Public transit news made some waves earlier in the week when the Ottawa Sun ran a cover story featuring Toronto mayor Rob Ford saying that Ottawa should make OC Transpo an essential service, similar to what he's trying to do with public transit in his city.
“They should do the same thing,” said Ford when contacted by the Ottawa Sun on the subject. “It’s definitely an issue. We had 13 strikes in Toronto and it cost us $50 million a day.”
My immediate reaction was: Why are we asking the mayor of another city why Ottawa's public transit should be declared an essential service?
But after deciding to move beyond that question, I remembered the discussion of making OC Transpo an essential service in the aftermath of the 2008-09 winter transit strike. The Canadian Industrial Relations Board, which has jurisdiction over OC Transpo because of the inter-provincial routes included, sought to determine whether or not such a designation was fitting, and both the city and the union argued that it wasn't an essential service. Certain citizen groups had argued in favour of the designation, but given those counter-arguments, it wasn't done.
In response to Ford's comments, Amalgamated Transit Union 279 interim president Mike Aldrich said he was "surprised" by the comments.
My opinion on the matter is that public transit is most definitely an essential service for some people in the city. Although legislating it would be difficult, a partial solution for Ottawa may be designating the core of OC Transpo service essential (for instance, Transitway routes 95-96-97 and select others, like the 106), as was suggested by Klaus Beltzner (B.Sc., M.Math., M.B.A, and member of Friends of the O-Train) a couple of years back.