Two TTC buses were pulled from their routes, abandoning passengers, to pick up the players of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s high school football team on Thursday.
Ford had missed about 2½ hours of Thursday’s council meeting to attend the semifinal football game of the team he coaches.
The game between the Don Bosco Eagles and the Carr Crusaders ended early at 3:40 p.m. There were reports of a near brawl after a coach and referee had an argument about ending the game before time had run out.
Ford's Don Bosco team was to be picked up by a school bus at 4:30 p.m. However, at around 3:46 p.m. the TTC transit control received a request for a bus to pick up the students.
TTC spokesman Brad Ross confirmed that the 36 Finch West bus was pulled off its route to shuttle the players to their school from the field at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School.
Ross said that on average the TTC receives approximately two such calls a week from Toronto police or firefighters asking for a bus or buses to serve as a refuge, typically during fires or any type of evacuation.
“I want to be clear that the request comes from the police, the police make the decision,” Ross said. “We don’t ask questions, like who is it for, or why. We just send the bus and that’s what occurred yesterday; police made a decision that they required a bus.”
The driver of the first bus that was dispatched had difficulty finding the school, so the TTC transit control pulled the 46 Martin Grove bus off its route as well and sent it to the field.
When the first bus driver finally found the location, the second bus was sent back into service, according to Ross.
Ross said that during these sorts of requests, the TTC typically sends a bus from the route closest to wherever the police require it. Usually the TTC tries to wait for a bus to be dispatched from a station or loop so there aren’t too many passengers on board.
“Yesterday two buses were pulled and customers were displaced. Luckily it was at a time in the end when there would have been a lot of buses on the road, so I’m hopeful that the wait for those customers wasn’t too long,” he said.
Ford placed a phone call to TTC chief executive officer Andy Byford when the first bus failed to arrive quickly.
“With respect to the mayor’s phone call, that was a voicemail that was left for Andy Byford and the mayor was simply sharing the police concerns about the delay … he didn’t make any demands, he didn’t put any pressure on Mr. Byford,” Ross said.
Ford faced criticism when he left a council meeting in order to attend the game.
When asked why he left, Ford said he needed to be there for the crucial game.
“It was a semifinal football game," said Ford. "It's the playoffs, we’re undefeated, we're No. 2 in the city. We’re in the championship game.”
Ford missed much of council's debate about whether to finalize an $8.4-billion transit deal with the province to build four light rail lines in Toronto.
Coun. Josh Matlow was livid about the mayor's absence and said Ford should have been in council chambers.
“This is about the mayor of Toronto … showing up for council that he ostensibly leads,” said Matlow.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, a political ally who has advised Ford against skipping council meetings for football, was at a loss to explain.
“He has a mind of his own as you know," said Holyday. "I don’t control anybody here, sometimes people like my thoughts and sometimes they don’t.”
Thursday's game ended in a near brawl after the coach of the opposing team began to argue with officials.
The mayor said the situation would have been much worse had he not attended the game.
“If I wasn’t there, it could have gotten really ugly. You should talk to the school board and police. I controlled my team. Very few people can control these kids, they listen to me."
Ford also said he won't stop coaching.
“I’ve said this from Day 1, I made a commitment. I’ve done it for 20 years and I’m not changing.”