Maybe it was because I was awaiting major dental work that the article in last month’s Toronto Life got right up in and under my craw. “The case for privatizing the TTC” declarative on the front page under a tasty looking plate of pasta most certainly caught my eye as I was sitting in the reception area. Bold, I thought. I will attempt to set aside my reservations about the idea and listen to a well thought out argument on the subject. Go ahead, impress me, convince me, sway me, Mr. Chris Nuttall-Smith.
It did not take long for that openness on my part to dissipate. Never trust an argument that begins its journey with a long preamble full to bursting with aspersion casting and name calling of those that would be against said argument. It takes me back a quarter century or so to the 1988 federal election that was fought primarily over the proposed free trade deal with the United States. The anti voices expressed concern about the flight of capital southward to lower cost regions, taking good paying manufacturing jobs with it. Lily-livered, knee jerk, head in the sand, backward looking, parochial, old time nationalists came the studied response. Don’t be ridic-uuu-lous, to borrow a TV catch phrase of the time.
Cue irony machine and Homer Simpson D’oh! What’s that you say? Good paying manufacturing jobs? Never heard such crazy talk.
So goes Nuttall-Smith’s argument in favour of TTC privatization. Those who are against it are well-meaning but ill-informed, ill-equipped, fearful of the future and, worse yet, engineers. Why engineers have been bad for the TTC Nuttall-Smith never bothers taking the time to explain. He even calls TTC chair, Adam Giambrone, ‘Chairman Himbo’. That’s early on in the article and Nuttall-Smith’s argument never really rises much higher than that.
He quotes Giambrone’s response to calls for privatization of the TTC back in 2008 after it was subject to yet another unionized workers strike: “Aside from London, England, he [Giambrone] said, ‘There are no major centres that run privatized operations – there’s a reason.’” Nuttall-Smith quickly swats that claim aside, telling us, in fact, there are dozens of them and, after some more name calling, eventually gets around to listing a few although aside from a couple of exceptions, he reels off countries who have gone the privatization route rather than cities which doesn’t really refute Giambrone’s assertion about ‘major centres’. That’s called comparing apples to oranges, Mr. Nuttall-Smith.
He does have a couple examples of ‘major centres’ in his back pocket, though. Copenhagen and Stockholm have privatized aspects of their transit systems. And they’re both great! Although, strictly speaking, transit operations in the Swedish capital are only partially privatized. If I understand the gist of Nuttall-Smith’s argument, the buses and subway are public owned while the maintenance of them and actual moving of people has been contracted out to private firms. The whole operation is overseen and regulated by a public body.
An operation that is heavily subsidized, Nuttall-Smith quietly admits in a quick paragraph after all his ejaculatory swooning over Stockholm’s “private” transit system. “Granted,” he states, “Stockholm does this with an annual operating subsidy of $900 million – more than double what we drop on the TTC every year…” Hello. What? More than double the TTC funding?! And didn’t you tell us earlier on in your article, Mr. Nuttall-Smith, that the Stockholm transit handles half the daily traffic of Toronto? So they get double the money to move half the people.
“But great transit systems cost money.” Chris Nuttall-Smith informs us.
Well then, how about this, Mr. Nuttall-Smith. Why don’t we first start funding this city’s transit system properly and see what happens. If things don’t pick up and turnaround after that, then we can begin to have the privatization conversation. With someone who can put forward a coherent case in favour of it instead of just ideologically driven drivel.
— hungrily submitted by Cityslikr