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Despite the recent council decision to resurrect Transit City, political maneuvering to determine the future of Toronto transit continues unabated both inside and outside City Hall.
On Tuesday as the mayor's opponents on the transit file took their case directly to the public, Rob Ford tried to do some persuading of his own, and was lobbying hard to win back key swing votes on council.
TTC chair Karen Stintz and Councillor Josh Matlow, both of whom were instrumental to the February 8 council vote that rejected Ford's subway plan, hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday night at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre.
With at least 300 people in attendance the meeting was over capacity, and while the ostensible goal was to get feedback on the LRT line planned for Eglinton, Stintz and Matlow used the opportunity to outline the logic of building the council-approved surface rail network instead of the underground lines that the mayor continues to push for.
Matlow said he hopes events like Tuesday's will counter the mayor's pro-subway message, which has ramped up in recent days. Ford made underground transit the focus of his new radio show on Sunday, and last week penned an op-ed on the subject in the Globe and Mail.
"The bumper sticker slogans that you hear from the opponents of the transit plan council approved are easier to sell, admittedly," said Matlow after the meeting wrapped up. "What we're doing is we're getting out there... and sharing the truth, sharing the evidence that we've seen, and hoping that Torontonians come to their own informed opinions."
But as Matlow and Stintz were pushing surface rail to the public, the mayor was shopping his own plans around City Hall. Councillor John Parker, who also attended the town hall, revealed that Ford has been contacting councillors and asking them to endorse a proposal that would see a subway built on Sheppard incrementally, one station at a time, as funding becomes available.
"The mayor has been speaking to people around the second floor [of City Hall]," Parker said.
"What the mayor's talking about is taking the subway as far as we can take it with a view that when the money's available, we can take it further."
Parker, who backs surface rail, told Ford he won't support the idea, and it is unlikely the mayor has won over enough councillors to get approved.
A majority of council has already endorsed an expert panel convened at the February 8 meeting to decide whether LRTs or subways are the best option for Sheppard. The panel will report back to council on March 15, and NOW reported Tuesday that it is expected to recommend LRTs.
But with many voters still skeptical, Stintz and Matlow aren't taking any chances. At Tuesday's event, the councillors enlisted Anna Pace of the TTC's transit expansion department and Professor André Sorenson of the U of T's Cities Centre to make the case for LRT. Both made presentations that argued LRT would best suit the density of Toronto's suburbs.
While a majority of the audience appeared to support light rail, many were not convinced. The two-hour meeting became heated at times and suggested the mayor's all-underground agenda still has traction with voters.
One woman stood up tand argued that building surface rail on Sheppard would disrupt local business.
"What is the plan for all you councillors with regards to lawsuits that are going to happen when those roads are ripped up?" the woman shouted before she stormed out, to enthusiastic applause from many in the crowd.
Parker admitted there is still a lot of work to be done in order to counter the mayor's media blitz and sell surface rail to the public.
"We'll keep chugging away," he said.