The latest TTC expansion plan has crashed back to earth, less than three weeks after being launched.
In a tacit acknowledgment that it was headed for defeat, TTC chair Karen Stintz opted not to put her sweeping OneCity proposal to a vote at council Wednesday and instead joined other councillors in deciding to largely stay the course on transit planning.
Rather than voting on the bold 30-year, $30-billion vision Stintz and TTC chair Glenn de Baeremaeker unveiled to much fanfare at a media event last month, in a 43-1 decision council asked city staff for a report identifying Toronto's long-term transit priorities. City bureaucrats were already working on such a study however as a result of the February council vote that also revived the Transit City light rail lines.
After Wednesday's anti-climactic vote, Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, said Stintz's TTC plan had "gone down in flames."
"It's dead. It never existed. It was over before it even started," he said.
At their June 27 press conference, Stintz and de Baeremaeker presented OneCity as the next great leap forward for Toronto's public transit system. But soon after it was proposed, councillors across the political spectrum criticized it as unrealistic and lacking input from city staff and other councillors.
In recognition that support for their grand blueprint was flagging, in recent days OneCity's boosters had walked back expectations for the 21-line TTC expansion and its accompanying transit tax.
In the end, the words "OneCity" didn't appear on any motion that went before council, nor did the detailed network map that Stintz and de Baeremaker first trumpeted last month. Their original proposal for a transit tax was also never put forward.
Instead, OneCity's supporters joined the majority of council in approving the compromise motion, put forward by Councillor Peter Milczyn, that reaffirmed support for the study of transit priorities that was initially ordered in February.
Wednesday's decision likely does little alter that study. The staff report is expected back at council in October, and will identify needed transit lines as well as possible revenue sources to pay for them. The most significant impact of the vote is that the transit plan staff recommends will now go through public consultations in 2012 before being enshrined in the next update of Toronto's Official Plan, something staff was not initially directed to do.
While falling far short of an endorsement for the ambitious project that Stintz had presented as the ultimate solution to Toronto's congestion woes, she framed the vote as a victory.
"What we've done is we've come together as a council, we've recognized we need a transit plan, we've moved forward in an almost unanimous position to develop one," Stintz said in a media scrum.
"It's a great day for transit," she added.
The two TTC leaders, as well as councillors Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc, who also worked on OneCity, claimed that by highlighting ideas for a transit tax and new subway and LRT lines, they had moved the debate forward. They're confident that as a result of their efforts, when the report comes back in the fall there will be greater appetite at council to discuss a comprehensive transit plan and revenue tools to pay for it.
In at least some ways however, Wednesday's meeting resulted in clear defeat for OneCity's backers. Their bid for a Scarborough subway, a priority project under OneCity, was shut out of the debate. Speaker Frances Nunziata ruled that a motion from de Baeremaeker to study replacing the Scarborough RT with an underground rail line was out of order, because council already decided in February to build an LRT along the route.
In Stintz's only undeniable victory of the day, OneCity's other proposed priority line, an East Bayfront LRT, was endorsed in a vote of 38-6. Where the city will find the $270 million to build the line will be debated as part of the larger discussion in the fall.
Some of Rob Ford's allies, to whom Stintz delivered a major blow in the LRT decision earlier this year, were eager to pounce on the TTC chair.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said Stintz's attempts to portray the vote as a win for her was like "putting pink lipstick on a very fat pig wearing flip flops."
Councillor Milczyn, whose compromise motion helped Stintz avoid a more decisive defeat, suggested OneCity was little more than a media stunt.
"What was OneCity? OneCity was a press conference by councillors Stintz and de Baeremaeker," he said before the vote.
But others said the OneCity architects deserved credit for proposing a transit tax, which polls indicate most Torontonians would support if it led to a better TTC.
"What we've seen now is there's a strong consensus in this city that we need to have a serious conversation about revenue [to pay for transit]," said Councillor Adam Vaughan.
"Quite clearly we haven't reached every corner of the city with appropriate transit. We need to have a conversation about what the next generations of lines look like. That's a good conversation."