The provincial transit agency has established a subway department that will oversee the construction of new lines in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, marking a significant milestone in the Ontario government’s plan to take control of transit planning from the Toronto Transit Commission.
In an email sent to Metrolinx employees Aug. 29 and obtained by the Star, agency president and CEO Phil Verster announced Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) “have formally created a team to work on the subway program.”
According to the email, which was co-signed by Infrastructure Ontario president and CEO Ehren Cory, the program includes Metrolinx, IO, the TTC and York Region Rapid Transit Corporation staff, as well as consultants.
Staff working on the program will “operate as a single integrated team” out of the Adelaide St. W. office of Metrolinx, which is the provincial Crown corporation responsible for transportation in the GTHA.
The program will be led by IO president of program delivery Michael Lindsay, who Premier Doug Ford’s government also appointed as its special adviser on its subway upload plan, as well as Metrolinx chief capital officer Matt Clark and chief planning officer Mathieu Goetzke.
Verster’s email suggested that the subway program will focus initially on the Ontario Line, a new provincial project that would replace city plans for Toronto’s relief line subway.
City council, which oversees the TTC, has not yet agreed to endorse the Ontario Line or the province’s proposal to add two stops to the Scarborough subway extension. City and TTC staff are assessing the plans and are expected to report back in October.
Verster’s memo didn’t say how many people will be working on the program, but cited the need to “expand our workforce and fill many new positions with additional staff in a number of disciplines.”
While Toronto’s city manager has previously floated the possibility of a mass transfer of TTC planning staff to the province, the status of TTC employees who are working on the new provincial subway program isn’t clear.
Although Verster’s email suggested TTC employees on the team were now reporting to provincial officials, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said no TTC staff have been permanently transferred to Metrolinx.
He said the two agencies are negotiating an agreement that would “allow certain TTC staff to continue working on the expansion projects” that are now the province’s responsibility. The TTC is seeking to have all the costs of work done by its employees for Metrolinx covered by the provincial agency as part of any deal.
According to Green, the TTC is also in the process of signing over to Metrolinx subway planning contracts it had with consultants, and moving consultant staff to the provincial agency’s offices.
A spokesperson for the York transit corporation wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Establishing a subway program at Metrolinx is key to creating capacity at the provincial level to oversee expansion of the TTC network.
It comes on the heels of legislation in June that allowed the province to take ownership of expansion projects from the TTC. In July, the province enacted regulations that gave Metrolinx control over the Yonge North Subway extension to York Region, the Scarborough subway extension, and the relief line, which is being replaced by the Ontario Line.
Together, the three projects are estimated to cost at least $22 billion, and are the priority lines in the $28.5-billion transit expansion plan Ford unveiled in April.
The TTC has led planning for the relief line and Yonge and Scarborough subway extensions for years, and although Metrolinx is contemplating changes to all of them, the provincial agency has said it intends to rely on the TTC’s previous work and expertise.
Ford’s Progressive Conservatives promised during the 2018 election to wrest ownership of Toronto’s subway network from the TTC, arguing the Ontario government has greater financial and decision-making powers and is better placed to complete expansion projects quickly. The TTC would continue to operate the subways.
City council opposed the upload, with members arguing transit service would be negatively affected if one level of government owned the subways and another operated them. But council agreed to enter into talks with the province after receiving legal advice that Queen’s Park has the authority to unilaterally take ownership of the network if it chooses.
Passing legislation to take over expansion projects was the first phase of the upload plan. Ford’s government has said it intends to introduce a law as early as next year to take ownership of the existing system.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr