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London transit expert supports Metrolinx oversight of TTC

Commuters exit the TTC's St. Andrew subway station on Feb. 24 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It's the transit agency some Torontonians love to hate, complaining about the crowding, the delays and the costs that eat up about 5 per cent of the city's operating budget. Wouldn't it be better, critics of the TTC occasionally say, to wash our hands of it and let the province take over?

The controversial idea has plenty of naysayers but the notion of handing the TTC to the provincial agency Metrolinx got a vote of support Wednesday from one of the people behind the successful transit model in London.

"If you've got integrated governance, then it means that the planning, the investment, the levels of service, the cost efficiencies are decided in one forum," David Quarmby told reporters after a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

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"It means that the individual transit operations lose their sovereignty. Yep, they do. Some may not be happy with that, but it is for the greater good. And you do get a better end result because you get it integrated at a practical level too."

Mr. Quarmby helped design Transport for London, which has authority for nearly all forms of public transportation in the UK capital, and sat on its board for four years. He says the agency has overseen a great increase in transit ridership and argues that part of its success is the seamless way it treats passengers across multiple transit providers. And although he stressed that he was not in Toronto to tell people how to run their transit services, he offered the advice about integration when pressed by reporters.

A partial integration has been proposed by provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who would like to upload the TTC's rail service to Metrolinx.

A partial upload runs the risk of leaving the TTC with its money-losing surface routes. And a full integration carries other potential difficulties, includes how to divvy up scarce funding, which Mr. Quarmby acknowledged but said were not insurmountable.

"You've got your elected representatives involved in the governance of this to address those concerns," he said. "I mean, those are not reason for not trying to get the right governance structure, they're problems you would have solved along the way."

The idea was promptly panned by blogger Steve Munro, an authority on the history of transit in Toronto and no fan of Metrolinx. "Just what we need: a secretive [organization] with zero local experience running ttc," he tweeted.

Merging the TTC with other transit agencies has long provoked the fear that Toronto's priorities will be diluted.

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Although the TTC is by far the busiest transit agency in the region – carrying about eight times as many people as GO Transit – the residents of the city make up only about 40 per cent of the population of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. And last year Metrolinx, by accepting a subway extension in Scarborough instead of the agreed-upon light rail plan, provoked questions about its ability to stand up to local political pressures.

Also, the TTC covers more of its operating budget from fares than other agencies nearby, raising the concern that other parties in a merged entity would argue a greater urgency when government funding is doled out.

Follow me on Twitter: @moore_oliver

Editor's Note: This headline has been clarified because an earlier version could have been misread.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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