Friday, October 22, 2010

The TTC: if you think the service is poor now, wait until it becomes privatized!

The citizens of Toronto will be electing a new mayor and dozens of city councillors on Monday, October 25th. It remains to be seen how many people will actually cast their ballot, considering many don't like the top three candidates, and recent polls show that up to 1/5th of residents are still undecided with only four days to go before the elections. I can't say I'm going to be happy with either of two front-runners as my new mayor, and I'm only half-kidding when I say I'll leave town if one in particular is voted in.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the candidates' platforms, but rather to share with you what I have learned about a very central issue this year: public transit - public or private? Currently, more than 12,000 Torontonians have become members of the Public Transit Coalition, believing that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) must remain publicly owned and operated, with government oversight and accountability being critical to its success. They also feel that funding must come from all levels of government, and that the Transit City plan needs to go forward.

The TTC subway: imperfect but functional.

To educate Torontonians on the dangers of the privatization of transit systems, the Public Transit Coalition has created a TV ad and online video that show what went wrong in other large cities when that scenario played itself out. There are four issues:

  1. Privatization does not necessarily save government money: transit systems are always subsidized by the government, even those controlled by private corporations. In fact, nearby York Region's system is private and required five times as many tax dollars per ride compared to the public TTC last year. The situation is even worse in Melbourne, with only two thirds as many riders as in Toronto but four times the cost to the public. To top it off, private corporations always pay higher interest rates than governments on loans for transit construction.
  2. Privatization does not cause fares to drop: this has never happened and the opposite is often true, like in York Region, where despite such a great degree of subsidization the fares are actually higher than in Toronto. Another great example of how big of a myth this is comes from toll Highway 407, which cost 200% more to traverse four years after it was sold by the government than when it was still public. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation can't even put a stop to the fee increases, which should come as no surprise since they no longer own the road.
  3. Privatization does not result in an overall improvement in service: with profit as their bottom line, private corporations tend to cut those services which are least profitable. In the case of transit, that means late night buses and routes to areas outside of the city core. Due to Toronto's relatively large number of suburban neighbourhoods, transit service cuts could be particularly harsh. I was stunned to learn that most bus riders in Melbourne essentially have 8 pm curfews on weeknights and can't go out at all on Sundays, when there is no service.
  4. Privatization does not promote public accountability: although the government does not lose all authority over services once they are sold to private corporations, its ability to control the quality of the services diminishes. What's worse, even everyday people like you and I lose power: no matter who we vote for, private owners don't have to debate subsidies, fare prices, or profit margins in front of the officials we elect. Keep in mind that their main job is to line the pockets of their shareholders, not satisfy the service needs of the public.

    Toronto's iconic red streetcars. Copyright wyliepoon (2009)

    For more information about the campaign to keep the TTC public, check out the keepttcpublic website. To see the environmental report cards on the mayoral and council candidates, visit the Toronto Environmental Alliance site.

    A billboard promoting the TTC's Transit City plan.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment