Thursday, January 15, 2009

A case for making public transit an essential service

The Pensacola News Journal, of Pensacola, Florida, published an editorial entitled "Mass transit a right, not a privilege". The author, Reginald T. Dogan, cited the worsening economy in the United States--which has certainly made an impact on the Canadian economy, as well--as one reason to consider public transit an essential service. (He also used that necessity to argue in support of a gas tax.) Here's the gist of Dogan's argument:

If the economy continues to nosedive, and the downward spiral of job losses causes more people to ditch their automobiles to save money, public transportation will become an economic necessity rather than a tax nuisance for so many more people.

On the issue as it pertains to Ottawa, Klaus Beltzner (B.Sc., M.Math., M.B.A, and member of Friends of the O-Train) made the following case for the possibly essential nature of public transit in Ottawa during TransitOttawa's marathon 18+ hour LiveBlog:
    1. A core transit service is essential; the whole transit service with all the routes and runs is not.

      A core service is essential to permit seniors to get to their doctor appointments and buy groceries (health and safety). A core service is essential to permit minimum wage/shift workers to earn a livelihood and students to go to classes (health and safety)A core service is essential to permit those who do not own a car to buy groceries, get to doctors appointments, visit ailing parents in hospitals and nursing homes. (health and safety).
    2. A core transit service needs to be defined by the City

      The City must be ordered to define the core transit service to be provided in oder to meet the health and safety requirements above.

      The City must be ordered to have a plan in place to publicize and deliver this core service in the event of a labour dispute, snow or other serious weather event, or other emergency when full service cannot be provided.
    3. A core transit service needs to deliverable

      The City must have various contingency plans in place to deliver the defined core transit service in the event of a labour dispute, snow or other serious weather event, or other emergency when full service cannot be provided.

10 comments:

david said...

Note that neither the union nor council has been calling for transit to be declared essential. That would mean that both sides would be stuck with whatever an independent arbitrator decided on for wages, scheduling, etc. at each contract round.

It might be a good thing for the community, though (even if it meant slightly higher property taxes).

Anonymous said...

It might be a good thing for the community, though (even if it meant slightly higher property taxes).

Wrong. Property taxes in this city are a farce. The heaviest users of transit and essentially every other city service that is funded through property taxes are those who pay the least property taxes. This is essentially the city subsidizing urban sprawl and builders. The zoning taxation system that is currently in place is grossly unfair and is is no small part responsible for logarithmic growth in some suburbs. It's not sustainable, it's not good for services, essential or otherwise, it's not good for business, it's not good for the environment, and it's certainly not good for the community.

Ironically, property taxes as a means of funding public transit has led to substantial loss of density and much higher public transit costs.

Andrae Griffith said...

It is important to note that making transit an essential service will not prevent wildcat strikes, as they are already illegal. This is what occurred in Toronto in May of 2006. Hopefully the OC Transpo drivers union would never cross that line, but I'm sure citizens of both cities have had "it'll never happen" thoughts in recent memory.

Anonymous said...

Find out to how ATU has abused the system for past 12 years:

http://www.ottawasun.com/News/OttawaAndRegion/2009/01/15/8037401.html

Latest from Ottawa Sun.

Coridon Henshaw said...

The other major argument for transit to be considered an essential service is that it is far more dangerous to commute on foot than it is to take the bus. Frostbite, hypothermia and blunt trauma due to slipping on ice are not risks for bus passengers.

Anonymous said...

All transit is dangerous. Cars probably more so than pedestrians. Bikes, in this city, certainly more so.

Having 65 buses on the road every week with people working more than 14hours regardless of fatigue, solely in an attempt to get more overtime, makes commuting by foot, car, bike or bus inherently more dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I don't understand why, union or no union, the OC Transpo drivers are allowed to drive shifts longer than 14 hours (which the law actually specifies) and are not required to have at least 8 hours of break every 24 hours. The fact that the city is trying to force what are LEGAL REQUIREMENTS for other buses on the road and the union is rejecting this shows clearly which side is more concerned with welfare of the drivers, the passengers and the public at large.

Coridon Henshaw said...

I can't say I've been hugely impressed with either side's concern for the public welfare.

If the ATU was deeply concerned with the welfare of the public, they wouldn't have put the public at risk by going on strike in winter, partially in defense of a system that allows their employees to work hours that would be considered dangerous in any other industry.

If the city was deeply concerned with the welfare of the public, they should have sought an essential services declaration and a federal back to work order as soon as 98% strike vote was announced.

david said...

Coridon Henshaw wrote:

"Frostbite, hypothermia and blunt trauma due to slipping on ice are not risks for bus passengers."

Have you ever been standing for an hour waiting for the #2 bus in the winter? :-)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Beltzner has brought up an interesting idea. I'm guessing that this would mean that certain routes were essential and others non-essential? The easiest routes to declare as non-essential would be the express routes. Essential routes would likely be local ones (that would allow people to get around their neighbourhood) and major routes like the 95.
However, I can foresee this plan causing big problems as well. Commuters who live in the suburbs and work downtown would be unlikely to give up their bussing privileges and would probably clog up the "essential" routes, making it impossible for people who really need the service, like students and seniors.