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Mayor rejects transit report before its release


If Toronto city council dreamed it could reduce the fierce politicking over Scarborough’s transit future by turning to an advisory panel of non-politicians, that reverie has already been broken.

The expert panel will declare light-rail the clear winner over subways on Sheppard Avenue East on Friday, according to portions of its report obtained by The Globe and Mail.

But before the group could put the finishing touches on its handiwork on Thursday, Mayor Rob Ford publicly rejected the findings, and the panel’s lone subway booster threatened to quit.

“The advisory panel is a biased panel. We all know that,” the mayor told reporters at a demonstration by a pro-subway citizens’ group. “I listen to the residents, the taxpayers, the people who pay our wages. They’re the boss.”

There is less than a week to go before city council decides how it should spend what’s left of an $8.4-billion provincial purse for transit on Sheppard Avenue East: an LRT to Morningside Drive or a subway that stretches as far as the money lasts, likely one or two stops.

The panel’s conclusions – although not surprising – are expected to have some influence on the centrist councillors who will determine the outcome.

The mayor’s office was still working diligently to win those votes on Thursday afternoon, delivering to some councillors copies of a 23-page pro-subway appendix that the mayor’s subway advocate, Gordon Chong, said his fellow panelists were trying to cut from the final report.

“If they cut it out entirely, I’m gone,” Mr. Chong, a former GO Transit chairman, told The Globe before boycotting the panel’s last meeting on Thursday afternoon. “I will not sign on to that report.”

After the meeting, Mr. Chong said he hadn’t seen the final report and hasn’t decided yet whether to put his name on it.

A source familiar with the panel’s work said Mr. Chong’s 23-page report will be included in the appendixes, which will be accessible online, along with background reports the panel received from Metrolinx, the TTC and city staff.

“He is wrong. The panel is including his 23-page opus and anything that was put before it, under appendix C. All documents of any kind that [the panel] saw can be linked to by anyone interested in reading them,” the source said.

According to the report’s covering letter, Mr. Chong was the only dissenter.

“Having completed a detailed evaluation of options, the panel concluded that light rail transit (LRT) is the recommended mode of transit across Sheppard Avenue East,” it reads.

“With the exception of Dr. Chong, a strong consensus exists among the panel members that the LRT option is superior to the subway option(s) across the range of evaluation options considered.”

After assessing three expansion possibilities, the panel awarded a score of 87.3 to a light-rail extension from Don Mills station to Morningside, according to the source. That was a much higher score than the virtual tie it gave to the other two choices, a subway to Scarborough Town Centre and a hybrid of two subway stops and a light-rail extension. The former scored 59.3; the latter scored 59.5.

Panelists judged the options on nine criteria: time frame; community impact; cost effectiveness and fiscal sustainability; equity and accessibility; ridership; network connectivity; level of service; economic development; and environmental sustainability.

The report goes beyond endorsing light-rail on Sheppard Avenue East. According to a draft of the recommendations stamped confidential and obtained by The Globe, the panel also urges council to take a serious look at new revenue tools to pay for future transit expansion in concert with the province’s transportation authority for the Greater Toronto Area.

The document asks the “deputy city manager and chief financial officer to prepare a comprehensive review of revenue tools and report back to council with appropriate recommendations to Metrolinx on an investment strategy to finance the provincial Big Move transit plan.”

TTC chair Karen Stintz and her allies offered the panel as an olive branch to Mr. Ford at the February meeting where they revived most of a light-rail network the mayor killed on his first day in office.

Mr. Ford rejected the compromise and the panel wound up dominated by LRT proponents.

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