Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Public initiatives: Keep the TTC public

My attention was brought to some very well-done videos yesterday (thanks, commenter John G) about privatization of public transit utilities--and the risk that such an action could present. The videos, created by KeepTTCPublic.ca, present a two-part argument against privatization in general, and against privatization of the Toronto Transit Commission in particular.

To be fair, privatization isn't quite as completely negative as the videos say. For instance, partial privatization--in the form of contracting out services--has worked for Toronto and York, according to an article in the Toronto Star. But putting aside to the standard arguments in favour of privatization--namely, that private owners are more innovative and less bureaucratic, and thus (the reasoning goes) more able to generate cost savings--consider this quote, also presented in the above Star article, from Marie Chapple of the Phoenix Public Transit Department:
“As we reduce service, we will reduce employees. Through the private contractor, it’s easier to expand and reduce staff,” she said.
Emphasis mine. In Ottawa, many of the arguments for privatization of OC Transpo seem to go back to the labour costs for bus operators. And basically, the idea is that the city--for political as well as ethical reasons--isn't as keen on holding a hard-line or hiring 'scabs' to bring down labour costs as a private owner might be.

But is this a good thing? It's certainly idealistic, but it would be a lot better for all involved to reach a mutually acceptable salary structure, instead of contracting out services--which, it could be argued, essentially contracts out the unpalatable responsibility of cutting costs by firing people.


david said...

There are really two related questions:

1. How should the private sector be involved in running mass transit (if at all)?

2. Should mass transit continue to be a public monopoly?

Unfortunately, most debates mix the two together, resulting in a lot of shouting and not much progress.

Anonymous said...

I would like to preface my comment by noting that I could not watch these videos due to computer inadequacies.

I am in favour of the TTC being privatized because the TTC is currently in existence solely to spend money. It does not try to provide a public service. Combining those two realities creates a drain on the public coffers (sp?).
I think the 407 ETR model should be employed in the privatization of the TTC. Not a complete sale, but a long term lease that the city could one day get back. (And don't say the city won't do that because they did that for the 400 people on the island.)
The TTC does a horrible job of making me pay my fair. This past Sunday, I could have parked for free on a TTC lot and rode to and from an event without paying. In fact, it would have been easier to not pay than it would have been to pay.

JuliaR said...

Jarrett Walker says this about privatization:

At one extreme, you can privatise operations, planning, fleet, public information, branding and almost everything else.  ...  It's been very problematic in urban areas, because it deprives government of the control that its subsidies should be buying, and makes it impossible to plan rational networks that would meet the shared goal of a city and its people, ...
At the other extreme, you can privatise operations only.  ... A public agency answerable to voters keeps full control of planning, and also owns the fleet and facilities.  ...
... there's a whole third kind of privatisation that's about the development of major infrastructure, typically called a public-private partnership.  ...

Read the whole thing.

vpsoccer said...

1. Note that the 407 ETR contract is very expensive. The 407 tolls are the highest in the world, by a considerable margin. And, the public sector has very little say in price increases. At least there are options for most 407 users--there are few for transit users.

2. London, England, has a system of public-sector governance with routes contracted out on a competitive basis to private firms. The firms have been able to find additional cost savings, and offer pretty good service.