Toronto stands to lose with subway privatization

By Frank Grimaldi, President, Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113

Toronto City Council, in a 30 to 6 decision on May 23, adopted a motion calling for all transit in the city, including subways, to remain public and continue being operated and maintained by the Toronto Transit Commission.

Despite the motion, and with days to go in the provincial election campaign, Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford have not backed away from their shared vision of uploading the TTC Subway to the province, which is bad news for Toronto.

Fresh off new revelations by the province’s Financial Accountability Officer that the sell-off of Hydro One will end up being $1.8 billion more expensive than it would have been to take out a loan to finance our infrastructure needs, the Ontario Liberals and PC’s are poised to move forward with another privatization boondoggle that will cost the public dearly.

This time the TTC Subway is in their crosshairs.

The Liberals, in their 2018 Budget, have included a measure that would strip away local control over Toronto’s subway system and empower the provincial government to privatize the service. Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford has mused about doing the same.

How will the uploading of the TTC’s subway service lead to privatization?

Under the proposed upload, control of the day-to-day operations, maintenance and future planning of Toronto’s subway system would undoubtedly go to Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that is unaccountable to the City of Toronto.

While on its surface Metrolinx may seem intended to integrate transit, the reality is they are systematically undermining decades of public transit infrastructure and service in order to convert transit dollars into private profit.

Make no mistake – Metrolinx is in the business of privatization. A good example close to home is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is currently under construction. Metrolinx awarded a 30-year contract for the Eglinton Crosstown to Crosslinx Transit Solutions, which is owned by some of Canada’s largest private construction and engineering companies: Aecon, EllisDon, SNC-Lavalin and ACS Dragados.

This unaccountable, private consortium then gave a 30-year contract to Bombardier to maintain the new line. How is it in the public interest to reward Bombardier’s terrible performance with the TTC’s streetcars by giving them more transit contracts? The public appears to have had no say. In its adopted motion last week, Toronto City Council is calling for the maintenance work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to return to the TTC.

Mayor John Tory, who was not present for the vote on the motion to keep transit public, should be concerned that uploading the subway lines to the province is an attack on our local democracy. Why would we want Metrolinx, an agency unaccountable to the City of Toronto and its citizens, and its private sector partners, making decisions for Toronto? Toronto needs to keep a strong voice – and control – over our subway system, which is the cornerstone of our city’s public transit system.

Just as the Hydro One scandal has only produced unfulfilled promises and rate hikes for consumers, the privatization of the TTC would likely lead to fare increases, service cuts, and the slashing of worker wages and benefits. How many times will we allow ourselves to be fooled?

Even if we accept that financial efficiency is really the driving concern here, public-private partnerships rarely deliver on that selling point. The publicly-owned TTC Subway is the only part of the system that breaks even or makes a profit on operating costs. This is also true for the HSR B-Line in Hamilton, a route curiously chosen by Metrolinx for their future privately-operated LRT.

We absolutely agree that we are in need of regionalized and coordinated transit that will help our riders get to where they need go in an affordable, reliable and convenient way. There is simply no truth here or abroad that privatization is the way to deliver that. We were sold the same story with Hydro One.

We have had enough of this madness. That is why the Amalgamated Transit Union Canada has launched KeepTransitPublic.ca, a campaign to raise awareness of these substandard privatization deals. That is why ATU Local 113, which represents 11,000 public transit workers in Toronto, will stand strong against any effort to take the TTC out of public hands.