TTC Meeting for April 2011 (Update 2)

Updated April 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm:

I forgot to mention in my earlier update that there was talk going around the meeting that only half of the Sheppard Subway scheme (the eastern half) might be pursued in the short term (the next decade) to keep the cost down to $2 billion and change.  This echoes a comment by Vice Chair Peter Milczyn in yesterday’s Toronto Sun.

Updated April 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm:

At the Commission meeting, very little happened.

The new, but not yet official, Chief Customer Service Officer was introduced and he made a few remarks about his hopes for the new position.  He has a real challenge in front of him.  Customer Service may be the kind of thing Commissioners love to smile brightly and gush about, but wait until we start talking money, or the negative effects of cutbacks on the perceived quality of the system.

As expected, the proposed split of the 12 Kingston Road bus so that half of its service would run via past Variety Village (via Birchmount and Danforth) was approved.  This will begin operation on May 8, but the community shuttle bus (run by Wheel Trans) from Main Station will continue to run until Victoria Park Station (route 12’s terminus) becomes accessible later this year.

Unlike the previous meeting, Commissioner Minnan-Wong did not belabour the public session with inquiries about contract cost changes.  Some of these questions should be asked, but without implying that every change is a sign of waste and incompetence.  Whether he was equally silent in the private session before the main meeting, I don’t know.

However, in what must be the greatest example of how petty the new Commission (and the Ford regime) can be, there was continued discussion of the fact that former Chair Giambrone overspent his 2010 expense allowance by approximately $3,400.  The issue will come back to the May Commission meeting, and there were dark hints that more serious measures would be taken.  Considering that for many years, none of the Commissioners or Chairs has used all of their expense budget, this is really small potatoes.  However, it’s more important than worrying about how to pay for a $4.2-billion subway with magic beans.

The big issue, relatively speaking, was the new Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited report.  This company, renamed and resurrected from an older, inactive TTC subsidiary, will be used as a home for work on the “Toronto Subway Project” (the official name for the Sheppard Subway extensions in the Memorandum of Understanding with Queen’s Park).  It has $160,000 sitting in the bank from the original setup capital out of TTC when it was created, and retained earnings from work performed years ago.  This nest egg will allow it to operate without any funding approvals for the short term.

We learned that Gordon Chong, a former Councillor and Commissioner, has been retained at $100k/year as President, CEO, Secretary, Treasurer and Co-Chair.  The other directors and officers who are members of Council will not be paid for their work on TTIL.

A rather convoluted motion was passed by the Commission stating that it would approve paying invoices on TTIL’s behalf provided that a mechanism was set up for Council to fund them.  Presumably this would be required once they burn through their $160k nest egg.

Former Vice-Chair Mihevc spoke as a deputant, and raised a number of issues about the Sheppard Subway notably the lack of detailed information on the way it will actually be funded, what the effects will be for ongoing system subsidy requirements (as compared with the Transit City LRT lines originally proposed), and what type of service would be offered to those areas where the LRT plans have been cancelled.

A report on what to do with Finch West is expected back later this year, and the 2012 budget review will include provision for whatever is recommended.  Obviously, this won’t involve any significant construction such as a BRT lane and stations.

The Commission swatted these requests aside, and Vice Chair Milczyn said that “we don’t need to know what future subsidies might be” because in every past case the TTC has always just opened new lines and absorbed the cost.  The desire to not debate the wisdom of the Sheppard proposal, which hasn’t been approved by anyone yet other than the Mayor, was quite clear.  After the meeting, a press scrum with Chair Karen Stintz was notable for its evasiveness.  In the end, it all comes back to “the Mayor wants it”.

As long as Council has enough cheerleaders who let Mayor Ford get away with this sort of thing, it’s hard to understand why we even bother holding public meetings.

The original post from April 2 outlining major agenda issues (most of which were not discussed at all), follows the break.

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