Transit Twitterings

More about the transit struggles in Toronto and London event last saturday, which I made some feeble attempts to tweet about. I do not really like tweeting these events. I do not like trying to write on a cell phone. I really should get an ipad. But I would rather focus on listening to what is said.

transit class wars

It was a somewhat sad event. There is a woman in town visiting her friend. Both are from London and have experience in public transit struggles from a left activist perspective. In attendance were about two dozen of the usual cast from the left intellectual labor community.

There was nobody there speaking for TTC riders. I am a member of the TTC riders group, and one woman was here who was trying to work with TTC riders to get it "aligned" more with the "Free Transit" group, the more radical bunch. She is frustrated by TTC rider's focus on reducing fares.

Old Johnny Clarke from OCAP was there, talking about all the poor people being thrown off buses. He tried paying some old guys fare the other day, but it did not work. The guy still got thrown off. I have seen people get thrown off even after paying the fare, for annoying an asshole driver.

A problem I also have with TTC riders, although I support it, is that it won't challenge this big problem for riders; asshole drivers. I have encountered more than a few as an inveterate TTC rider. I have brought buses to a halt after standing up for people being bullied by bus drivers.

I spoke a bit. I have recently stopped getting the month passes because they are too expensive. I just use tokens. I do not know why I did not start that before. I just became so used to hopping on the streetcar to go three blocks.

What I said was that the actual riders of public transit are not much interested in the labor politics of transit jobs, or the austerity policies of governments, or the "Private Public Partnerships" of corporate vultures. They do not care who owns or profits from transit. If governments are stupid enough to be sucked into "P3"schemes, tough shit. They do not ask our opinion about how to run transit.

What riders want is for the transit system to be kept running, to be made cheap, and for the asshole drivers to be cleared out. Being timid Canadians, they do not say " do it or get lynched", which is what they should be saying. And, be prepared to act on the threat.

The gal from London seems to have been the only person there my words registered with. The rest stared into space. She has written a book, reputedly a very good once, about the struggles about the London underground.

She noted that we seem to have in Toronto people who are concerned about public transit as a political issue or football, and people who actually ride transit. The two groups are not connecting well. Her observation is correct.

As I said, what was present was the tired old lefties who have never gotten anywhere because they do not connect at all with the real people they claim to be struggling for. That is because they are into their abstract ideological debates and do not listen to what concerns real people.

I also heard that this "Greater Toronto Worker's Council" has now disbanded. One said it had clearly outlived its usefulness, had become a "Holy Roman Empire". A few groups that sprang out of it have survived. That includes both TTC riders and the Free transit group. A usual when one of these groups folds, there are lots of little pockets of money laying around for various things.

Freeing Transit

TTC riders just wants fare to be cheaper for low income people. This is dividing the desperately poor from the slightly less poor again. What must be demanded is cheaper fare for everybody. That involves getting higher levels of government back into the picture.

Free transit could be a very good idea. An internet scan of the literature on free transit systems says that these schemes have been tried in quite a few places and usually do not work. Where they do work is usually in "middle sized" cities.

However, when you look closely into why they do not work, it is usually because they were defunded. Either money was withdrawn from the system, or funding was not increased to accommodate increased ridership. "Oh, no! We had to give up on free ridership because too many people started riding." Wasn't the idea of free ridership to encourage people to use transit?

There is a problem with free transit; you will get people who do nothing but ride around all day, annoying other passengers. I mean, a lot more than you have now. This is why I do not totally support free transit, even though a great deal of the money raised in fare collection is taken up in the cost of collection. There has to be some kind of control over misuse of transit.

But more cities in more places need to give free or cheap transit a serious try. This will require a lot of political clout. One thing well shown by various transit conflicts is that you cannot isolate one side of the conflict from the other. If you want to actively encourage transit, you have to also discourage the car culture and the car lobby.

Well, we would like to push for better transit but we do not want to get into any conflicts with anyone. We want to go to heaven but we don't want to die.

If I had it all my way, transit would be free for those on a pension, welfare, and disability allowances. Everyone else should get a $50 a month pass. Public transit would be funded by a tax on vehicular traffic, instead of the other way around as we have now.

For now, I think the most realistic goal is to reduce fares by getting the province back into funding transit. That means a big fight itself against the anti-urbanism so dug in at Queen's park. I do not think these joker's mentality is much removed from the days of the family compact; cities must be kept on the tightest possible leash, local government discredited as much as possible, because that is where the trouble comes from.

can't manage it, but they want it

This is probably the reason why there is such a press on to privatize maintenance of TTCs track and rolling stock. It is not about efficiency but about control. They do not want the cities to have employees who know how to run anything.

Of course, "free enterprise" have a long reputation for demanding to be allowed to run public transit, being incapable of running it, getting it taken away, demanding it back, on and on.

One last point of interest; the lady from London and her friend where interested to hear that Andy Byford was now running TTC. He was in charge of London's underground when much of the sound and fury over P3 was happening. The friend actually dealt with him for awhile when he was a union representative and Byford was on his way up, a middle level functionary in the London transit bureaucracy.

Byford seems to have been a reasonable person to deal with. Neither of the two Brits could say anything specific about him. He is just always around, London, Australia, Toronto, when there is a push to privatize transit.

Before I go I should mention that London Lady has a name, Janine Booth, and she is currently flogging a book, called "Plundering London's Underground". The Brits call a subway an "underground". Wish they would learn to speak proper English. Ho, ho. She sold a few of her books there. Find her web site at http://www.janinebooth.com/taxonomy/term/5

The book only deals with the P3 fiasco of 1997 to 2010. But she gave us a bit of more history of the London Underground. It is the oldest subway system on earth. Until the 1930s, it was run by a private consortium, which was always a confused and disorderly arrangement.

At that time, a public board was appointed to run it. However, they appointed only people from the consortium to the board. It seems that after the world war the Brits got the management of subways right and it was well run until Thatcher's time. Since then it has been through many changes of management and has been getting worse and worse. Recently it is back under public ownership and things have improved somewhat.

The consistent pattern has been that The Underground has done better when it is under public ownership and the local government is managing it. It does worse under any involvement of private businesses, and when management is national. This is something for Toronto's transit activists to ponder.