Rob Ford: 'Transit City is over'

Rob Ford begins his first day as Toronto mayor by tackling the biggest item on his agenda, the transportation system.

No more 'war on the car', mayor says after meeting with TTC general manager

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford wants to scrap a plan to build a system of light-rail transit lines and instead extend the subway lines. ((CBC))

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said Wednesday that he is forging ahead with his plan to scrap the controversial Transit City plan.

The tough-talking mayor, who made transportation a major part of his election platform, proclaimed that the $8.15-billion plan, which calls for the construction of new light-rail lines, is dead.

"On Dec. 8, our new transit commission members will be appointed. Their first task will be to formally stop spending on a project we do not need anymore," Ford said at a news conference after officially taking over the reins of the city.

"Transit City is over, ladies and gentlemen."

Instead, he said the city's new council would focus on subways, adding "the war on the car stops today."

"For too long, the city has focused on transit only. We will expand our focus to include people who use transit but also motorists, commercial vehicle operators, cyclists and pedestrians," he said.

Ford would like to build a subway line from Downsview station in the northwest end of the city to Scarborough Town Centre in the east, and extend the Bloor-Danforth subway line to replace the current Scarborough light-rail line.

Timeline unclear

During the election campaign, Ford pledged to have both lines completed by 2015, in time for the Pan American Games, which will be held in the Toronto area. He did not say Wednesday if he plans to stick to that timeline.

Ford also met with Toronto Transit Commission general manager Gary Webster early Wednesday to discuss the future of the system.

"He agrees we're on the same page, and he's going to bring reports back on our subway expansion," Ford said.

But Ford's proclamation on Wednesday does not seal the fate of the transit plan, which was seven years in the making.

Ford acknowledged that in order for him to fulfil his promise of putting an end to Transit City, he would need council's support.

"Everyone's going to have a discussion on that, but I'm the mayor of the city, I have to lead by example, and that's exactly what I'm doing," he said.

When asked how he would persuade council to support him, Ford said: "That's up to the councillors."

Coun. Janet Davis said she will fight for Transit City, a major part of former mayor David Miller's legacy.

"For the first time [we're] expanding transit across the city that we waited generations for — the mayor can't walk in on Day 1 and say, 'it's gone.' It doesn't work like that," she said.

McGuinty willing to listen

Ford also has to persuade the province, which has already allocated billions to the Transit City plan, although the federal government is funding one-third of the $950-million Sheppard Avenue light-rail line. 

Premier Dalton McGuinty says he is willing to listen to Toronto's new mayor about his plans to scrap Transit City. ((Canadian Press))

The issue of Transit City was brought up at question period in the legislature Wednesday morning, when the New Democrats' Michael Prue said scuttling the plan would be a "grave error." That statement earned a rebuke from Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said he is flexible on the issue.

"If the new, duly elected council, led by their new mayor, comes to us with ... a different representation on behalf of the people of Toronto, who elected that council, is my friend honestly suggesting that we tell them to go away?" McGuinty asked.

Ontario Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne has said that $137 million has already been spent on the project, and an additional $1.3 billion committed in Transit City-related contracts.

The province would have to pay penalties for breaking those contracts in the event that the Transit City plan is abandoned — a non-starter for the province. "There's no more money for break fees, there's no extra money for fees and costs that would be incurred coming out of these contracts," Wynne said.

"That's something I'm going to have to discuss ... with the premier, OK," said Ford.

"That's a lot of provincial money, so I'll be talking to the premier and when I do, I'll be more than happy to report back on that."

Ford is expected to meet with McGuinty in the coming weeks.

With files from The Canadian Press