10/03/2012 02:38 EDT | Updated 12/03/2012 05:12 EST

TTC to operate forthcoming LRT lines after all

The TTC will end up operating the forthcoming light-rail transit lines the Ontario government is building in Toronto, despite an earlier attempt by the province to have a private operator take control of the lines.

The province’s minister of transportation, Bob Chiarelli, said there had always been a desire to have the TTC involved in the LRT lines that will be integrated into the existing transit system in Toronto.

The terms of that involvement have now been made clear under a new agreement made public Wednesday, with the TTC handling operations tasks and a private contractor maintaining the transit lines being paid for by the province at a cost of $8.4 billion.

While Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority tasked with implementing the transit project, had recently said it would seek a private company to operate the new lines, the newly announced deal appears to settle that question for good.

"This will deliver a safe, effective and integrated transit system for the people of Toronto now and into the future," Chiarelli said during a Wednesday morning news conference.

The TTC would be responsible for the vehicle operators and staff working at transit stations, safety and enforcement duties, as well as the dispatch and control of vehicle access.

"For this historic investment to be implemented, it means that Metrolinx and the TTC will be joined at the hip," Chiarelli said.

Metrolinx chair Bruce McCuaig echoed the transportation minister’s statement that TTC involvement in the light-rail lines had always been a priority.

But he said that goal had to be reached in a way that allowed Metrolinx to meet its own objectives, which include having long-term maintenance provided through an alternative financing and procurement process.

TTC CEO Andy Byford said that officials have worked "tirelessly" to come to an agreement that will provide the "world-class, seamless LRT transit that will transform travel in this great city of Toronto."

He said the agreement is good news for all who use public transit in Toronto.

"This is a huge day for the TTC, I think it’s a huge day for the province of Ontario and ultimately our riders, our customers, the people that really matter," Byford said.

TTC chair Karen Stintz said the new light-rail lines are just part of an ongoing, long-term effort to improve transit in Toronto.

She acknowledged that the process has not been easy at times, but believes things are on the right track.

"When you’re transforming transit, it doesn’t come without a few bumps on the road," Stintz said.

"And we’ve had our share, but we are marching through and marching forward."

But the deal did not meet with approval in all quarters. Ontario NDP transit critic Rosario Marchese said he was troubled by the involvement of the private sector, adding the collaboration will result in higher costs to TTC riders.

"When the private sector is involved it means in order for them to borrow, they will have higher interest rates," Marchese said, referring to the Metrolinx's outsourcing of the design and construction of the new trains to the private sector.