Although he can't vote in Canada, Toronto Transit Commission head Andy Byford sees this year's electoral races as a "golden opportunity" to push for more transit-friendly politicians.
Making a robust pitch for the value of mass transit, the chief executive officer argued Thursday that the whole country benefits when Toronto works well. And for that, the city needs a more sustainably funded transit system, he said.
"With a municipal election coming up, and potentially a provincial election, now's the time for us to bite the bullet and go banging on the table in Ottawa and at Queen's Park," Mr. Byford told reporters after a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
He is putting together a team to lobby other levels of government on the TTC's behalf, pushing for a multiyear funding model that reduces the burden on riders. The pitch comes amid increasing political, business and citizen concern about the state of congestion in the Toronto area, a problem estimated to cost $6-billion annually.
"Toronto, at the end of the day, is the financial capital of Canada, it's also the country's biggest city," Mr. Byford said. "It's not to belittle other places, but it seems to me a bit like the role that London plays in the U.K. economy. If Toronto works well – and sort of the engine room of Toronto is the TTC, because you're moving people about, in conjunction with other modes of course – then that has to be good for Ontario. And a successful Ontario is good for Canada."
The city goes to the polls in the autumn and a spring election provincially is widely expected.
Although Mr. Byford used the term "new mayor" during his speech, he clarified to reporters later that he meant a mayor with a new mandate, but was not specific about who that might be.
"Whoever the mayor is and whoever the city councillors are, I want them to be pro-transit," said Mr. Byford, a British citizen. "If I had a vote, that would certainly be my vote. He or she, whoever that may be. May the best person win, but may the most transit-friendly person win."
The current presumed leaders in the mayoral race have very different views on key aspects of the transit file.
Mayor Rob Ford, who is running for re-election, rails against what he calls the "war on the car" and appears to like transit only if it is below ground. TTC Chair Karen Stintz has backed surface rail, but she changed that position to help lead the push for a subway extension in Scarborough. And former city councillor David Soknacki, a Scarborough resident, continues to advocate for light rail transit in the area instead.
Mr. Byford hinted at the divisiveness of that debate, but he said it appeared settled. "At least, I think the die is cast," he told the lunch crowd at the board of trade.