Two weeks after a public spat over the control of Toronto's new LRT lines, the TTC and its provincial partners were in full reverse Wednesday, announcing at a joint press conference that the commission will operate the four routes after all.
Last month, TTC chair Karen Stintz slammed plans by provincial transit agency Metrolinx to contract a private entity to design, build, and operate the LRT lines on Finch, Sheppard, Eglinton, and the route of the Scarborough RT.
At the time, Stintz warned that bringing in an outside operator for the LRT lines would make them difficult to integrate with the rest of the TTC's system, and criticized Metrolinx for leaving her "in the dark" over its intentions.
But it turns out the plans, which were outlined by the provoncial agency in a letter to a commission executive, were not final, and at a rare joint press conference held Wednesday by the TTC, Metrolinx, and the minister of transportation, everybody was all smiles.
"This is really good news," said TTC CEO Andy Byford. "This is a huge day for the TTC, I think it's a huge day for the province of Ontario, and ultimately our riders, our customers, the people that really matter."
Under the new agreement, which will be finalized in the next few months, a private sector partner contracted by Metrolinx will design, build, and perform maintenance on the lines. The TTC will oversee all vehicle operations from its Hillcrest control centre, and manage the private company personnel's access to the rail routes. Metrolinx will retain ownership of the $8.4-billion lines.
A separate agreement, to be completed before the LRT routes begin opening in 2020, will cover fares, revenue splitting, and how operating subsidies will be shared by the city and province.
Byford said centralizing control of transit operations is key to the system's safety.
"There has to be one control facility that ultimately controls the movement of the vehicles and the activation of the critical systems, like tunnel ventilation," he said.
Despite taking to the airwaves to criticize Metrolinx in a series of television and print interviews two weeks ago, Stintz smoothed over any differences on Wednesday.
"When you're transforming transit, it doesn't come without a few bumps in the road," she said. "And we've had our share, but we are marching through and marching forward."
Metrolinx CEO Bruce McQuaig also played down the recent disagreement, and said the letter suggesting contracting out the LRT operations that Stintz seized upon last month was never meant to be final.
"What was picked up [two weeks ago] was one moment in time, an exchange of one series of letters. That doesn't mean we were not having an ongoing dialogue," he told reporters.
He rejected the suggestion that Stintz's comments to the media had forced his agency's hand on the issue.
"I can't comment on how chair Stintz reacted or responded to that letter," he said. "I think the important thing right now is that right now we've got a solution going forward."