John Tory says Toronto's transit agency has "immense problems," including outdated technology and a culture that discourages efficient decision-making – vowing to help CEO Andy Byford address these issues if elected mayor.
In a mayoral race dominated by the issue of transit, the front-runner came out with his strongest criticism against the Toronto Transit Commission yet, saying that though he has full confidence in Mr. Byford, the agency is failing to adequately serve the city's population.
All of the leading candidates – Mr. Tory, Olivia Chow and Doug Ford – have spoken extensively about building new transit and funding, but there has been little talk so far about systemic issues within the organization itself.
"Doing business with the organization is a nightmare," Mr. Tory told The Globe and Mail's editorial board Wednesday.
Citing recent discussions with members of the business community, he said the TTC is paralyzed by bureaucracy. "They postpone making decisions on anything because they're so afraid of making a decision," he said. "As a result, everybody pays."
Mr. Tory also described outdated methods of fare collection and tokens as "inexplicable."
"I'm saying to myself, 'Who is running this place?'" he said. "Who is running it?"
Though Mr. Tory said he has "huge confidence" in Mr. Byford, he said the CEO needs more support in his role.
Mr. Tory made his comments the same day Mr. Ford turned his attention to the land-transfer tax, vowing that, if elected, he would roll back the tax by 15 per cent annually.
"I'm committing to get rid of 15 per cent every year for four years. And again, that's being conservative," he told reporters.
Mr. Ford said if elected for a second term, he would do away with the tax completely, citing a recent report suggesting that the tax has resulted in a loss of $2.3-billion in economic activity for the city and a loss of 38,000 home transactions.
The land-transfer tax brings the city about $350-million a year. A reduction of 15 per cent would represent about $52.5-million in lost revenue in the first year of the cuts.
Mr. Ford said the initial reduction in the tax would be offset by up to $97-million saved by contracting out garbage collection east of Yonge Street.
He also said he would save the city $50-million to $60-million by consolidating procurement and other operations among city agencies, such as the Toronto Police, Services, the TTC and Toronto Hydro.
Mr. Tory, who said Mr. Ford has made several campaign spending promises without spelling out where the funding would come from, said the city needs to find savings or other revenue before it can eliminate the tax.
"I think we're going to have to focus in this campaign on looking at where the money's going to come from to do these things. And I know he has some explanation for that today, but you can only spend this money once," he told reporters.
Ms. Chow, who has pledged to raise the land-transfer tax by one percentage point for homes over $2-million, said the levy is an important source of revenue for the city.
"I believe the land-transfer tax is here to stay," she told reporters.