Toronto Mayor John Tory, fresh off re-election, announced Thursday that he’s creating a new office to make sure transit construction stays on track in the city. But players outside of the mayor’s office are skeptical of the new plan.
Tory said during his election campaign that affordable housing and transit are the two most important issues that residents wanted to see action on.
“I heard a lot from people about how they just want us to get on with building the transit that this city so desperately needs,” Tory said.
Tory said city hall needs a “laser-like focus” to get it built as quickly as possible and remain on schedule.
Therefore, Tory said he has created a transit expansion office which will lead and direct the city’s participation in the long-term, multi-billion-dollar transit network expansion projects, which include six SmartTrack stations and two light rail lines in Toronto.
Tory says the city has begun recruitment for the executive officer who will oversee the office.
“I felt we needed somebody who was going to be the point person, who was going to clear away the obstacles, and who was going to make sure we moved ahead as quickly as we could,” Tory said.
“This person, who’s going to be a ‘transit czar’ as I see it, within the public service, is going to make sure that we deliver the transit network plan,” he said.
Tory said the office will be seen as a clearinghouse to push the plan forward with all the partners. The overall goal he said, is to find ways to speed up transit development and to avoid the delays which he said have affected projects in the past.
However, it appears as though city councillors, experts and transit advocates alike are skeptical of Tory’s new plan.
“Meh. There really isn’t anything new or exciting here,” said Ward 4 coun. Gord Perks.
“The advent of this office should beg the question by any reasonable person, ‘Why hasn’t there been enough progress in transit over the past several years?’ And the answer is because many of the plans have been politically charged instead of fact-based,” said Ward 12 coun. Josh Matlow.
Murtaza Haider, a transit expert from the Ted Rogers School of Management, is critical of the new office’s ability to accomplish anything because he believes those in charge of making decisions right now — including political council — won’t give up that power.
Furthermore, transit advocate and TTC Riders director Shelagh Pizey-Allen said the new office doesn’t change anything to alleviate the fact that a lot of the projects on the docket don’t have funding yet.
“The Scarborough one-stop subway still has to come back to council because we don’t yet know the 30 per cent design costs. So those are decisions that need to be made by people who are accountable to us,” she said.
Pizey-Allen added the czar won’t be able to push much forward especially if Premier Doug Ford follows through on his plan to upload the city’s subway to be a provincial asset.
But Tory said he believes this is the path to get transit plans done.
The new office will be tasked with making sure every project in that plan, including the subway relief line, are completed as quickly as possible within established financial parameters. A big part of the job, Tory said, will be making sure the plan avoids bureaucratic delays.
Tory added that he doesn’t believe the layoffs announced by Bombardier on Thursday will affect the construction of the crosstown line.
—With files from Jessica Patton