TTC Board Meeting: January 10, 2019

The January 10 meeting of the TTC Board was primarily an organizational one with introduction of new members, plus a few management presentations on Board responsibilities and an overview of the system today.

Alan Heisey was re-elected as Vice-Chair of the Board continuing a role he has held ever since May 2015. This position is earmarked for so-called “citizen members” who are not also Councillors.

Most Board members, speaking of why they wanted to be at the TTC, cited an interest in transit and its role, but one, Councillor Karygiannis, was quite brief in saying “Sheppard Subway”. It will be ironic if Premier Ford is successful in taking over subway planning and construction because this project will no longer be one for the TTC or City Council to approve or build. Subway parochialism is alive and well at the TTC.

The Board discussed revisions to its meeting procedure including a proposal from the Vice-Chair that public deputations be limited. Anyone wishing to speak on multiple agenda items would get only five minutes in total, not five minutes per item. The idea has been referred to staff for review. Because any change in the meeting procedure would amend a bylaw that must obtain Council approval, this cannot take effect immediately.

The idea arises from frustration with a few regular deputants who address multiple reports, sometimes contentiously. However, it would be a short step from this scheme to one in which organized groups were only given five minutes in total rather than for each member wishing to address the Board.

A related procedural problem is that some reports where debate and action should be the order of the day, notably the CEO’s regular update, are classified as “Information” items. This hogties not just public deputations who can speak only to reports where the Board will approve some action, but even Board members who cannot make motions. The very report which should be the focus of each month’s review of operations and plans is insulated from substantive debate, criticism and action by the Board which is supposed to provide strategic guidance and policy.

At a time when “transparency” is the watchword and the sense that governments and their agencies should listen more, not less, to the public, this is a counterproductive proposal. If TTC Board  members don’t want to hear deputations, they should get themselves appointed to the Metrolinx Board where self-congratulation is the primary order of business and pesky members of the public sit quietly in the gallery if they bother attending at all.

CEO Rick Leary presented a system overview “Advancing to the Next Level”. This goal will be a real challenge for the TTC where just making do with existing resources has hamstrung real growth and improvement on the transit system. This presentation contains substantial errors of fact about the degree to which service has improved from 2017 to 2018. As an introduction for the new Board, it implies that the past year has been better than actual experience. TTC management spends too much time “polishing their halos” and this gets in the way of substantive discussion about real system needs.

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Challenges Ahead For The 2019 TTC Board

January 10, 2019 brings the first meeting of a new TTC Board with a new crop of Councillors and a new Chair while, for now, three non-Council or “citizen” members carry over from 2018.

Jaye Robinson, formerly Chair of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure, was appointed as the new Chair of the TTC replacing Josh Colle who did not stand for re-election. She will be joined by Councillors Brad Bradford, Shelley Carroll, Jim Karygiannis, Jennifer McKelvie, and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong. Of these, only Carroll and Minnan-Wong have sat on the TTC Board before, and two members, Bradford and McKelvie, are new to Council in this term. The geographic distribution of members is unusual in that none of them represents a ward west of Yonge Street.

Three citizen members remain pending a review of these appointments by Council: Alan Heisey (who was Vice-Chair in the previous term), Joanne De Laurentiis and Ron Lalonde.

The first meeting includes housekeeping activities of selecting a Vice-Chair (who must be picked from the citizen members) and setting up the Audit & Risk Management Committee. Two previous committees will be disbanded in the interest of reducing the call on Councillors’ time:

  • Human Resources and Labour Relations: The TTC is at the beginning of a four year labour contract and does not foresee the need for a standing committee to deal with these matters. Any related matters would be brought either to the full Board, or to a committee struck for the purpose.
  • Budget: Although the TTC had a Budget Committee in the past term, it hardly ever met. For the new term a two-member “Working Group” is proposed, and this means that any budget meetings will take place in private except when the finished product comes to the Board for approval.

Also on the agenda for January 10 are:

  • “Richard J. Leary, CEO will give a presentation to the Board about the TTC, its accomplishments, challenges, vision and next steps.” [This presentation is not yet online.]
  • “Brian M. Leck, TTC General Counsel and John O’Grady, Chief Safety Officer will give a presentation to the Board about Member Legal, Safety & Environmental Responsibilities.”

The legal background emphasizes the Board’s role in providing oversight, general direction and strategy, as opposed to micromanagement of the system. However, this does not make for a completely hands-off arrangement as the Board has specific responsibilities and liabilities under legislation notably relating to worker safety and the environment.

Sadly, there is no legislative requirement to ensure high quality transit service.

The Board will meet again on January 24 with a meatier agenda including the Capital and Operating budgets. They are both huge documents, and the Board is unlikely to understand how their components fit together.

With the increased workload for members of the 2019 Council, moves are afoot to trim agendas and shift decisions to lower levels. In the case of the TTC:

In order to manage the number of items being presented to the Board for consideration while simultaneously seeking opportunities to improve decision making efficiency, it is recommended that staff begin to review options where delegated authority from the Board to staff is feasible. [TTC Board Governance at p. 5]

Staff will report on this in the next few months, but it is important that changes do not stifle public debate and that new “policy” does not appear out of thin air from a delegated responsibility.

Important Board roles are strategic planning and oversight of management. For the past two terms, TTC Boards have been less than engaged with overall strategy and the potential future of transit in Toronto. There are the inevitable debates about a few subway lines, but the larger question of the TTC’s purpose goes unanswered. One might argue that Council (or at least the Mayor and his allies) don’t want ideas that will add to costs getting a full airing at the TTC.

The political direction might well be to limit growth in fares and subsidies, but this should not prevent the Board from engaging in “what if” discussions to gauge the possibilities and implications for service levels, fare structures and technology, and large scale planning for system growth and maintenance.

One past example of TTC advocacy was the August 2014 “Opportunities” report produced by former CEO Andy Byford and staff. It contained many proposals including the Two Hour Fare which has only recently been implemented. The 2018 Ridership Growth Strategy contains many principles, but is lighter on specifics.

We cannot, as a city, understand what transit might do if the agency and Board charged with this are content to avoid discussions of what transit could be if only we had the will to pursue a more aggressive outlook on system improvement. The Board needs to actually do its job – be informed and make strategic plans for transit even if, in the short term, we cannot “afford” some options.

This will be a difficult term for the TTC Board who must wrestle with the proposed provincial takeover of the subway system, but this should not divert attention from several major issues affecting the transit system.

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