Can we agree on a format going forward?
If I accept the inevitability of the introduction of the private sector involvement in the providing of public transit line of reasoning into the debate, can we move beyond the blanket statements and off the top of my head ideas about how it’ll work?
As you probably know by now, Mayor John Tory went on a trip to Asia and came away wowed by the state of public transit in the region. How couldn’t he be? Hong Kong. Shanghai. Beijing. A Toronto transit user can only look on at those systems and weep.
And what was the mayor’s transit takeaway from the trip?
We probably can no longer, and should not, close our minds to the possibility that either alongside the public sector, or in some cases instead of the public sector, that you would look at having somebody else run some of these things.
That ‘somebody else’? The private sector, of course.
This shouldn’t be surprising. We elected a mayor who sees the world through the lens of Bay Street-tinted, pro-business, free market glasses. If there’s a problem that needs fixing, the private sector can do it. That’s his thing. Fine.
But he, and all those advocating for more private sector involvement in delivering up more public transit, really need to start putting some meat on those bones. “Private-sector involvement in transit operations is not, in itself, unusual,” writes Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail. “London’s fleet of iconic red buses is actually run by a variety of private firms. Hong Kong’s MTR is listed on the stock exchange, with the government as majority shareholder.”
Alright then. How are these examples applicable to Toronto? Do we need Hong Kong like density to attract private sector involvement? Should we put a second deck on our buses? Provide some details, please.
It’s not enough to say ‘the private sector’ like it’s some magic charm that will summon new subway lines from a puff of smoke. We’ve been down that road before, just recently in fact. Ahhh, memories.
So far, this mayor’s thoughts are no less vague. ‘Air rights’ to develop over rapid transit stops that the private sector builds. “…expanding transit-building contracts to include long-term operational responsibility,” is another idea cited in the Globe article. “He [Mayor Tory] mused also about private firms providing small-bus service, perhaps in suburban areas,” Moore writes.
Jitneys! Why doesn’t Toronto have more jitney service like they do in developing countries like… the Hamptons? Unleash the wonders of free enterprise, with small-bus operators competing for precious suburban commuter dollars, keeping fares low and service levels high in the process.
Look, my views on this are pretty firm. I regard public transit as a public asset not a commodity. It should not be reliant on the profit-motive to justify its existence. In fact, I truly believe those two things are in direct conflict with each other.
But hey, that’s me. My thinking on this could be too rigid. I will admit to that. I am willing to open my ears and my heart and my head to opposing views.
Tell me exactly how it would work. Give me concrete proposals. Show me how this would be a win-win situation for both public transit and the private sector.
I’m tired of generalities. From this mayor, just like the previous administration, touting the possible role of the private sector comes across as little more than an attempt to avoid the dreaded revenue tools conversation. Public transit for free! You get a subway! You get a subway! Everybody gets SmartTrack!!
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If Mayor Tory wants to convince us otherwise, he needs to deliver up real ideas, full of the practical nuts and bolts of how the private sector will provide a public service in a way that benefits everybody. Otherwise, it’s just more noise, more wishful thinking, more delays and less transit.
— Missourily submitted by Cityslikr