Two Toronto Transit Commission buses dropped off passengers mid-route at the start of rush hour so the vehicles could be sent to a nearby football field to drive Mayor Rob Ford's team back to their high school, the TTC has confirmed.
When the driver of the first bus couldn't immediately find the football field at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke Thursday afternoon, Mr. Ford called TTC chief executive officer Andy Byford directly to ask about the delay.
"The mayor left Mr. Byford a voice-mail message sharing police concerns about the time it was taking for the bus to arrive," TTC spokesman Brad Ross said by e-mail Friday. "Mr. Byford, unaware of the police request, called TTC's transit control centre to inquire. Staff stated the bus would arrive shortly."
The fresh details are raising new questions about why two TTC vehicles were removed from service – temporarily stranding riders in the rain – so that Mr. Ford's Don Bosco Eagles could be ferried back to their school only six kilometres away.
The players' regular school bus was due to arrive around 4:30 p.m. TTC transit control received the request for a bus from police at 3:46 p.m. Bob Kinnear, the president of the union representing TTC workers, said he had "never, ever" heard of a TTC bus in service being sent to act as a shuttle in such a situation.
"It's unbelievable that at a time of day we've got people packed in like sardines that they would take a bus off the route for something like this," Mr. Kinnear said.
The first bus was pulled off the 36 Finch West route.
The driver had difficulty finding the school, Mr. Ross said, so in the meantime the TTC yanked a second bus off the 46 Martin Grove route to satisfy the police request for a shelter bus as soon as possible. The female driver of the second bus told Mr. Kinnear Friday that she also could not find the field. She was not given a precise address, forcing her to cruise up and down a street looking for Toronto police.
She was eventually directed back to her route and the original 36 Finch West bus made it to the field, Mr. Ross explained.
Mr. Kinnear, the TTC and Toronto police all say it is fairly common for TTC buses to be used as shelter in emergencies such as fires or apartment building evacuations following floods or gas leaks. The transit agency receives such requests on average twice a week, Mr. Ross said.
In this case, the game between the Eagles and the Carr Crusaders was cut short late in the fourth quarter after a verbal altercation between the Carr coach and a referee, according to John Yan, a spokesman for the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
Mr. Yan said the disagreement was minor, and that the game ended early primarily because of the lopsided score and the pouring rain. He said Ugo Rossi, the Don Bosco principal, asked the two school resource officers who were already on the scene about calling a TTC bus to pick up the players, whose regular school bus was not scheduled to arrive until 4:30 p.m. "In the interest of the safety of students and the weather, they [police] decided to call it in," Mr. Yan said.
There was no near-brawl at the game, he added. He said the primary reason police ordered the TTC bus was to get the cold, wet Don Bosco players swiftly back to their school and into their dry clothes.
Mark Pugash, a spokesman for Toronto police, said that a total of eight officers responded to the scene at Carr Thursday afternoon – the two school resource officers who were already at the game, plus six additional officers, including a sergeant. "Extra officers and a supervisor would only be sent if they were required," Mr. Pugash said.
As for why police decided to summon the TTC bus, he said that, "we felt it was prudent to lower the temperature in the situation."
Mr. Ross, the TTC spokesman, stressed that "there was no pressure placed upon Mr. Byford or anyone else at the TTC. The voicemail [to Mr. Byford] was an inquiry only, on behalf of police who were concerned about the time it was taking for the bus to arrive."
Councillor Peter Milczyn, a TTC commissioner and member of the mayor's executive, said he is anxious to find out why high school football players getting wet was considered an emergency. "As a TTC commissioner I'm upset that we kicked fare-paying passenger off for no good reason," he said.
Mr. Milczyn said he has spoken with Mr. Byford, who is investigating what police said to the TTC's control centre and whether protocols were followed. "What was the emergency? I don't get it," he said.
The mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
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