Former TTC general manager David Gunn thinks Toronto’s transit plans are off the rails

Former TTC general manager David Gunn thinks Toronto’s transit plans are off the rails

Karen Stintz and her blue balloon may be happy with Toronto transit—but is anybody else? (Image: Mike Beltzner) 

David Gunn may have been invited to Toronto to share a few words of advice with TTC chair Karen Stintz and Mayor Rob Ford on improving the transit agency’s bottom line, but we have to admit we like what he ended up doing much better. The former TTC general manager checked his manners at the door and blasted the “insane” current transit plans and the “crazy decisions” of TTC brass. The now-retired Gunn took aim at nearly every aspect of Toronto’s system, from the expansion schemes for Eglinton and Sheppard to the overall cleanliness of subway stations.  Really, pretty much everything the TTC is doing is terrible, according to Gunn. Of course, the TTC deserves a little—okay, a lot of—bashing, and we agree with some of what Gunn has to say. But his commentary, while deliciously incendiary, has left us a little worried, given the current civic administration’s existing affinity for transit cuts.

The Globe and Mail has the story:

“You’re headed for a cliff” and “this plan for a low-floor streetcar subway on Eglinton is insane,” were among the warnings given by Mr. Gunn – who has held top transit jobs in New York, Boston and Washington, as well at Amtrak, the U.S. passenger rail service – to TTC staff, chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Peter Milczyn in closed-door sessions.

He said he is stunned by the lack of response to his stern advice, given in May. “There was no reaction, no questions,” said Mr. Gunn.

“They’re taking on huge financial and technological risks. There are serious safety implications. I think they’re headed for a cliff, while people talk about new uniforms.”

Stintz responded to the comments in the Globe the next day, charitably calling the straight-shooting Gunn a “frank man” whose opinions “reflect where his belief system is.” It’s true that Gunn, who held the TTC’s top managerial job from 1995 to 1999, comes from a slightly different era. In the late ’90s, the city was reeling from the loss of regular provincial support for transit costs, and Gunn had to deal with crumbling safety standards—which led to a subway crash at Russell Hill in 1995, killing three riders—and declining ridership. Today the TTC has record-high ridership and, thanks in part to Gunn’s efforts, an exemplary record for safety.

Nonetheless, we’re all for dealing with problems relating to labour costs, capacity issues on the Yonge subway line and station cleanliness. But Gunn’s preference for fiscal efficiency, even at the expense of service levels and plans for expansion, seems hard to stomach given Toronto’s already-overcrowded system buses. And we do worry that some of his talk—replacing streetcars with buses, cutting services on underperforming routes—might trigger some bright ideas over at the mayor’s office, where Ford has already cut service on dozens of bus routes in his 2011 operating budget.

As for Gunn’s suggestion that the new plans for an all-underground LRT on Eglinton are “nonsense,” we’ll happily turn the conch over to MPP Mike Colle, who responded to the Gunn story in the Toronto Star. “People in Toronto have to fish or cut bait,” said the veteran Liberal politician, who has been working to get transit on Eglinton for more than 20 years. We agree. No more arguing, let’s just build the damn thing.

Enough debate already – just build transit on Eglinton: Toronto MPP [Toronto Star]
TTC makes ‘dumbest decision ever,’ former head warns [The Globe and Mail]
Stintz defends TTC against former manager’s criticism [The Globe and Mail]