Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he has "nothing to do" with the fact that two TTC buses stranded their passengers during rush hour last week in order to pick up the high school football team he coaches.
"What bothers me the most is when people were told to get off the bus. I'm all about service. That drives me nuts," Ford told reporters Monday, the first time he spoke directly about the rerouted buses since the incident took place on Thursday.
"I'm as clean as the days are long," said Ford, stressing he "did absolutely nothing wrong."
He said the police called the TTC about the buses, not him.
"If the police decide there's a situation that seems to be serious, that's their call. They decide to make the call. It has nothing to do with me," he said.
'The most unfortunate thing about this episode is the damage done to our reputation...'— Andy Byford, TTC CEO
The controversy began after TTC transit control received a call from police at 3:46 p.m. on Thursday from Toronto police requesting a bus to pick up Don Bosco Eagles students, who had just finished a game against the Crusaders, the football team from Father Henry Carr Secondary School, located at Finch Avenue West and Martingrove Road.
A school bus was scheduled to pick up the Don Bosco players at 4:30 p.m., but the game had ended early at 3:40 p.m. There were reports that a near brawl broke out after a coach and referee had an argument about ending the game before time had run out.
A bus on the busy 36 Finch west route was dispatched to pick up the players after asking passengers to disembark, the TTC said in a statement. But that bus had difficulty finding the school, and so staff sent a second bus from the 46 Martin Grove route.
But some time later, the 36 bus ended up finding the school and the 46 Martin Grove bus was returned to regular service.
'I was assisting the police'
At some point, the mayor had left a voicemail for TTC CEO Andy Byford in which he "was simply sharing the police concerns about the delay … he didn’t make any demands, he didn’t put any pressure on Mr. Byford," said TTC spokesman Brad Ross last week.
Asked why he later placed the call to Byford when a TTC bus didn't show up, Ford said, "Obviously there was a situation. I was assisting the police."
"The root of the problem," Ford said, was that Father Henry Carr Secondary's coach went on the field to confront the referee.
Ford's comments come amid calls for further investigation into exactly how and why the episode transpired.
Coun. Michael Thompson, who sits on the police services board, confirmed that its chair been in touch with police chief Bill Blair about the incident to ask some questions.
Thompson also has some questions for the board about the incident, which he said "perplexed" him. He said he wanted more information "on the public safety aspect of it. What were the concerns and why what transpired transpired."
Coun. John Parker, who sits on the TTC commission, told CBC's Metro Morning on Monday that "at first I thought somebody was putting me on."
Parker, who is also council's deputy speaker, said he believes there has to be a mistake.
"I have to believe that there is miscommunication, misunderstanding or somehow something didn't go the way it should have gone. I can't believe that it would be policy to drop passengers at rush hour to pick up football players," he said.
As a TTC commissioner, he said he's "interested in knowing who said what to whom, what are the rules around this sort of thing and were the rules followed. And how did we find ourselves dropping passengers in the middle of rush hour."
TTC union head not impressed
"Never in my 23 years have I heard such a request coming from the police services, the mayor or anyone else for that matter in circumstances like this." said Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents TTC workers.
"It appears the mayor is trying to alleviate himself of any responsibility, but the fact that he called Mr. Byford himself suggests that he himself was also making the request that a bus come and pick up his football team."
A TTC passenger who spoke to CBC News on Monday said he was also not impressed to learn that paying customers had to wait while the diverted buses picked up the football players.
"That’s highway robbery," said Peter Davis, who regularly rides the 36 Finch West bus — though he was not riding that bus when passengers were pulled off last week.
Ford has justified his decision to miss 2½ hours of a council meeting to coach football, saying he couldn't miss what he called a crucial football game.
Byford said in a letter to commissioners he was "not happy" about the episode and will be following up with the mayor's office and Toronto police.
"The most unfortunate thing about this episode is the damage done to our reputation after more than a year of careful, painstaking steps to improve it," he wrote.
"For the record: I had no idea that two buses were used nor that customers were inconvenienced."