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Sheppard subway poised to eat the TTC chief’s job—and maybe Karen Stintz and streetcars, too

(Image: Kenny Louie)

The big story this morning from the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail is that the mayor’s office—either Rob Ford himself or possibly his brother, Doug—are trying to pressure TTC chief general manager Gary Webster out of his job. Apparently Webster, a 30-year veteran of the TTC, hasn’t been sufficiently receptive to the mayor’s plan to expand the Sheppard subway.

According to the Toronto Star:

Most transit experts, including former TTC boss David Gunn, consider the subway plan a joke.

The Fords are so intent on Webster’s removal, sources say, they won’t let him hire a new chief operating officer—an internationally advertised position that is attracting top applicants from London and Sydney, Australia.

TTC chair Karen Stintz has expressed frustration about the slow speed at which improvements in customer service are taking place. But she has so far refused to be part of a plan to oust Webster, drawing speculation that her own time on the commission could be limited, according to some sources.

Stintz, for her part, isn’t anti-Sheppard, according to the Globe. Rather, she’s apparently focused on the city’s commitment to what can be funded right away—namely, a short extension of Sheppard to Victoria Park paid for with the $300 million from Ottawa that would have otherwise gone to Transit City’s now-defunct Sheppard LRT. This would make a joke of the mayor’s commitment that no taxpayer dollars would go to building the Sheppard line but, on the plus side, it’s actually possible.

Meanwhile, former TTC vice-chair (and fierce critic of the mayor) Joe Mihevc made an allegation that should probably alarm anyone south of Bloor: allegedly, Ford’s office is “so committed to Sheppard they are actively contemplating getting rid of the entire streetcar system in Toronto”—and applying the savings to the Sheppard subway. This too would make a joke of the mayor’s pledge that Sheppard could be built entirely with private money, never mind his pledge that there would be no major service cuts.

And on top of all that, we’ve got to wonder what happens to the price of condos in the city when owners along the Spadina and Queen’s Quay lines start selling off their properties that are no longer well served by streetcars. The whole thing is actually such a terrible idea that we would normally assume that excited Ford critics were just taking some licence, except last fall Ford’s election chief Nick Kouvalis mused to the Sun that this was in the cards. So some clarity—and fast—would be nice.

Ford plotting to oust TTC chief over subway extension [Toronto Star]
Mayor Ford trying to push out TTC general manager, sources say [Globe and Mail]

  • Stephanie

    Wow, is this really what Ford Nation was hoping for? Toronto is an utter laughingstock and will be for the next three plus years. We’re a joke and it’s going from bad to much, much worse. Our city is populated by idiots, apparently, who decided the chief idiot should run things. Well, he is. Right into the ground.

  • SeriousShopper

    Everyone in the city should want streetcars abolished!

    They are slow, inflexible, dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians, hog road space, consume vast quantities of capital budget and horrific to ride in. They should all be replaced by buses while the city works on establishing subways.

  • W. K. Lis

    Streetcars and light rail are the way of the future. They carry more people than buses, have a smoother, more comfortable ride, and are a feature of Toronto. Even Montréal is planning for a return of their tramways on their streets. Transit City is a better plan that would serve more transit users over more routes than Rob Ford’s plan, which only serves a few riders.

  • realityCheck

    Streetcars seem to work fine on dedicated lanes… but they work much less well on routes without dedicated lanes (suchas College and Dundas). Also, on a per-passenger basis they are incredibly more expensive than buses (especially articulated buses) once you factor in the ongoing track installation/repair/maintenance costs. There may be reasons to go with streetcar over buses, but cost is not one of them. In his recent review of the TTC operations, former TTC GM Dave Gunn blasted the new streetcar purchase as incredibly wasteful, pointing out that about 200M in articulated buses would be able to provide the same capacity of service that would be from the 1.3B in streetcar purchases – AND also would entail much lower ongoing operating costs. With respect to the fate of Gary Webster, he may be right about Sheperd… But he still has been a disaster as a TTC GM. I’m surprised he had this job under Miller… and I’m surprised that he has had this job for as long as he has under Ford.

  • Interurbans

    Streetcars cost about 0.40USD to operate for a passenger mile and busses including articulated busses cost about 0.85 USD to operate a mile. It does cost more to build the system but once in the streetcar cost less than half what a bus does. A bus especially a articulated bus ride is very rough and uncomfortable with very little space inside, ADA loading is slow and space is limited. Could anyone find a regularly transit rider who would choose a bus for their trip over a streetcar would be hard to find? Busses are slower, take up more road space, damage the roads, pollute, they operate on and use imported oil to operate. The current streetcars are over 20 years old and try and find any busses operating in Toronto that are as old as the streetcars.

    Now Ford wants to get rid of Gary Webster and others that will not role over. Yes, shoot the messenger and destroy good management and replace them with cronies in order to build a boondoggle to reward political friends. This makes Chicago politics look honest.

  • Rocketman75

    To Serious Shopper:

    You DO realize that the capacity of a “small” streetcar is
    almost twice as much as a “small” bus. A “big” streetcar, 3 times as much! With 40 big cars that are currently on the Queen route, you would require 120 small buses!! Even with big buses, 80 of those would be required to maintain current capacity on the line. Then you would need additional drivers to drive said buses.Then those buses would need to be replaced after 12 years, unlike a streetcar that last for 30+ years! Rail/overhead infrastructure last for 20-40 years, pending on wear.
    BTW how is a bus weaving in and out of stops less hazarddous to cyclist than a streetcar that goes straight down the middle of the street?! When a streetcar stops at a car stop, I inevitable that the doors are gonna open to service the stop! But if cyclist stops like they are supposed to when doors open . . .

  • realityCheck

    @Interurbans, as your numbers show, streetcars are cheaper to operate … but only if you leave out the costs of installing/maintaining and repairing tracks that the streetcars run on… which in Toronto seems to happen every 3-5 years. Also,whether or not one agrees with Ford, I don’t see how anyone can say that Webster has offered “good management”. He has not.

  • Westwind1

    It looks like we’re debating priorities here. Frankly, all the items on Torontonians’ transit want lists are sorely needed. We need the Sheppard subway, and the streetcars, and more subway lines, and rapid transit to the airport, and Eglinton, and on and on. Problem is, the funding from the federal and provincial levels needs to be increased since Toronto obviously cannot kick in any more money. Can anyone come up with a good sell to the rest of the province and the rest of Canada on how contributing more tax money to build and maintain the TTC will benefit them?

  • Nick

    I don’t know where you’re getting your “everyone in the city wants streetcars abolished” claim from. It’s likely made up, like most of what comes out of Ford’s or any Ford supporter’s mouth. Most streetcar complaints are likely from people who live nowhere near a streetcar line and rarely ever ride one. Most transit users, myself included, would probably prefer it to a bus, so would anyone who cares about the environment or rides a bike.
    Anyone who blames streetcars for slowing down traffic on College, Queen, Dundas, or King should place just as much blame on the lane of parked cars along those streets. They hold up traffic too by taking up the entire lane in many places, and there’s nobody even in them!. But you never hear that side of the agrument do you. And if you replaced those streetcar lines with a bus you’d have to eliminate the street parking, which of course is a crime in this town where anything impeding your God given right to drive anywhere and park anywhere at all times, unimpeded by any sort of inconvenience, like say a streetcar carrying 35 passengers, because your car carrying 1-4 passengers, not paying a cent into the city’s coffers since we have no vehicle tax and not a single road toll in the entire city will always be priority one, right?

  • realityCheck

    Nick… you are right, the lane of parked cars also play their part in impeding traffic along College, Queen, Dundas and King. But while this may come as a shock to you, the businesses in those areas need parking to attract a customer base. Take away the parking and you end up with a dead retail strip… Something which the Dufferin Malls and big box outlets across the city would love to see happen. But I don’t think not most people. To those who that the Spadina ROW proves that taking away street parking doesn’t kill retail, I would remind them that 100s of GreenP spaces were added there to compensate for the loss of street parking.
    PS. Even if you took away the parking, you will still have streetcars impeding traffic because they occupy the centre lanes and at many stops, vehicles wait behind them as passengers get on and off… Sometimes this can take up to 2 minutes a stop.

  • Bus=Slow

    @realityCheck you clearly are not a transit user. As others have stated anyone who uses the TTC on a regular basis would prefer a streetcar to a bus. While I agree that streetcars without dedicated lanes to tend to hold up traffice, your argument that downtown retailers need street parking to generate business is ridiculous at best. Most of the people I know who travel to the downtown areas use transit and in fact many park their cars at outlying stations and take the train or streetcar into the city core to avoid traffic.