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Toronto TTC chief says he never said Toronto is ‘stuck with’ streetcars

Toronto Transit Commission chair Maria Augimeri, left, and TTC CEO Andy Byford answer questions after introducing a new streetcar in Toronto on July 31, 2014.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

In his zeal to criticize streetcars, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford tried to enlist an unlikely ally: Toronto Transit Commission chief Andy Byford.

Mayor Ford, who was vowing again to get rid of streetcars, said Thursday that the chief executive officer of the TTC had described them as being "stuck with" the surface rail vehicles.

The problem is, Mr. Byford said the statement is "absolute[ly] not true," that he never used the phrase "stuck with."

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Mr. Ford does not hide his disgust with surface transit, which he believes get in the way of other traffic. He wants to phase out streetcars entirely, but he acknowledges that the city is soon to start using the first of a massive order of 204 streetcars, vehicles ordered before his mayoralty and likely to last decades.

He suggested that Mr. Byford – who also assumed his role after the order was made – was not happy with the situation either.

"I talked to Andy Byford briefly about it and he said, 'Well, we're stuck with them,' " Mr. Ford told reporters at City Hall. "I said, 'Well, before you purchase anything new, please let me know.' "

That characterization was disputed by Mr. Byford, who called it untrue and chose a more neutral phrase to describe the coming streetcars. "He told me to get rid of the streetcars and I told him, 'The die is cast,' " he said in a text message. "They are ordered, we have a contract and we are going to roll them out."

The streetcars are longer than the models they will replace and there have been concerns from some motorists that they will impede traffic.

Mr. Ford spent a number of minutes Thursday telling reporters how awful surface rail is.

He said streetcar-friendly councillors once killed a plan to run a subway under King Street – an assertion that does not seem to have historical backing – and promised once again to phase out streetcars entirely. It was unclear how this could be done and how much it might cost.

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"It's sad that Mr. Ford continues to pit transport modes against each other as he does consistently with streetcars, which move more people each day than the entire GO network," rival mayoral candidate Olivia Chow said in a statement. "Modern vehicles are soon coming into service, which will speed up boarding and be more reliable. We need to give these modern vehicles time to improve service for everyone."

The first of the new streetcars are scheduled to enter revenue service on Spadina Avenue at the end of August.

Torontonians: Here's your chance to participate in a mayoral debate: The Globe and Toronto Region Board of Trade are hosting a debate with the city's leading mayoral candidates on Sept. 4 and we want to ask your questions. Submit your question here.

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