Gary Webster’s job carries increasing responsibility
Running one of the busiest transit systems in the Americas is a prestigious job, but it’s also a huge responsibility — one that is set to become even larger.
Veteran TTC executive Gary Webster has been appointed the agency’s new chief general manager, formally taking over the position he has held since predecessor Rick Ducharme left a year ago.
The TTC appears poised to expand dramatically over the next decade, and Webster must oversee new light rail and subway lines while keeping an extensive, often-crowded, system on track.
Being the lead bureaucrat of such a heavily used — and closely watched — civic institution can also be a very political job, especially when you have a difference of opinion with the city councillors who oversee the commission.
Ducharme’s departure last year came during a very contentious period — TTC employees had just gone on a wildcat strike and the commissioners were preparing to make a huge subway car purchase without an open bidding process.
At the time, Ducharme claimed then commission chair Howard Moscoe was interfering with the operation of the system, making decisions that should have been the responsibility of staff.
Webster’s role as interim chief has been low-key compared to the previous holders of his job.
Ducharme was regularly quoted by the media, in the tradition of his predecessor David Gunn. Gunn is renowned for shaking up large rail organizations, as well as speaking his mind to political masters.
That attitude earned him both controversy, as well as the endearment of many employees. In the 1990s, at a time when the TTC was under great strain, decisions on the future of the transit agency broke out from behind closed doors in a messy, but revealing, way.
At times, Gunn, Moscoe and outspoken Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman could all be seen trying to get their message out in a brash manner Torontonians rarely see.
Although respected by many transit observers, it’s not clear how Webster would deal publicly with controversial issues — or whether he will even have to.
Current TTC chair Adam Giambrone has, since last fall, been the primary voice of the agency, and clearly knows transit. The city councillors are a close ally of Mayor David Miller and together with other key members of council, they appear to now be directing the agency’s long-awaited growth plans. The process for making big decisions may have shifted away from the TTC administration — or at least previously public tussles have retreated behind doors.
In any event, Webster and his staff now have the enviable opportunity of working on a fleet of projects that could once again put the TTC at the lead of world transit agencies.