Friday, September 10, 2010

O'Brien promises transit commission for OC Transpo

Larry O'Brien's transit platform is obviously going to include his continued support for Ottawa's transit plan in its current form, but when the incumbent in the mayoral race launched his campaign on Wednesday night, he threw in a new detail: A promise to create an independent transit commission to manage OC Transpo is re-elected.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

"I as mayor am not happy with the governance of OC Transpo," he said. "There are many reasons for this, but all of the improvements that I can see have to start at the top. The drivers are not the issue."

O'Brien said public transit, the city's single largest budget line item, is plagued by micromanagement, and councillors have no
business deciding transit routes or union contracts. "We must detach the day-to-day management of OC Transpo from the day-to-day politics of City Hall," he said, adding that running transit through a commission would save money.
(O'Brien used the opportunity to try to smooth things over with the transit union; by all accounts, O'Brien isn't popular with OC Transpo's bus operators.)

At first, I was rather surprised by the pledge, and then I remembered that this isn't the first time he called for it: On Rogers Talk Ottawa program back in March (long before he'd announced his intention to run for a second term), O'Brien said that it was an idea that had his support. It's also an idea that was given high priority by O'Brien's 2007 mayor's task force report, but hasn't had much political weight behind it yet.

It's an idea that's been discussed before, and the main criticism--which Alex Cullen said in March and David Reevely blogged about today--is that an unelected management team won't likely be as accountable to the public as a group of elected city councillors. As Reeveley said in his blog, Greater Ottawa:
I've said before that outsourcing the oversight of the city's single biggest program is a bad idea because it would put accountability in a no-man's land. Either councillors sit on the commission and it's not really any different from having a transit committee the way we do now (that's the TTC model) or it's a mixed body and councillors share power with people who answer to nobody (that's the Hydro Ottawa model, and isn't that a model of excellent and responsive service?), or it's all independent ousiders and basically we're all helpless supplicants to our transit overlords (nobody uses this model).
It seems a bit of a trade-off: While a commission may not be as accountable as a council-managed utility, it seems likely that it will be more knowledgeable about the issues facing transit and transportation in a modern city.