TTC CEO Andy Byford speaks at a meeting of the transit commission board on March 30, 2012. | Photo by Ben Spurr
The head of the TTC is asking Rob Ford not to call him unless it's about official city business, following what he described as a "garbled conversation" on the day a commission bus was used to ferry the mayor's football team home from a game.
At a press conference to explain the TTC's policy on providing buses for emergency purposes, commission CEO Andy Byford revealed that a frustrated Ford called him on November 1, demanding to know the whereabouts of a bus sent to pick up the Don Bosco Eagles, which the mayor coaches.
Police requested the vehicle after a match against the team from Father Henry Carr Secondary School ended early because of an on-field dispute between a coach and referee.
At the time of the call, Byford was unaware that police were involved, and assumed that Ford was requesting a TTC bus for personal reasons. Byford said he flatly turned the mayor down.
"It was very windy. I don't think he understood what I was saying, I didn't really understand what he was saying," Byford told reporters on Tuesday.
"He made some reference to a football team, to a potential brawl, a bus. I was very clear, I said to him - because I thought he was asking me for a bus - I said to him that there was no way I was providing a TTC bus. The call dropped off."
Ford then called back and left a voicemail that made clear the police had requested the bus be sent to Father Henry Carr. After hearing it, Byford called transit control to find out the location of the bus, and then spoke to the mayor to inform him it was on its way.
At the time, Byford was at city council for a debate on a master agreement for the city's new $8.4-billion light rail network. Ford ducked out of the meeting to attend the game.
Byford had previously spoken about the voicemail Ford left, but had not mentioned the initial phone call until today. He says he's advised the mayor's office that from now on Ford should avoid calling him for anything that isn't clearly official business.
"I have asked that in future, [for] any matters that could be construed as personal to the mayor, I would rather he did not call me," Byford said.
"If it's a legitimate issue around why is there a delay on the Yonge-University-Spadina line, that the mayor has a legitimate reason to speak with his head of transit [about] - no problem with that whatsoever."
Fifty passengers were kicked off the 36 Finch bus to accommodate the police request for assistance. After that bus got lost, a second vehicle, this time from the 46 Martin Grove line, was diverted. There were no riders on board at the time.
Following the incident, Byford conducted a review of the commission's policy around shelter buses, but announced Tuesday that he's determined no change is needed.
Currently transit control sends a bus whenever police or fire services put in a request, no questions asked. Such requests are made roughly twice a week in cases of fires or major accidents.
Byford said he toyed with the idea of having transit controllers find out what the buses would be used for and how urgent is the request, but he concluded that TTC staff aren't qualified to evaluate emergency situations.
"So it's got to be a matter for the emergency services," he said.
Meanwhile, the other authorities involved continue to paint a confusing picture of the events at Father Henry Carr, which have once again drawn attention to Ford's controversial extracurricular activities as a volunteer high school football coach.
At a press conference at 23 Division earlier in the day, Superintendent Ron Taverner said that tensions between Don Bosco and Father Henry Carr were high following an October 18 game, and in the run-up to the November 1 match-up "activity on Twitter" indicated there might be some kind of confrontation brewing.
He said that five officers attended the game after the Don Bosco administration expressed concern about a potential conflict; a regularly-assigned school resource officer from each school, two constables, and a sergeant.
When a coach from Henry Carr got into an altercation with a referee over a controversial decision, the game was called off. Taverner said that after speaking to officials from both schools, the sergeant on the scene then contacted the TTC to request the bus.
The superintendent said "tensions were relatively high between the teams" but "no physical confrontation took place."
"At no time was the mayor involved in any of the decision making with regards to a bus being called," Taverner said. "It was our officer, our sergeant that made that decision out of community safety concerns... We feel a situation was diffused."
John Yan, a spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, tells a different story. In an interview Monday he said that after the game ended early the players would have had to wait more than half an hour for the regularly scheduled school bus to pick them up, and that weather was the primary factor in school officials' speaking to police about ordering a TTC bus.
"You've got to remember it was the day after the hurricane, so the fields would have been very wet. It was windy and the players would have been out there over an hour and a half already playing," he said.
Yan also said that there were a total of eight officers, not five, on the scene. According to him, officers happened to be at Don Bosco conducting "community outreach" that day, and school officials invited them to watch the game because it was "a good rivalry."
Despite the differences in their accounts, Yan said Tuesday he doesn't disagree with the police's version of events and that both school officials and the police were acting out of an "abundance of caution" and concern for the safety of the kids involved.