Private transit?

By Admin Wednesday September 24 2014 in Editorial
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Desperate times call for desperate measures, or, in the case of some frustrated Toronto commuters, at least for creative measures. A group focusing on relieving transit stress for those living in Liberty Village has set in motion a plan to enlist a private transport service for those who join their crowd-funding proposal.


Liberty Village is a neighbourhood that has mushroomed in population over the past decade as high-rise condominium residences have gone up there, part of the housing trend that currently has put more cranes in the sky in Toronto than in any other large city in the world.


People are beginning to take matters into their own hands because they have had enough of the overcrowding on the King streetcar line that carries some 60,000 passengers every day.


The executives at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) say they are not worried about losing riders in this particular case, but they are noting it. Tellingly, the TTC higher-ups who should make it their business to recognize these responses to failure in the publicly funded service say they are unclear on the concept.


The group running this one-month pilot project to get passengers over to Union Station says the cost to users will be $25 each. That is an additional cost, since users would then have to pay their TTC fare.


One notable difference between the Liberty Village population and, say, the people who live in Rexdale or other neighbourhoods on the periphery of the city, is the ability to pay for this private relief line. The average family income in Liberty Village is over $90,000. Compare that to the more than one in five families in Ward 2 Etobicoke North whose income is below $40,000 and who must also deal with insufficient transit service. It is less likely that crowd-funding will be their answer.


The question of whether to start looking into a public-private blend of transportation services has not been raised during this current colourful municipal campaign in Toronto, but why hasn’t it?


No one who is looking for votes wants to tread on the toes of the unions in this matter, but it is a debate that we should at least begin to have. The vast majority of the funding for the TTC comes from transit users’ pockets anyway, so why not explore this as a possibility?


Either we start talking about it right away, or city planners and decision-makers can try to look the other way while fed up commuters devise their own methods of getting from home to work and back again. And then leave surveillance of these emerging unlicensed entrepreneurs to law enforcement.


This new initiative means the strong sense of ownership once felt by Toronto public transit users is being overtaken by frustration with the service. Commuters are beginning to feel disconnected from it, which means they are now more willing to consider alternatives. Are we possibly looking forward to the emergence of an unregulated transit system?


Current mayoral campaign front-runner John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal does not include any short-term fixes to this problem since it focuses on future construction. Olivia Chow’s promise is to add more buses along underserved routes. However, there is currently a shortage of stock to actually beef up service. And Doug Ford’s ‘subways, subways, subways’ plan is at least decades away from being a reality.


Public-private collaboration would then be a reasonable answer. The fact is that a public-private partnership for transit already exists outside of Toronto, so it is not unheard of in these parts. In York Region, a number of routes have for years been contracted out to the TTC. Many small cities across the country also have agreements with private bus companies.


Either elected officials get on board and stop dithering about public transit, or as this Liberty Village group is showing, people who need the service will take matters into their own hands. So which is it to be?

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