warned that would not be possible if the TTC does not operate the new lines.

"In the event of an emergency we cannot have a situation where there's two control centres," she said.

That means commuters moving from one system to the next at seven interchange stations will have to "physically exit" TTC property and enter a separate Metrolinx station, according to Ms. Stintz.

On Wednesday, Metrolinx made clear its desire to go the private route using so-called Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP).

"Value-for-money under the AFP model is maximized by linking project design and construction and the full lifecycle of operations and maintenance under one contract," Mr. Collins wrote. "Further, because the private sector is responsible for maintaining the asset over many years, it has a strong incentive to build to a high standard and to keep the asset in top condition for years to come."

In his letter, Mr. Collins said his agency would "continue to work with the TTC to design the interchange stations to ensure the safety and movement of customers as an integrated system."

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