Andy Byford was officially presented as the new TTC chief Tuesday morning, and if his inaugural press conference is any indication, he'll do his best to avoid the divisive subway vs. LRT debate that cost his predecessor his job and focus instead on day-to-day operations.
"Obviously I'm delighted to be running the third largest transit company, or transit system, in North America," Byford said at a media event outside TTC headquarters at Davisville Station.
"My focus will continue to be a relentless, all-out push to deliver improvements in customer service, improvements in efficiency, in value for money, and in taking the TTC to the next level."
Byford was handed the top job at the commission on an interim basis after the much-publicized firing of chief general manager Gary Webster three weeks ago, but has now been offered the post on a permanent basis pending approval by the TTC board. TTC chair Karen Stintz, who looked on as Byford addressed reporters, says she expects the board to unanimously endorse his appointment as CEO.
Byford told reporters he requested changing the title of the top job from chief general manager to CEO, in order to signal that there will be a culture change at the commission under his tenure.
To that end, he has already introduced 25 "key performance indicators" to ensure the TTC is meeting revenue and customer service targets, and will hold regular "challenge meetings" at which senior managers will be called upon to defend their departments' performance.
He plans to make senior management more visible throughout the transit system and make stations cleaner and more welcoming. In the wake of the shooting of a collector at Dupont station last month, security is also being enhanced.
"You've got to get your basics right," Byford said. "I'm talking about the nitty-gritty of running a transit system."
One thing Byford won't do, at least not yet, is publicly voice his opinion on whether the best way to expand the TTC is by building the subways Mayor Rob Ford continues to push for, or by going forward with the LRT-based plan approved by council last month.
When asked if he would be helping Ford pursue subways, Byford sidestepped the question.
"What I will be doing is offering frank and fearless advice to the mayor's office, to the chair and the commission," he said. "My job as a transit professional is to know my facts. Obviously I have my opinions based on experience, but I will certainly be apolitical in that.
"I'm very clear that the actual policy decisions are for the policy makers, for the chair and for the commission"
As reporters continued to press the subway issue, Stintz stepped up to the podium to interject.
"That's a discussion we'll be having as a council on March 21 [at a meeting on transit options for Sheppard Ave.], and the TTC will be part of that discussion," she said.
"These are really questions for council to answer."
Should councillors call upon Byford to answer questions at the council meeting next week, he could have difficult time staying above the political fray. Webster's pro-surface rail comments at a crucial February 8 council meeting are widely seen as the reason Ford allies on the TTC board terminated his contract.
An expert panel's report on Sheppard is expected to be released as early as tomorrow. Sources indicate it will recommend LRT over subways.