Buried in a worth-your-time profile of Karen Stintz, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Yang reports this gem, from former Ford Chief of Staff Nick Kouvalis:
Kouvalis said the first crack between Stintz and Ford appeared after she backed down on plans to cut 48 bus routes, a move that would have freed $7 million.
Kouvalis said the bus motion was a “test” to see which TTC commissioners would fall in line and which were “wet noodles.” Stintz was a noodle, he says.
“My advice was: Get rid of her, right there on the spot,” Kouvalis says.
He recently reiterated that point to Ford, he adds. “She’s committed the biggest sin in politics, which is disloyalty,” he charges.
As a quick refresher, Ford started pushing cuts to bus service in January 2011, almost immediately after he took office. He called it a “service reallocation.”
Of the 48 routes impacted by the proposed cuts, most provided service to Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York. Many provided important links to subway stations and other forms of rapid transit.
The cuts drew a backlash. A series of public meetings on the issue did not go well. Transit users took issue with the TTC’s outdated ridership counts. And so the TTC blinked. The service cuts were rolled back. Instead of $7 million in service reductions, the city only saw $4 million.
At the time, it looked like both Ford and Stintz had yielded to the public response, but Kouvalis’ comments paint a different story. According to him, those initial route cuts stood as a twisted way to ensure that the mayor’s chosen TTC chair was, in fact, okay with screwing over transit riders to save a little money.
The truth was that Ford always wanted to cut bus service. It was Stintz that stepped in to preserve what she could.
Ignoring that this seems like an incredibly cruel way to test someone’s loyalty, let’s focus on what the move says about Rob Ford’s attitude toward public transit in the suburbs. He sees it as expendable. For all his talk about sticking up for transit riders in Scarborough, the mayor has now presided over two consecutive budget cycles in which suburban bus service was reduced. If he continues to insist on reductions to the TTC operating subsidy, this pattern will continue: fewer vehicles, wider headways, crappier service.
Even if Ford were able to wave a magic wand and build subways across Sheppard, Eglinton & Finch, most people in the suburbs would still live in areas far removed from subway stations. Bus service provides the local connectivity you need to make rapid transit corridors work. When you start making cuts to that service to save money, the whole network feels the impact.
Ford’s plan seems to be to sell himself as a champion for transit in the suburbs, but his attitude toward suburban bus service tells another story. He talks about building subways while simultaneously cutting service on the bus routes that would feed those subways. And now, via Kouvalis, we’ve got confirmation that Karen Stintz has been serving as the counter-weight to the mayor’s transit cuts. Without her, things would have been worse.
Before I get accused of drinking too much of the Karen Stintz Kool-Aid, I want to note how disappointed I was when she did this:
The Toronto Transit Commission has decided to put an extra $5-million it was awarded by city council to maintaining Wheel-Trans service for dialysis patients – not to reversing some of the bus cuts.
The unexpected money also allows Wheel-Trans to start accepting new dialysis patients and restores overall eligibility criteria to earlier levels for 2012.
That $5 million was directed to the TTC by council with the intention that it would be used to preserve conventional bus service. Wheel-Trans is a noble and important thing, but the commission had already identified a strategy to work to maintain service for dialysis patients when it was due to run out of funding later this year.
Stintz and other Ford-allies argued that using so-called “one-time” funds for bus service was a bad idea, because, hey, what if the city doesn’t have a surplus next year? We’d have to cut that service anyway. But, by that logic, this Wheel-Trans funding presents a similar risk: are we going to kick dialysis patients off the bus in 2013?
We’re not, of course. Because there will be a surplus next year. And even in the crazy unlikely event that there isn’t, there are always ways to find revenues to maintain the things we value most.