2012 Newsmaker: Challenging year for Bill Fisch
York's chairperson started 2012 dealing with a mass transit strike.
York Region's Chairperson Bill Fisch had a tough year. A transit strike started the year and, by the middle of 2012, he announced he would not seek the top job in York after his term ends in 2014.
2012 got off to a rocky start for regional chairperson Bill Fisch.
The York Region Transit/Viva strike was entering its third month as the new year dawned and the 80,000 daily riders left in the lurch by the ongoing labour unrest were growing increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of progress.
It was tough situation, Mr. Fisch acknowledges, adding it was definitely the year’s low point.
“It was a difficult time for all of us,” he said. “The unions felt that we should have been involved in it and we felt that we shouldn’t be. I had to lead council on that.”
Because of his position, it wasn’t long before Mr. Fisch became the face of the strike.
It’s a fact Mr. Fisch admits, but he stresses now, as he did then, that it wasn’t the region’s place to get involved in a labour dispute between regional contractors and their employees. The strike was always between Miller Transit and First Transit and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1587 on the YRT side of things and Veolia and ATU Local 113 when it came to Viva.
“I kept saying that, but no one believed me or no one listened,” he said.
Since the strike, YRT and Viva have gradually returned to business as usual, Mr. Fisch said, explaining the region has continued to invest in transit in a big way.
Work on the Viva rapidways is progressing and the Vaughan subway extension is expected to be running by 2016.
The Yonge street subway extension will take longer than that, he said, adding it remains on Metrolinx’s priority list.
He hopes the picture will become more clear when the transit planning body releases its investment strategy document next year.
The good news on the transit side is ridership shed during the strike was regained in the months after the strike, owed at least partially to the two months of free rides offered, and has continued to pick up steam, Mr. Fisch said.
“We’ve recovered a lot of our ridership, but, no doubt, we lost a few people during the strike,” he said. “We’ve attracted a lot of new riders and I think a lot of people have realized that the unions wanted us to change our business model, but we weren’t prepared to do that.”
Beyond transit, Mr. Fisch is proud of the investments the region has made in road infrastructure this year and looks forward to the Hwy. 404 extension being completed in the next few years.
He is also pleased the region has maintained its AAA credit rating, has healthy reserve fund balances and a plan to pay back its $2-billion debt.
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