The city is creating a new municipal “transit czar” position in what Mayor John Tory says is a bid to ensure new lines are built as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Tory announced the creation of a new transit expansion office Thursday morning at a news conference at city hall. He said the city would begin the search for the executive director of the new office immediately.
“I felt we needed somebody who was going to be the point person, who was going to clear away obstacles, and was going to make sure we moved ahead as quickly as we possibly could with every single one of the projects in the city-approved transit plan,” said Tory, who has repeatedly said he was already doing everything possible to get projects like the relief line built quickly.
“If one department or area of the city government is delaying progress, they will have a light shone on them with my full support and that delay will be brought to an end,” he said.
“You need somebody that quite frankly — I hate to put it in the vernacular — that’s going to kick some butt.”
Tory said the director would have “some additional staff” but he didn’t expect the position to come with a “large bureaucratic office.”
The city is partnering with the provincial and federal governments to build its council-approved transit network, which includes the relief line subway, Eglinton East LRT, Waterfront LRT network, Scarborough subway extension and Tory’s SmartTrack plan.
Much of the network, which would cost more than $17 billion, remains unfunded and the timing of its completion is largely dependent on decisions made at the provincial and federal levels of government. It’s unclear how much influence the city’s transit expansion office would have over those decisions, although it’s likely to be limited.
Premier Doug Ford has said he wants to replace plans for the one-stop, $3.35-billion Scarborough extension with a three-stop version, a change that would delay and add costs to the project.
Ford has also promised to upload ownership of the TTC subway system to the province, which would give Queen’s Park even greater control of which new lines are built.
Ford has expressed support for extending the TTC’s Sheppard subway, which isn’t in council’s approved plan. Pursuing that project could throw the rest of the planned network into uncertainty by diverting funding from other proposed lines.
The province has appointed a special adviser to guide the government on the upload plan, but Tory cautioned Thursday giving ownership of the subway to Queen’s Park is far from a done deal.
“I’ve made it very clear that it’s not just going to happen just because somebody else says so,” Tory said.
“We have to have a good deal that is going to be good for employees, riders, taxpayers, and we’ve seen nothing by way of any indication of what kind of deal that would be.”
The chair of the TTC board has traditionally provided oversight of the city’s transit expansion plans, but Tory said in recent years the landscape as changed in part because of the more direct involvement of Metrolinx, the provincial Crown corporation in charge of regional transportation.
“I think the TTC’s principal job is to operate a transit system,” Tory said.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr