How we got into this transit mess: a timeline

- thestar.com

How we got into this transit mess: a timeline

On Toronto’s tortured transit file, the twists and turns have multiplied since Rob Ford won 47 per cent of the vote to become mayor on Oct. 25, 2010. He had promised to scrap the city’s light rail plan, Transit City, and put all new transit underground.

Specifically, Ford promised to build a Sheppard subway extension from the Spadina line to Scarborough Town Centre and down to the Bloor-Danforth subway terminus at Kennedy. He said he didn’t need taxes to do it because the private sector would fund the project.

This week, Ford backtracked. He suggested he was open to parking fees to help pay for subways — a position he dismissed during the campaign as part of a “war on the car.”

Here’s how we got here:

  Dec. 1, 2010: Mayor-elect Ford calls a news conference to say “Transit City is over.”

  Ford meets with TTC boss Gary Webster and outlines the new landscape. Webster agrees to review the TTC’s stance. He tells gathered media he will write a report with the mayor’s wishes in mind.

  Dec. 8, 2010: Ford meets with Premier Dalton McGuinty at Queen’s Park. He fails to convince the premier to transfer billions of Transit City money to the mayor’s subway plans. They work out a compromise after some testy exchanges.

  Under the “deal,” Ford would pursue private funds for Sheppard that would be entirely a city project. The province, through Metrolinx, would no longer work on the Sheppard LRT and instead apply the funds to completing the Eglinton LRT as a provincial project, with a potential $650 million left over to put into Sheppard. On Ford’s insistence, the Eglinton line would now be entirely underground. Ford ignores critics’ complaints that the deal leaves nothing for the Finch West LRT.

   Early 2011: Webster and TTC bureaucrats are in a quandary. No matter how they crunch the numbers, the conclusion is the same: A subway along Sheppard does not appear advisable. There’s not enough development, jobs or riders for the foreseeable future, a TTC report concludes. When TTC chair Karen Stintz takes a draft to the mayor, Ford is less than pleased. The document must not be made public, he demands. (It wasn’t — until it showed up on the front page of the Star nearly a year later.)

   March 2011: With the help of city lawyers and outside legal help, Ford enters a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the province that states Toronto would pick up all costs attributed to killing Transit City. Several clauses clearly state that Ford must get council’s approval to effect the changes. (He still has not done so, a year later.)

  Provincial officials push for an immediate council vote, but Ford’s team vigorously opposes that position: “We don’t tell you how to run cabinet, don’t tell us how to run council,” they tell the province.

   April 2011: Ford appoints ex-city councillor Gordon Chong to demonstrate how private-sector funds would build the Sheppard subway. Chong tells the Star in May that road tolls and other road pricing tools will be needed. After nearly losing his over the comments, he remains mostly mute until his report is released Feb. 13, 2012. It shows the subway between $700 million and $1 billion short of funds.

  Feb. 8, 2012: A week before the Chong report release, council stages a coup. Frustrated that the mayor has refused to take the MOU to council for debate, 24 city councillors (23 signatures are needed) call for an emergency council meeting and reinstate all of the Transit City light-rail plans, except Sheppard. An expert panel is to report on what to do there by March 21.

At this meeting, councillors drill Webster for his advice on light rail versus subways. He gives it.

   Feb. 15, 2012: The secret TTC report appears in the Star. It becomes the tipping point. “The TTC needs a complete enema,” the mayor’s brother, Doug, says. Webster is doomed, though neither he nor the TTC had leaked the report. Ford’s allies on the transit commission plot to fire him, succeeding on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

  Flouting council’s decision on transit, Ford stages a public campaign to build subways. Perturbed, a loose coalition of councillors strategizes on how to seize the city’s agenda from the mayor.

   Next month: Ford’s executive committee will bring a motion to council seeking to revamp membership on the transit commission. It promises to be the latest, but not the last, showdown on transit.

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