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New mayor of Toronto: "Transit City is over"
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Author:  victor [ December 1st, 2010, 2:51 pm ]
Post subject:  New mayor of Toronto: "Transit City is over"

‘War on the car is over’: Ford moves transit underground

Paul Moloney
Urban Affairs Reporter

The $8 billion Transit City light rail plan championed by the former mayor David Miller — years in the making and with construction underway — is “over”, Mayor Rob Ford declared on his first morning on the job.

Ford made the remarks while being mobbed by reporters Wednesday morning as he emerged from his new office to go downstairs to the cafeteria.

Ford said he met at around 7 a.m. with Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager Gary Webster to emphasize that subways are preferable to the 120-kilometres of streetcar routes laid out by Miller.

“We just had a meeting about subways,” Ford said regarding his chat with Webster.

“I just wanted to make it quite clear that he understood that Transit City’s over and the war on the car is over, and all new subway expansion is going underground. And that’s pretty well it,” Ford said.

“I just told him that everything moving forward is underground. And he accepted that. And I look forward to working with him.”

Ford, who wants to build a subway to the Scarborough Town Centre, said he didn’t specifically insist that ongoing work on the new Sheppard light rail line be stopped.

“No, I just told him whatever we’re doing is going underground, so we’re going to build subways. I was elected on that mandate, and I’m going to deliver my promises to the taxpayers that subways will be built in the city.”

Ford said he has yet to speak to Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose provincial government has put up most of the money for Transit City.

The new mayor did indicate he would like to see light rail money diverted underground.

“I look forward to meeting with Mr. McGuinty about the funding with respect to subways,” he said. “Again, I’m going to talk to Mr. McGuinty and we’ll take it from there. I’m trying to set something up as soon as possible.

Ford was non-committal when asked who will be responsible for the money already spent if the light rail plan is scrapped. The Ontario government says it has so far spent about $130 million and signed contracts worth $1.3 billion.

Ottawa is contributing $330 million for the Sheppard line, about one-third of its cost. The province has said it will cover the rest of Transit City’s $8.15 billion bill — for Sheppard, a Finch light rail line, an Eglinton crosstown route, and conversion of Scarborough’s aging rapid transit line to light rail.

“Again, I’m going to deal with the province with respect to that and take it from there,” Ford said.

The mayor’s power to act unilaterally was, however, quickly questioned. City council as a whole approved Transit City and council as a whole would have to agree to kill it.

“I think it’s premature,” rookie Councillor Josh Matlow said of Ford’s pronouncement. “I believe that council should have an opportunity for discussion about public transit in this city — transit affects everyone in every corner of the city and there are millions of tax dollars at stake.” There are several council meetings scheduled for next week but traditionally they are just ceremonial. It is not clear if any motions will be introduced.

Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) acknowledged Ford was elected with a large mandate promising a subway plan, rather than Transit City, and wants to people to know “there’s a new sheriff in town.

“But many councillors were elected with large mandates supporting Transit City — let’s not invalidate those elections. We need a responsible, thoughtful discussion.”

Webster, after emerging from his early-morning meeting with Ford, told reporters: “The plan we have in place was put together with a lot of thought and we supported it and we do support the plan as a good transportation plan.

“The mayor is saying ‘Fine, but I’m looking at a new plan.’”

Webster said provincially funded work by the TTC will continue on a Sheppard Ave. underpass at the Agincourt GO Station, noting it would happen whether a subway or light rail line goes there.

Webster said he was directed to go back to Ford with a new plan, which could take up to six weeks.

At noon in Nathan Phillips Square, a few dozen protesters from groups including the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty huddled in cold drizzle in front of a banner stating: “Rob Ford’s gravy train will just feed the pigs.”

Lisa Schofield of OCAP said the protesters are demanding changes to the way welfare is administered, the elimination of the waiting list for subsidized housing and better public transit for the poor.

“As (Ford) is cutting Transit City, he’s also going to be cutting services to poor and working-class people,” Schofield told reporters.

“Our biggest fear is a (former premier Mike) Harris-style era in this city, which we can all be terrified of, quite frankly.”

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