TTC CEO apologizes for major outage Monday, plans to open review

Commuters board a TTC shuttle bus Monday after a fluid spill closed part of Line 2 for hours. The TTC said Thursday it will be opening a review to determine the root cause behind the hydraulic leaks the transit agency has seen this year. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC - image credit)
Commuters board a TTC shuttle bus Monday after a fluid spill closed part of Line 2 for hours. The TTC said Thursday it will be opening a review to determine the root cause behind the hydraulic leaks the transit agency has seen this year. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC - image credit)

TTC CEO Rick Leary announced a review on Thursday into the "concerning" root causes behind a serious service outage on Line 2 earlier this week that impacted thousands of commuters.

During a TTC board meeting, Leary said about 200 litres of oil leaked from a subway work car on Monday, shutting down subway service between Broadview and St. George stations for much of the day.

Monday's incident is the seventh hydraulic leak in the TTC since the beginning of the year, Leary said. There have only been 10 leaks in the past five years, he said, calling the uptick concerning.

"It's very uncommon in our business," Leary said. Each leak took place in a different location and they did not all cause service disruptions," he said.

The TTC has hired a forensic expert to help conduct the investigation into the increase of leaks, Leary said.

Leary, who marked 10 years with the TTC on Thursday, also apologized for this week's service outage. "One of my core commitments as a CEO is to provide the very best customer experience possible," he said.

"On mandate, we fell short in that regard, and for that, I sincerely apologize."

City councillor concerned TTC is failing riders

During Thursday's meeting, city councillor Dianne Saxe, who represents University—Rosedale, questioned why the leaks are happening when the equipment is not out of date and has undergone preventative maintenance.

"What is the systemic root of this extraordinary series of letting the public down?" Saxe said.

"Those answers will be brought to your attention when we have the review," Leary responded.

Recurring TTC shutdowns and delays are causing the public to lose confidence in the transit system, said councillor Josh Matlow, who represents Toronto – St. Paul.

"I'm concerned that our system is failing our riders," Matlow said.

Matlow said members of the public complained to him about the chaos of commuting during the shutdown earlier this week. He asked why the review did not begin earlier in the year, rather than "after some of the worst things that could have happened, have happened," he said.

"The one thing that didn't happen… was if one of those trains that shot through the station actually ended up killing somebody," Matlow added.

Oil spills can cause slippery rail conditions, TTC staff said at Thursday's meeting. During Monday's leak, an empty train that was being operated by the TTC to assess rail conditions overshot a station by a full car length.

Leary said he was made aware of these recurring leaks in late April.

Chow apologizes to riders for disruption

The transit agency has been criticized for the disruption, which is the latest in a string of reliability issues on the city's transit system, including a bike on the tracks and a fire at Bloor-Yonge station.

Mayor Olivia Chow apologized to riders for the issue, saying earlier this week that she is working to improve reliability.

"We need more investment," she said, asking the provincial and federal governments to contribute more to the system. "And without that [the TTC] is not as reliable as we want."

Chow said the outage comes the same week as councillors consider a report about the state of the city's crumbing assets. The TTC requires billions more to address its state of good repair backlog, she added.

"In terms of public transit in the city of Toronto, it's still excellent. Can we do a lot better? Absolutely. Can it be more reliable? Yep."

TTC chair Jamaal Myers said earlier this week that he has received a general overview of the incident and why the spill took so long to clean up. But he is still waiting for a full investigation.

"I share everyone's concern [that] these types of … incidents seem to be more frequent than previously," Myers said.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said it will be important for the city to dig into the reason behind the latest service disruption.

"Well it's always important that we do lessons learned and that we look at how we can plan better for those unexpected outages," she said. "Certainly, I think we're all be watching very closely to see what happened and importantly how we can do better next time."

Key questions remain about incident: advocate

Transit advocate Steve Munro said he's eager to hear what staff have to say about the issues. He's critical of how the agency communicated with riders during the outage.

"I have to ask, where was [TTC CEO] Rick Leary?" he said. "You don't like a major upset like this, but just the fact that you make the effort to communicate changes the relationship."

Munro said that a full accounting of what occurred is important. This latest service outage raises many of the same questions for him that other outages have.

"What are all the problems?" he said. "Are they equipment failures? Are they track blockages? Are they infrastructure problems?"

Those are important questions to answer since problems seem to be occurring much more regularly and resulting in serious disruptions, he added.

"We're no longer dealing with this maybe once a year, where you have a humongous delay," Munro said. "These are happening all the time."

At last month's TTC board meeting, the head of the transit workers union raised questions about a hydraulic fuel spill on subway tracks that limited the ability to slow trains. Marvin Alfred, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Unit 113, called on the TTC board to launch a "full and independent review" of the agency's safety and maintenance practices.

"The connecting theme linking all these incidents is TTC management prioritizing statistics and savings over providing a consistently safe and unreliable service," he said. "The culture of secrecy of the TTC is preventing the full story from coming out."

"These allegations are unfounded," TTC spokesman Stuart Green said in a statement, referring to Alfred's comments. "This issue will be addressed at the board tomorrow."