With Toronto's election campaign on and a possible provincial vote on the horizon, the CEO of the TTC wants to see "visionaries in key office" to help the commission thrive.
Andy Byford made the call Thursday during a lunchtime speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
"Will the new mayor, city council and potential provincial government be pro-transit and support us in delivery of our plan? Or will a view prevail, that 'well we're getting by today, so why can't we continue like this for a few more years'?", Byford asked the business audience.
Speaking with reporters, Byford clarified that he isn't calling for anyone's ouster or backing any particular candidate, but wants leadership from people who understand both the value of transit and its true cost.
"The engine room of Toronto is the TTC, because you're moving people about", said Byford. "That has to be good for Ontario and a successful Ontario is good for Canada."
Byford says he has pushed the city as hard as he can to increase the operating subsidy it gives the TTC each year. But it hasn't been enough to keep pace with growing ridership, the demand for more service and the need to fix or replace old infrastructure.
The transit boss says that so far, TTC riders have had to deal with fare increases to close an operational funding gap. Byford admits the hikes are "hard to justify when the service is more crowded than ever, and a policy that strikes me as somewhat counter intuitive when we are doing everything to try to win back our reputation."
The CEO characterized the TTC's capital funding picture as "bleak". Byford says it's $2.3-billion short on cash to keep the system in a state of good repair and to make it fully accessible. The province says that must be done by 2025.
While he'd like the city to pony up more, Byford says Toronto can't fund the TTC alone and that 2014 is the right time to "bite the bullet and to go banging on the table in Ottawa and at Queen's Park".
A panel to do just that is in the works. Byford expects that he and the body's Chair will represent the TTC, with the city manager and maybe the chief financial officer speaking for Toronto. Byford also hopes to include everyday transit users.
"If you could actually have people on there, who could in talking to politicians express, get across, 'this is how it feels for us on a creaking, overcrowded network where we're having to pay more and more', I'd like to think that politicians would listen to that", said Byford.