A really good thing Rob Ford did for the TTC

 TTC Chairs Stintz and Augimeri opposed the mayor’s smartest public transit decision

When Jon Stewart asked Robyn Doolittle why Torontonians put up with Rob Ford, she gave the standard answer. He was good at answering constituents’ calls and getting things done on their behalf. As much as that may be true, it’s only part of the answer.

A lot of people, myself included, were fed up with the David Miller regime, which fiddled while Toronto burned. Take the TTC, for example, which became an almost daily disaster during the Miller years and under the mayor’s appointee as chief general Manager, Gary Webster.

Anyone who rode the TTC — and I speak as someone who experienced the total hell of commuting on the Yonge line during rush hour for two years — knew this organization had huge problems that went far beyond whether the Eglinton extension should be a subway or light rail. And Webster, a TTC lifer who appeared to be in denial about the seriousness of the situation, clearly was not up to the job.

His successor, Andy Byford, has been a study in contrast. Almost immediately after Byford took over things began to change in a way that even commuters like me noticed. Announcements about the ubiquitous service stops became more informative, Byford showed up at stations regularly to talk to commuters, and he brought up a subject that had been all but forgotten during the endless Scarborough subway/light rail debate — the downtown relief line.

As a somewhat new Torontonian (I arrived in 2008 although I had also lived here from 1989 to 1992 when the subways actually worked), I had never heard of the downtown relief line pre-Byford. It was a giant CLICK that made total sense. I couldn’t believe that city council, transport reporters and the public had let themselves get so dangerously sidetracked for so many years. Where did everyone think these Eglinton line passengers were going to go if not the already jam-packed Yonge line?

Byford made the downtown relief line a priority again, showing that everyone who had hinted or come right out and called him Mayor Ford’s patsy were just plain wrong.

So, remind me, who opposed the Byford appointment? None other than outgoing TTC chair and wannabe mayor Karen Stintz, who, according to the Toronto Star, suggested that Webster’s departure would inject instability into the system at a time when the TTC can least afford it.

And incoming TTC chair Maria Augimeri, who said this to the Star about Webster:

“What message are you sending to the rest of our employees, that professionalism gets kicked out the door and toadyism wins? … This man is a consummate professional. You can rely on him to give you the truth. You can rely on him not to hide reports,” she said, in a pointed reference to a report revealed by the Star last week that Ford hid from the public because it didn’t support his plan to extend the Sheppard subway.
“Today is a clear demonstration of an abuse of power,” said an emotional Augimeri.

In hindsight, it’s clear that both Stintz and Augimeri were very wrong about Byford, who’s been the best thing to happen to the TTC in a decade. They were prepared to carry on in the Miller tradition, afraid to make a change.

Even if he Ford — who I find completely clueless about public transit and the desperate need for a downtown relief line — fired Webster because he wrongly thought Byford would be a yes man, at least he got rid of a guy who was not up to the job and replaced him with one who is. And for the record here’s the statement Ford, a non-TTC rider, made at the time:

“The general public — and subway, streetcar and bus passengers — all tell me it’s time for a change,” said Ford. “The time is right for a new leader to take the reins at TTC.”

It’s something to consider next time someone asks why anyone would vote for Rob Ford. The answer is because they didn’t want more of the same and that’s all the opposition was prepared to give them.