So You Want To Be A Transit Commissioner (Update 2)

Updated June 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Two media reports indicate that the City Clerk has taken umbrage at comments in this article, and I feel compelled to reply.  As a general note, my quarrel was primarily with the TTC’s representative, not with the Clerk’s staff.

From Inside Toronto:

Recent information sessions held for aspiring civilian TTC commissioners were always intended as informal drop-in sessions rather than organized meetings, said a spokesperson for the city on Wednesday.

Martin Herzog characterized the four sessions, two of which took place Tuesday in Scarborough and North York, as an opportunity for individuals interested in applying to join the TTC board to get further information about the application process.

Herzog was responding to criticism that emerged this week on how the sessions were run.

“The sessions were never designed to be meetings with formal presentations,” said Herzog, the city’s acting manager for governance structures and corporate performance. “There was no formula for this.”

And later:

Online criticism of the information sessions is completely inaccurate, said Herzog.

“There’s some stuff trickling around full of factual errors,” he said.

There are no “factual errors” in my article, and methinks the Clerk doth protest too much.  Whether it was the original intent or not, Monday’s “drop in” turned into a 90-minute Q&A with the TTC’s Vince Rodo that had no prepared content, but lots of remarks that left a bad taste in my mouth particularly when coupled with earlier comments from a member of Council who sits on the Civic Appointments Committee.

As I reported, the Clerk’s Office had prepared a briefing package for those who attended and it contained a great deal of well-organized material culled from the City’s website.

From NOW:

Joe Borowiec of the city manager’s office dismisses the suggestion the external headhunting process has made outreach to the general public redundant. He says Munro misunderstood the intent of the public sessions, and that they were intended to be drop-in sessions rather than formal meetings.

Borowiec says that the city manager’s office is required to open the process to the public and insists that that all applications will be taken seriously.

“There’s no reason why someone who walks in off the street and picks up a form would not be a successful applicant,” Borowiec says. “We’re not looking to limit it to only corporate directors. We’re looking to reach out and communicate with anybody and everybody out there because we don’t know where those possible candidates are.”

That’s not what Rodo (the seeker of “Barons of industry”)  said, and it’s not what the specifications for the job state.  If Council actually intends director-level experience as a “nice to have”, not a “must have”, then they need to say that explicitly in the job ad.

Meanwhile, in answer to all who have asked, I will not be applying.  Becoming a Commissioner would severely compromise my ability to comment independently and to interact with various agencies and my now-peers in the journalistic/blogging community.  Much more can be achieved as an independent external voice.

Updated June 19, 2012 at 7:00 am

Yesterday evening, I attended an “Information Session” at City Hall intended to brief would-be transit commissioners on the application process and on the role of the position.  For a seasoned TTC veteran, there was nothing new, but the whole point of attending was to look at the process and see who else was there.

From the outset, it was clear that the City and TTC treated the event as something they had to do, one of those obligatory bits of so-called citizen participation.  For what was described as an important, high-profile Council appointment, the would-be applicants got to sit in a corner of the rotunda while TTC’s Chief Financial and Administration Officer, Vince Rodo, made an off-the-cuff and, at times, dismissive presentation.

“Sit” was not actually the word considering that over half the two-dozen present had no chairs and no effort was made to find more in the 90 minutes we were there.  The City does have Committee Rooms that would have suited the event much better, but for this important briefing, we sat in the lobby while bemused city staff, officials, councillors and press gallery members wandered by wondering what was going on.

Rodo talked about the Commission’s hopes for the new “citizen” commissioners and the desire for “Barons of industry” who could bring their business expertise to the TTC.  That more or less ruled out everyone present.  Much later, he suggested that people could get qualifications by getting certification as a corporate director from one of the courses available at various colleges.  This is not going to happen for anyone, even assuming they wanted to spend the money, between now and the July 4 application deadline.

That business expertise could include support for private sector participation, said Rodo, clearly stepping into an area of policy which is the Commission’s role, not management’s.

For a bit, we got into a discussion of the job description and requirements including “urban sustainability”.  Rodo explained that this involved the linkage of city growth and development with public transit, and the ability of citizens to get around without owning a car.  The irony of making such a claim for the TTC while standing only a stone’s throw from an elevator leading to Mayor Ford’s office passed by without comment.

Someone asked if the TTC had a sustainability plan, to which Rodo replied that it was, in effect, the City’s Official Plan.  What he didn’t mention was that the TTC interfered with the creation of the current Plan to the point that there is no “transit plan” per se in it.  Oddly enough, earlier the same day, TTC Chair Karen Stintz presented a motion at Planning and Growth Management Committee asking that:

City Council request that the City’s planning staff work collaboratively with the Toronto Transit Commission to develop a list of transit priorities, to be approved by City Council, and that these priorities be included in the Official Plan review.

Rodo gave as examples of the TTC’s environmental commitment the purchase of hybrid buses and new light rail vehicles.  Well, yes, except that the TTC isn’t buying hybrid buses any more because they have proved to be unreliable and not cost-effective.

A discussion of customer service and marketing campaigns took us off into familiar TTC territory of blaming the passengers.  Rodo actually said that the problem with excessive use of the Passenger Assistance Alarms arises in part because people ride the TTC without adequate preparation — have a good meal and lots to drink because you’ll be packed in and need your strength.  Delays from subway fires arise from garbage on the tracks — never mind the infrequency with which it is cleaned up by the TTC, or the fire smells arising from overheated electrical equipment on trains.  Doors are jammed because riders insist on trying to board trains even when crews close the doors on them with or without looking (a problem made worse by the new convention of placing the guards at the rear of 450-foot long trains).

This is the self-serving “customer service” crap we are used to hearing from the TTC, and it’s not the sort of thing I would want to encourage in would-be commissioners, some of whom might actually hope to represent the riding public.

We were well into the last half-hour before questions on issues such as time required to fulfill the position, conflict-of-interest and other matters of substance were discussed.

In response to my question, the Clerk’s representative confirmed that if any candidate wishes to talk to members of Council about their appointment, this would be “lobbying” and serious candidates should get on and use the City’s Lobbyist Registry.  This information is not in any of the background material for candidates, and will be especially important for those industry Barons and other politically well-connected applicants (notably absent from the briefing) who will almost certainly schmooze their way around Council offices.

The entire process left a very sour taste in my mouth.  Clearly we were the “B-list”, the candidates for whom the City and TTC will make a pro-forma effort, but no more.  At least the Clerk’s Office prepared a compendium of information, but for a presentation Rodo could have done a lot worse than using the briefing given at the May 29 Civic Appointments Committee meeting.  At least he might have been organized and better-informed.

There is, of course, a parallel process for those “Barons of industry” that will run through an HR consultant.  The folks the City really wants on the TTC will be invited in for a nice chat.  They will certainly get a chair, and they won’t be treated to a rambling presentation that chews up 90 minutes of their time without conveying much information.

For the rest of us, the process is a sham and a disgrace.

The original article of June 13 follows below.

The City of Toronto has announced the process to apply for membership to the Toronto Transit Commission’s Board.  Although the TTC has been made up of only Council members for many years, earlier this year Council decided to add four “citizens” (non-Councillors) to the board in October 2012.  One of these members will be selected as the Vice-Chair.

An overview of the process and the role of the Commissioners was presented at the Civic Appointments Committee’s May meeting.

Council appears to be seeking expertise in areas that will not generally be found amount its own numbers from people whose backgrounds lie in the governance of large organizations and projects, finance, information technology, construction and transit.

No one applicant can possibly satisfy all of the criteria, and it is intended that the appointees will “collectively represent a range of skills, knowledge and experience”.

All of this sounds very professional until we hear from some Councillors who will actually make the selection.

Tess Kalinowski at the Star reports that one member of the Civic Appointments Committee has his own set of criteria for Commissioners.

Anyone can apply, but the city hopes to attract experts with “finance, urban transit and urban visioning experience,” said Councillor James Pasternak (York Centre) of the Civic Appointments Committee.

“We have raised the bar for the TTC,” he said, adding that candidates should understand transit financing, not just operating dollars but how to finance the TTC’s expansion.

“We’re also looking for candidates who really believe that, after approving so much in LRT in recent months, we would really get into subway visioning,” said Pasternak.

He also worries that TTC officials are too focused on a downtown relief subway line to take some of the crowding off the south end of Yonge. Although Pasternak said that’s an important part of the picture, he wants to see the Sheppard line extended west linking the Downsview and Yonge-Sheppard stations.

The last time I looked, the idea of what are, in effect, “outside directors” for the TTC was to bring a fresh view to transit issues without prejudging matters to suit Councillors or the Mayor.  Pasternak seems to be saying that he wants to reinforce the Mayor’s “subways, subways, subways” approach to transit and focus on a line serving his own constituents, the Sheppard connection from Yonge to Downsview.  Neither of these is mentioned in the qualifications for applicants that were approved by Council.

For her part, TTC Chair Karen Stintz noted that the DRL is already part of The Big Move (albeit on the far-distant 25-year map), but that there is “nothing to stop council from naming the North York Relief Line one of Toronto’s transit priorities” (the quote is the Star’s paraphrase).  Well, yes there is.  Priorities should be set because studies indicate which of many options should be at the top of the list, not just because someone draws a line on a map.  If Council chooses to make transit policy on the fly, why would we even bother to have a TTC?

The most important role for the transit commission is to provide a forum where TTC policies, finance and operations can be considered in substantially more detail than at Council, and to provide advice to Council on how it should support the transit system.  Council may choose to ignore TTC recommendations, but should not simply populate the Commission with trained seals whose only job is to provide the advice Councillors want to hear.

I am often asked whether I will put my name forward as a candidate.  At this point, I have not  made up my mind, but quotes like those attributed to Councillor Pasternak are disheartening.  Simply by writing this article, I may have set my fate as a critic of a misguided view of how these important public appointments should be judged.  If so, then it’s clear that real independence is not wanted on the TTC, and anyone with a genuine desire to improve transit can be far more effective working outside of the Commission and Council.  I would love to be proved wrong.

31 thoughts on “So You Want To Be A Transit Commissioner (Update 2)

  1. Councillor Pasternak’s comments to The Star today regarding the four citizen appointments to the Commission are beyond out of this world:

    [Pasternak] also worries that TTC officials are too focused on a downtown relief subway line to take some of the crowding off the south end of Yonge. Although Pasternak said that’s an important part of the picture, he wants to see the Sheppard line extended west linking the Downsview and Yonge-Sheppard stations.

    “The whole idea would be not to put one over the other. I don’t want to see North York left at the altar on transit any more. I really thought that this was the way the so-called centrist councillors were going to go . . . you don’t pick one over the other.”

    I understand that he needs to represent his own constituency, but how he can make such comments with a straight face — for the second time, I believe, is beyond me. Talk about blatant parochial interests. Last time I checked, neither the Sheppard subway line, nor Downsview Station, nor the Spadina line extension, nor North York Centre Station, nor Finch Station, nor the proposed North Yonge line extension are located at the south end of Yonge.

    Maybe he can elaborate on the rapid transit improvements that the old City of Toronto and the old Borough of East York have benefited from in the last 30+ years. Somewhat ironically, if money actually existed to build the generally more elaborate vision of the DRL, it would terminate somewhere in North York… Unfortunately, just not anywhere near Pasternak’s part of North York.

    I’ll assume, reading between the lines, that when Pasternak said that we shouldn’t have to choose between subway lines, what he really meant is that he’ll only vote for a DRL if there’s agreement on extending Sheppard West first and that, in truth, he doesn’t care if the DRL ever gets built. Yeah, I think that I understood that correctly.


  2. The problem with a DRL is that the vast majority of the population does not reside downtown. Commuters outside of the core are still disadvantaged having to take several bus routes to get to/from their homes and work. Furthermore, because the preferred routing aligns so closely with existing GO transit rail corridors it appears to many critics as superfluous and redundant. Also because of cost constraints, a DRL might not even see the level of local stop spacing coverage needed to significantly alleviate the 505/501/504 surface routes.

    The argument that “this subway line is/isn’t warranted and justified because of on-site density” is also a fallacy considering feeder buses are the primary source of subway ridership. To this day, what’s surrounding the heavily used transfer stations at Kennedy, Warden, Wilson and Kipling? Pasternak has a very valid point which Transit City LRT alone does not fully address. I am disappointed that the Sheppard Subway proposal has been demonized in favor of a mode of transit that will now require 5 redundant transfer points to get right across the city what the one-seat ride subway could have accomplished with just one.

    Whoever joins the Commission, may they at least know what the word “compromise” means. There was no need to expedite the Sheppard East LRT when the money could have been reserved until time a feasible funding scheme came forward. Now tell me how the subway can ever possibly be extended eastward, Steve? Like everything in this City, no one plans far enough ahead then wonders why problems continually arise.

    Steve: First, it is important to note that the “Sheppard Subway” was NOT going to run east on Sheppard, but swing south and into the Scarborough Town Centre. Any idea that it might have eventually taken over the role of the Sheppard LRT misrepresents what the Sheppard subway plan was all about. Its purpose was to make the industrial lands near Scarborough Town Centre more attractive for redevelopment, and it was that development that would have provided some of the revenue to pay for the subway.

    As for the DRL, it is beset as much by some very muddy thinking coming from its many advocates as we have discussed here before. A DRL east and west line do not have to be one continuous route, and their function can be provided by two separate services. Attempts to make the DRL take over the function of one or more streetcar routes result in gerrymanders that do neither role properly. We frequently see the DRL east presented as a Union to Pape station shuttle when in fact it should go much further north where it would do some good for East York and the southeast part of North York. That was the original proposal in the 60s, but TTC staff persisted in looking at the line only as a short subway bypass. Meanwhile, we have a natural corridor for the DRL west occupied by a foolishly conceived premium airport shuttle.

    There is a fundamental problem with transit capacity into the core that must be solved with new subway capacity as well as on the GO network. No one “solution” will fix the problem because different travel markets require different services. However, as long as Metrolinx persists in foisting the job of any travel within the 416 onto the TTC, we won’t have an integrated view of how capacity to the core will be provided.


  3. After reading all of these news articles, I came away with a clear impression that future transit expansion in Toronto will not be LRT — ie., that “we’ve approved enough light rail, so let’s get the focus back to subways for the next phase”. It’s coming from Byford, Stintz, and Pasternak, especially since the construction milestone photo ops on Spadina.

    Sorry Steve, but after looking at those requirements, I don’t think you qualify. They seem to be looking for high ranking director/executive business types from other large organizations. Instead, I think they need individuals on the board who have a technical understanding of transit — people who can’t be easily fooled by TTC staff reports … retired/former TTC employees maybe?

    Now that I think about it, wasn’t the TTC comprised exclusively of citizens back in the 60s? When did it change, and why?

    Steve: The TTC changed from all citizens to a mixed board of citizens and Councillors in response to the growing level of municipal subsidy. Council wanted voices at the table to protect their interests. By 1989, the “citizen” members had taken the TTC and its subsidiary Gray Coach down some unusual paths including the purchase of a small tourist airline. The Commission was changed entirely to Council members to prevent such abuses (there were others). It is noteworthy that in the new arrangement, the Chair remains a Councillor and is appointed to the post by Council, not by the Commissioners.

    I will not go into whether or not I qualify for the position. Much depends on how one interprets the idea of overlapping areas of expertise among the citizen members.


  4. I don’t want to see North York left at the altar on transit any more.

    Interesting choice of words considering that all completed subway construction in the past 20 years has been built in North York in addition to it getting the western portion of the Sheppard LRT and the Eastern portion of the Finch LRT.


  5. Pasternak has made it his political goal to create that line across Sheppard from Downsview. No matter that without a DRL, it won’t actually reduce congestion for the people who live in his ward who take the 36, 125, 84 and 60 to Finch station.


  6. My own pessimistic attitude is that if you apply, you will be rejected on the grounds that you are “overqualified for the position.” That’s a polite way of saying those making the selection don’t want to be shown up by somebody smarter with a greater depth of knowledge than theirs.

    Steve: In the interests of full disclosure, the writer here is related to me.


  7. This seems to be a cart-before-the-horse issue. Even if there were evidence and consensus that a Sheppard subway to Downsview should be the next priority (there is not), there’s no way to pay for it. The irony of Pasternak’s idea of the ideal citizen commissioner is that we could get the 100 best transit finance experts in the world lined up out the doorway applying for the job, and they would all say this: “we need politicians, preferably of the provincial and federal variety, to suck it up and devote more money and create more revenue tools for transit.” No amount of expertise will change what is essentially a political funding problem.


  8. I am really tired of the Ford supporters playing one region off against another – with the “another” inevitably being downtown. It is true that downtown residents benefit by better transit and by being near to many of the central city facilities. However, what is left out of the discussion is the level of transit use and the price in property cost and decreased property size that is paid for that proximity. Frequent (arguably, not so frequent) service on the streetcar network is not a gold plated service for an elite. Rather it represents service to (sort of) meet demand. Overcrowding is also a constant.

    Downtown beats as the essential heart of a great city. The services available there serve all Torontonians. Downtown needs to be kept healthy for the good of us all.

    Likewise, the increased property taxes collected from the enhanced assessment downtown also helps fund services to the inner suburbs at lower suburban property tax rates.

    The City is an integrated whole, with each area requiring care and respect. In the area of transit “fairness” the question must be framed around service level per passenger not subways per square kilometer. Put another way the question is whether transit provided or planned meets and serves demand. Defining one service as “gold plated’ and using the availability of that service as a definition of “equality” is silly when some areas do not show enough demand to operate such a service economically. James Pasternak demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about what it means to be a leader in this City.


  9. The way the qualification list reads, many people will meet some of the requirements but there’s really a small number of people out there that’ll hit a large number of the bullet points. Would it be cynical of me to suspect that the job description’s been written with the people they’d like to hire in mind?


  10. The last time the TTC was all citizens was in 1953, pre-Metro, when it was three citizens (which it had been since 1921). Starting with the “new” TTC in 1954, there were two Metro councillors added to the three citizens, then at some point (early 1980s?) it became four Metro councillors and three citizens, then as Steve said, the citizens were finally taken out in 1989.


  11. I have long argued that Steve would better serve the cause he is interested in of by being outside.

    That and I am rather selfish about this forum as it would pretty much have to shut down if he became a commissioner. (Either that or Steve starts spending what little time he had left to be on here discussing the intricacies of the HSR.)

    Steve: It could still exist in some form. After all, many Councillors have blogs, although not with such an extensive conversational nature.


  12. Steve, while you would be well qualified for the task, it would no doubt require you to button your lip, and in any case be for only 2 years, when flavours might change yet again. It might just be that not seeking such a position, and instead continuing this excellent blog, would serve the city’s transit interests better.


  13. I want to say “It’s a shame the TTC could screw up something like this.” But that’s kind of par for the course with the TTC.


  14. My wife phoned me this morning to tell me that her streetcar was so packed and stifling, that an older gentleman passed out just before St.Clair West Station and it was chaos trying to get him assistance. The driver and supervisor held the car on the ramp and streetcars started piling up. She then waited for the second train before she could push herself on. I would love to see a citizen commissioner who was a “regular” user and did not live in a more rarefied neighbourhood (Forest Hill etc) who could speak to actual conditions on actual surface routes.

    Clean toilets are nice I guess, but how about reliability and oxygen?

    Steve: I agree that the TTC has not been paying enough attention to the problems of service capacity and planning its future budgets for significant improvements, not just a stand-pat quality, or even worse cutbacks to match whatever brainwave the Fords have in their view of adequate transit subsidy and service. I spoke to this issue at the last Commission meeting, but so much time had been consumed by another matter (the debate about the role of Metrolinx) that my deputation about service and budgets was largely ignored. That’s a big reason for this blog.


  15. “the ability of citizens to get around without owning a car”

    I’m sure many of 1%ers they are looking for don’t own a car. They have a company car and a company driver to take care of that.

    Mr. Munro, being a commissioner will put you in a much better position to fix all these things you find distasteful.


  16. Would Gary Webster be considered a “Baron of Industry”? Personally, I think he would fall into the same category as Frederick L. Hubbard, who was a General Manager for the privately-owned Toronto Street Railway, but became a commissioner for the Toronto Transportation Commission as well as a chair of the TTC. Of course, Fred’s father was an alderman for the city (first black alderman in 1894 and served on it for 15 years), so that helped.


  17. Put your name in, Steve! The fact is that if they passed over you for some unqualified Forest Hill type they would be the object of some pretty bad publicity. I wonder if some kind of a campaign might help. Not one with which you would have any connection but simply one mounted by people who believe in you and want a good transit system. Facebook might be a good place to start. My own incompetence with matters relating to FB would make me a poor choice to start it but there are certainly others who could do it.


  18. Excuse me for bringing this up, but what was the gender ratio at the meeting like? I wonder if we could expect the same proportion in the other field of candidates not apparent at the meeting.

    Steve: At best 25% female, 75% male. A smattering of visible minorities and wheelchair users while we’re on the subject.


  19. So you have a problem with people who go subways subways subways as single vision instead of looking what is the appropriate type of transit vehicle……… you would have the same problem with people who go LRT LRT LRT?

    People with true business experience would be better than let’s say Jamie Kirkpatrick or any of the TEA activists who fill all the TTC meetings and open houses.

    People like JK are the LRT LRT LRT people who go for attacking the subway plan being unfunded yet ignore people who go on saying Transit City had MANY parts unfunded/unplanned.

    We need Commissioners who will realize that the Transit City plan took years of planning and any true transit plan can’t be pulled out of anyone’s arse in less than 2 years.

    Steve: The issue with “subways subways subways” is that that one mode, and one particular line, are touted as a litmus test for would-be Commissioners who, one would hope, have an open mind on any proposals. As for we “LRT LRT LRT” advocates, well, I hate to say this, but someone with “true business experience” might ask embarrassing questions about spending billions to build subways where there is no demand for them.

    Stop flogging that dead horse of Transit City funding — there was never any funding for the subway scheme, but at least Transit City had money for some lines. As and when we do get new revenues from, say, a regional sales tax, we could blow it all on one or two projects, or we could build a more extensive network of LRT, BRT and commuter rail, each where it is appropriate. That’s good business sense, but those whose minds are firmly made up against the horrors of “streetcars” don’t want to hear it.


  20. W.K. Lis said:

    Would Gary Webster be considered a “Baron of Industry”?

    David O’ Rourke said:

    Put your name in, Steve!

    Based on Steve’s observations of the meeting, I’d say that (spin) ‘Dr.’ Gordon Chong has a better chance of being selected as a “citizen representative” than Steve or Gary Webster.

    I suppose that this is far for the course in this Toronto. But I agree with David, Steve … put your name in the running and see what happens. If you get in, things might actually change. If they don’t change, your observations & thoughts are affirmed (which will gain you even more respect among Torontonians), and as David said, if they don’t choose you they will have a lot of explaining to do.

    Cheers, Moaz

    ps. politics aside, you are doing exactly what a ‘citizen’ representative for the TTC should do.

    Steve: Unfortunately, Council seems to have conflicting ideas of just what a “citizen” member would be — a seasoned, senior businessperson, or a representative of the more general (and less skilled) citizenry. I think they regard the latter role as belonging to the Customer Service Advisory Committee which, of course, never gets its hands on any serious policy matters.


  21. Miroslav, you should have your own blog! Then you wouldn’t have to spend so much of your life repeating the same complaint over and over in every post on Steve’s blog. 🙂

    I concur that Steve’s knowledge and experience with the TTC would make him a strong addition to the commission, but I object to the idea of a Facebook or petition campaign – the TTC as popularity contest would be less effective/honest that a TTC *honestly* built on skills and knowledge. (I remain hopeful we may get some semblance of that, but not very hopeful)

    I also share the concern expressed that appointment to the commission would carry at least some level of gag-order with it, even if only implied. That would be challenging for any knowledgeable and opinionated commission member, especially if they were in the minority on a vote. We see councillors create news all the time in this situation, which I find has varying levels of success in furthering their cause.

    Steve: There would be a few levels of “gag order” as you put it. The first and most obvious is confidentiality. I could not talk or write about any confidential matters, and would have to be careful that information gleaned through that route did not seep into a post. For example, I could not reply to a comment with “what you don’t know is xxx”. Second, there is the question of what hat I am wearing when I speak. Commissioners routinely give press scrums that reflect their personal opinions, as do members of Council, but the level of detail and sheer volume of material on this blog is considerably more than what you would see from “regular” Councillor/Commissioners.

    I know that the Mayor and his brother often speak as if they talk for the City, although increasingly Council has been reining them in on that score. If I were to launch a broadside against, say, Metrolinx (not exactly unknown on this site), would my words be taken as my own or as the TTC’s? These are important issues both for the Commission and for any would-be member. I think most of us can remember times when it was thought that both Howard Moscoe and Adam Giambrone were “freelancing” from their position as Chair, and they were at least Councillors. An activist/writer/commissioner would be even trickier.

    Finally, it is not unknown for me to criticize TTC operations and service management. It is not tenable for the management of an organization to have a member of their board launching commentary on a regular basis on this type of issue which is strictly operational and within management’s role. The Commission sets policy — service standards, mid and long range plans, etc — but openly critiquing the nuts and bolts of day to day operations strays beyond the Commission’s mandate. This sort of thing has been troubling with a few past chairs.

    Some readers of this blog may not know that I spent a good deal of my professional life in the public sector in various managerial roles, and am well aware of the “Berlin wall” between a board and the management/staff responsibilities.


  22. Steve: I remain in the “I’d rather not see Steve neutered” camp especially given the shabby welcome accorded those stepping forward.

    Miroslav: it’s worth remembering that Calgary got stimulus funding for an LRT project that was planned but unfunded. They are now drawing up wish lists for federal funding in case more should be offered in the future. As I interpret your line of thought Calgary did a stupid thing by having an unfunded line in the first place.

    Toronto could not avail of this because Transit City was at an earlier stage of development and instead tried to game the system by asking for stimulus money for streetcars of which we have yet to see a prototype, let alone production units.

    As for LRT LRT LRT, I pointed out on Torontoist this morning that in at least the DRL, the appelation of subway-phobia cannot be applied to our host.

    Steve: Transit City was pushed out the door in advance of MoveOntario2020 to ensure that Toronto would have something on the table other than a few subway extensions (as Toronto’s “plan” then stood). It was, in effect, a “wish list” to make sure that when Queen’s Park started handing out money, there were projects with reasonable price tags that might attract their attention. Metrolinx, who inherited MO2020, fought against parts of the LRT plan internally, but eventually embraced it.

    And, yes, I do support construction of new subways on a very limited basis. There are far more streets with need of more bus service than streetcars/LRT, and far more candidates for BRT/LRT than for subways. As long as we plan one line at a time and claim that it will solve all the problems of the world, we are doomed to build nothing. That’s my complaint about the subway advocates. Even the DRL won’t solve most of the problems of travel north of the 401, but it will open up capacity on the subway network as a whole and benefit riders throughout the network’s catchment area.

    And, finally, we need a lot more commuter rail, and Metrolinx should get off its butt and start planning for significant increases in service to become a truly regional rapid transit network.


  23. I don’t know. $5000 a year and $450 per meeting. That’s some pretty sweet coin! That, if anything, tells about how much time the TCC expects their citizen charges to spend on their “portfolio”. Wonder if that also includes a free Metropass? I’d go for it, but resign noisily at the first sign of political interference.

    So make sure to get that Metropass up front.

    Steve: “Sweet coin” depends on what you are used to receiving. It’s rather small change for private sector board members and is clearly intended for a part time role with a strong pro bono component. Think of folks in professions who bill out at hundreds of dollars an hour.

    And, yes, Commissioners would get a Metropass, although it is almost certainly a taxable benefit (this issue was already settled for Council members who received passes).


  24. My own view is that the new commission needs Steve to give it a dose of reality and credibility that’s been sorely lacking for some time. Yes its true that in the long term he may be able to exercise more power from the outside, but I think that even if he served only the half term remaining for this council it would go a long way to either putting the board on a sustainable course or showing it to be hopeless in its current form. Long term the commission may NOT be the right place, but right here right now and for at least this term having Steve inside would be a wonderful thing.


  25. “Unfortunately, Council seems to have conflicting ideas of just what a “citizen” member would be — a seasoned, senior businessperson, or a representative of the more general (and less skilled) citizenry.”

    With four spots to fill, they don’t aren’t forced to chose one or the other. They can have people from both groups.

    Steve: Nice in theory, but not the way it was put to us by the TTC rep on Monday evening. There was no talk at all of non-business reps. Part of the problem is that the specs included in Council’s motion do not match the hopes stated by some Council members for these appointments.


  26. I think the TTC needs something more like a Citizens Advisory Board which can do more outreach (meetings in various parts of the city, at weekends etc), which would have a right to solicit information from Staff (at a level below Commission Confidential) and issuing an Annual Report assessing the willingness of the Commission to engage with its market. The CAB could handle deputations with more grace than the Commissioners gazing at their smartphones while distilling recommendations and complaints into a form more likely to be acted on. This to me would be a body that people like Steve could sit on and have some effect.

    Steve: The problem with such a group is that it would need real independence and not simply be a managed committee given limited information and with scant, well edited output to the wider audience of the Commission and Council. I cannot see such a group being created, and indeed, some would argue that the Customer Service Committee fulfills some of the same function. I don’t agree, but that’s the argument that would be used.


  27. Very disappointed Steve — you can’t not apply. If you apply and they turn you down, that’s one thing, but if you don’t even try, nobody’s going to listen to you (or take you seriously) going forward.

    Even though we disagree on a lot of things, the Commission needs someone who knows the history of the TTC as well as you do. As for the Berlin wall comment, I don’t agree. I used to sit on a condo board of directors, and when building management screwed up day to day operations, the board had the authority to intervene (and often did).

    Similarly, the Commission have the authority to set operational policy. For instance, it could force management to break the 501 in two, or interline the SRT and Eglinton, so I don’t understand what you’re saying.

    Steve: A condo board is quite a bit different from a multi-billion dollar public corporation, and the relationship of the board as direct users of management’s services as well as their employers is a different one from the TTC commission. Yes, the Commission can set operational policy on a broad scale, including route configurations. However, this requires both the support of at least a majority of the Commission and, at least as a courtesy, of the Councillors whose wards would be affected by the change.

    With respect to the 501, the ward councillors for their own reasons are unsupportive (being more concerned about the Humber Bay express bus) and in dealing with rival community groups with conflicting interests and political leanings. TTC management have put out reports of dubious merit on the subject, and the Commission as a whole is hard to move away from supporting management on details such as this. Just last night I watched as four Commissioners on Goldhawk Live floundered around with a less than detailed knowledge of their system, or of the Downtown Relief Line which was the nominal topic of discussion. Don’t expect them to take on management for corners of the network outside of their own.

    In the past week, I have attended meetings and/or spoken with various people in more role as a journalist/activist in a way that would be utterly impossible as a Commissioner. Simply being present as a public official changes the tone of any meeting, public or private, and any challenging statement I made could be interpreted as being a trial balloon for the Commission, not just a personal opinion. I believe that I will be far more effective outside of a formal Commission role where I am free to hold my own opinions openly and to advise whoever might be interested on policies they might or might not follow.


  28. Councillor Pasternak was on Metro Morning talking about the qualifications for citizen commissioners.

    He mentioned, as I recall, they were looking for “finance experience, city visionaries, those with private transit operations experience, public-private partnership experience….”

    He didn’t exactly come out and talk about the ends which the citizen commissioners will serve, but the list of means above really make me wonder. Maybe the 501 of the future will be a long yellow vehicle with “First Canada” on the side.

    Steve: I love how Pasternak warps things to the most conservative possible reading of the criteria. Nowhere in the list passed by Council does it say anything about private transit operations experience.


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