Monday, June 9, 2008

Funding Ottawa's transit plans, part five (cont'd): Privatisation

There was an interesting column in The Globe and Mail by columnist Neil Reynolds a couple of weeks ago about privatising public transit. Citing, specifically, the examples of Taiwan's speed trains and Japan's entirely-private transit sytem, Reynolds simplified the argument into an either/or dichotomy:
The question for Canadians is this: Do we want public transit or fast transit? Do we want public transit or efficient transit? Do we want public transit or innovative transit? The question is important. Many Canadians define public transit as public first, transit second. This makes it hard to know whether one is discussing collectivist ideology or physical mobility.
There are interesting points in Reynolds' column. Especially where he states that Japan's private system moves more people per day than all public transit systems throughout North America. He also correctly mentions that publicly-owned transit systems can stagnate in the face of insufficient funding;
An astute observer of the dynamic differences between private cars versus public trains and public buses, Virginia blogger Jim Bacon concluded an essay the other day with this succinct observation: "Mass transit enterprises are owned by governments or quasi-government agencies. They enjoy monopoly protections. Relying upon public subsidies, they have few resources to invest in innovation - and no one is rewarded for risk taking anyway. Is it any surprise, then, that the mass transit experience of 2008 is pretty much the same as the mass transit experience of 1958?" Compared with the automotive industry, he said, public transit "has the metabolic dynamism of a flatworm."
It is true that cars are able to adapt more quickly than most transit systems. What is not true, however, is that they're not subsidised: auto manufacturers receive many government susbsidies, and cars would have a hard time driving if not for the entirely subsidized road system (with the rare instance of toll roads being the only exception) that they are built for.

It is not true, however, that transit systems are doomed to stagnate. With proactive leadership, a public transit infrastructure can very well keep up with the times. I don't think any rational human being can make an argument that Ottawa's transit system is anywhere near the system that was in place in 1958.

Rather than having to choose between a publicly-owned transit infrastructure or one which is fast, efficient, and innovative, Canadians want both. And they look to municipal, provincial, and federal leaders to provide the vision and the means to do so. According to a CUPE study which was cited in the Exchange Morning Post, a majority of Canadians, 68.6 per cent, believe that public transit should remain public. I'm no pollster, but I would wager that 100 per cent would like it to be fast, efficient, and innovative.


Ben said...

Politicians are just that, and their decisions should be treated in that light. They are not intrepid investors betting their careers on these projects.

Businesspeople know one thing for a fact that the people in charge of OC Transpo just can't seem to comprehend: increase in admission means decrease in customers.

Nick said...

I have a solution. Let's elect a mayor who wants to "run the city like a business."

Maybe he's just a bad businessman. Or maybe Ottawans have bad judgment.

Then again, only about 14 per cent of residents actually cast a ballot for the current mayor.

Peter Raaymakers said...

Not that I necessarily think that a city should be run like a business, it's tough to elect a mayor and look for him to change things if you elect all (or at least a lot of) the same councillors. He kind of gets outnumbered.