Friday, September 10, 2010

2010 Election: Maguire on privatization

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with as many mayoral candidates as are available, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Many different ideas have come up to fix the perceived service problems at OC Transpo over the course of this municipal election, from a new transit commission to an essential-service designation. Mayoral candidate Mike Maguire, too, has an idea: Privatization of the service, or at least of some parts of it.

Maguire sees the size of OC Transpo as ineffective, and a big reason for some of the service problems that have been seen. And he thinks that by breaking it up into smaller, independently-managed pieces, some or all of those issues can be adequately addressed:
OC Transpo, as a corporation, has probably grown beyond its effective size. Certainly, we’ve seen a number of different indicators of that: Extremely low employee morale; the massive subsidy necessary; the confusing interpretation of the mandate; a $100M garage that you can’t drive the bus into. I realize that can happen, but when you’re dealing with public money, you really don’t get a second chance when you screw up like that. And that was $100M, up from $60M; that hurt, that really hurt.

I challenge the notion that we need a single bus company for the entire city. It’s contrary to common sense, and there’s no question that we need to look at privatization of routes. It comes down to money.
What his proposition would entail is a profit-sharing arrangement where a the city owns the service--both the bus services, as well as the commuter-rail "GO Ottawa" system he supports as a transit vision for the city--and the operators on it have a commission structure where their earnings are based on the service they provide.
I like the idea of owner-operator; in some way, we need to incentivize the staff who work on that to be profit-share, or part-owners. We need to break the cycle of bad labour relations at the city level, so here’s an opportunity to do something like that. We have a major issue with many of the operator grievances at OC Transpo, I think, are valid. However, we can’t possibly meet all of the demands of the operators, and yet the city has no other option at the moment. So you end up with things like that bus strike that eventually we capitulated on. And we gained nothing; nobody gained a penny on it. The operators lost money. We didn’t run a service for weeks, and we lost money; that should be impossible. And the commuters got screwed. So what was the possible value of this?

So here’s a chance to reinvent the wheel. This one, in particular. I like the idea of either a profit-sharing arrangement, or partial ownership of the service. However it’s done, the smart people will devise this later, but it can’t be the way it is.
Maguire, at the moment, hasn't yet come up with specific details on the structure or implementation of the new organization, but thinks that operators would be some of the best authorities on the subject to help design the program.
As the owner-operator, profit is your motive, not just the paycheque at the end of every two weeks. I trust in the cleverness of people to fill in the details.

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