Last week’s unveiling of the OneCity transit plan by TTC chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker stands as proof that Mayor Rob Ford no longer has any say over Toronto’s transit future.
This is a very good thing.
Since even before he became mayor, Ford’s transit policies have been the worst combination of short-sighted, expensive and impossible. When speaking about transit, Ford routinely made little sense and often suggested wasting millions of dollars on ideas few people thought would work. Instead of gearing his policies toward actually moving people around the city more effectively, Ford spent more than a year tearing down existing planning and working toward unreachable solutions that would ensure he wouldn’t get stuck behind transit vehicles in his car. (He has a history.)
On transit, Ford failed. He wasted a lot of time and accomplished nothing. Now that era is over. Let’s look back.
SPRING & SUMMER 2010: As Toronto’s mayoral campaign heats up, Rob Ford emerges as the unlikely front-runner. This surprises a lot of people, as Ford is most distinguished as a fiery Etobicoke councillor who votes against everything and stars in a lot of funny online videos. At this point in the campaign, Ford has no transit plan beyond his suggestion that we end the “war on cars” and maybe get rid of some streetcars. (His policy advisor, on the other hand, once suggested selling off the city’s subway system and letting transit riders carpool. This might have been satire.)
SEPTEMBER 2010: With just a couple of months left before voting day, the Ford campaign finally releases a transit plan via an awkward and poorly-produced YouTube video posted late at night. The plan calls for an immediate halt to all existing transit strategies, promising instead a single Sheppard subway extension from Don Mills to Scarborough Town Centre and a conversion of the Scarborough RT route to subway. Ford says he can complete the extension by 2015—in time for the Pan-Am Games.
Ford’s campaign team also releases a companion document to the YouTube video. It includes a map of the Toronto subway system that mysteriously omits Coxwell Station on the Bloor-Danforth line. (The speculation at the time: that must be where the city keeps the gravy train.)
DECEMBER 2010: As the duly elected Mayor of Toronto, Ford immediately announces an end to both the Transit City light rail plan and the “war on cars.” No one seems entirely sure if he has the power to make this kind of decision unilaterally.
Nevertheless, with this declaration Ford puts the brakes on projects that have already spent millions of dollars on design and construction. He also opens the door to significant contract cancellation fees. Had the decision not been reversed later on, Ford’s first official speech as mayor would have wasted more than $100 million in taxpayer funds.
MARCH 2011: After months of negotiations, the provincial government agrees to a memorandum of understanding with Ford that sees both sides compromise on their transit visions. The province announces they’ll put their funding—about $8 billion—toward an all-underground LRT line on Eglinton Avenue, a project not included in Ford’s transit plan.
The province also agrees to support in principle an extension of the Sheppard subway, but they refuse to provide any funding for construction. Undeterred, Ford says the private sector will step in to provide the $4 billion needed to build the subway extension. Spoiler alert: they won’t.
The memorandum, as signed by both provincial officials and Ford, also includes language indicating that the memo must be approved by Toronto City Council.
APRIL 2011 – DECEMBER 2011: The memo is never brought before Toronto City Council for approval.
Instead, the mayor revives a dormant agency of the TTC and tasks the group, led by former councillor and dentist Gordon Chong, with putting together a study on the feasibility of private sector funding for his Sheppard subway project. Chong gives interviews throughout this period, at various times indicating that he feels both positive and negative about the prospect of finding private sector funding. No timeline for the release of the report is given.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, questions are asked about the wisdom of an all-underground LRT on Eglinton Avenue, which is set to provide a level of service totally above projected ridership using vehicles underground that are designed to run in the open air. Notably, right-leaning Councillor John Parker calls the whole project “the goofiest LRT line known to man.”
JANUARY 2012: Chaos. Karen Stintz, reportedly after getting the go-ahead from Doug Ford, starts floating the idea of a tweaked transit plan that would bring the eastern section of the Eglinton LRT above ground, freeing up cash to build a small Sheppard subway extension and look at improving transit on Finch Avenue.
Surprising the TTC chair, the mayor immediately rejects the face-saving compromise. Stintz, a long-time ally of the Ford administration, is cast into the wilderness where she begins working with more reasonable councillors to develop yet another revised transit scheme—one that looks a lot like Transit City.
At the same time, the province sends a letter to the TTC asking for a firm direction on the city’s transit plans. It’s pointed out both that Ford had no legal authority to cancel Transit City and also that he neglected to put the March 2011 Memorandum of Understanding in front of council for approval.
In addition, Gordon Chong’s Sheppard subway report is finally released. It suggests that the private sector would only contribute to transit construction alongside strong public investment—investment that probably would need to come through new taxes and tolls. Things quickly unravel.
FEBRUARY & MARCH 2012: After TTC General Manager Gary Webster responds to councillor questions on the LRT-versus-subway debate with comments favouring an above-ground LRT alignment on Eglinton, Rob Ford gets his allies on the TTC to fire the longtime civil servant. It’s all done “without just cause.”
Council responds by restructuring the TTC board, removing all of Ford’s key loyalists and reaffirming Stintz as chair.
His back against the wall, Ford briefly proposes an actual transit revenue source, floating the idea of a tax levy on parking lots in a Globe & Mail editorial. However, the mayor never verbally confirms his support for this kind of revenue source. Doug Ford, when asked about it, rejects the idea and points to his and his brother’s shared belief that “all taxes are evil.”
And so council approves a return of the Eglinton LRT to its original above-ground alignment and also revives the Finch West line. Later on, after hearing from an expert panel, they approve the Sheppard East LRT in place of the mayor’s favoured subway extension.
In a twist, public expense reports reveal that the mayor was forced to cover a big part of Gordon Chong’s salary with his office expense account. Rumours persist that Chong was never fully paid for his work on the Sheppard report.
JUNE 2012: Stintz and De Baeremaeker announce a renewed transit vision and funding strategy called OneCity. Some commentators immediately wonder if this plan—which includes both light rail and subway projects—exists as a personal slight against Rob Ford. It’s a ridiculous suggestion.
Instead, after more than a year of disastrous transit policy that delayed projects and wasted millions of dollars, OneCity stands as proof that the Rob Ford era of transit planning is over. The mayor’s opinions on transit are now finally and totally irrelevant. And Toronto rolls on.