TTC chair Karen Stintz at a May meeting of the commission's board.
TTC leaders are not happy with plans to have a private company operate Toronto's new LRT lines.
Provincial transit agency Metrolinx notified the TTC Wednesday that it will go ahead with contracting a private entity to design, build, operate, and maintain the three new LRT routes that are being funded by Queen's Park. The news came as a surprise to TTC chair Karen Stintz, who had been saying for months that it was her expectation that the commission would operate the $8.4-billion lines once they were built.
Stintz warns that under the proposed arrangement the commission would have little input on the operation of the routes, which will form a vital compenent of the city's transit network when they're completed in eight years' time.
"We won't have any [control]," Stintz says. According to Metrolinx, the TTC will set the fares for the LRT routes, "but beyond that, we've been advised that it's their money, it's their project."
Metrolinx pledges that there will be "seamless" integration of the privately-run lines and the TTC system, meaning riders would likely only pay once per trip, even if they're switching between TTC routes and the LRTs on Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard.
The commission would have less say over service issues however, including safety procedures, crowding standards, and vehicle headway. A Metrolinx spokesperson said in an email service standards would be set by the provincial agency, in conjuction the TTC.
Stintz, who only learned of Metrolinx's plan Wednesday through a letter addressed to a commission executive, says she's confident an arrangement can be worked out. But she has been left in the dark over other details of the two-headed system, including how fare revenue would be shared between the TTC and the private operator.
"I hadn't had any discussions with Metrolinx or the minister [of transportation] on the fact this decision had been made," says Stintz, clearly frustrated at not being given advance notice of the agency's plans. "So these are all issues that have to get resolved."
TTC CEO Andy Byford is also expressing some dissatisfaction with Metrolinx's direction, although he stresses that both the commission and the provincial agency are dedicated to cooperation.
"Both ourselves and Metrolinx agree that we need to deliver transit expansion in the city. That's not an issue," he says. "The issue is how we go about it."
"I'm disappointed that our preferred option wasn't taken up."
Byford says his priorities will be making sure passengers' transition between the privately run lines and TTC routes is as smooth as possible, and ensuring safety at the six interchange stations where the lines will intersect.
"Whenever you've got more than one operator with, more than one control room, you've got the potential for confusion to occur," Byford says.
The CEO, who has emphasized customer service since taking over the commission's top job in March, says that figuring out a way to relay trip information to passengers across the network is another outstanding concern.
Metrolinx argues that private companies have a successful track record running public transit in the Toronto area. The agency points to the GO system, which has been run by a third party operator since it was launched in 1967, and argues that by making a single private entity responsible for all aspects of the LRT, there is a strong incentive for the contractor to build a durable, efficient system.
A big question mark remains however: how will the LRT routes be subsidized? Under the current system, TTC fares cover only two-thirds of the commission's operating costs, with the rest being made up by a subsidy from the city. The LRT lines will be subsidized as well, but by the province. Whether the provincial subsidy is topped up with money from the farebox is yet to be determined.
"How revenues are split and how subsidies are funded is subject to future negotiation between the TTC and Metrolinx," said the spokesperson for the provincial agency.