Should Toronto’s subway system be taken over by the province? Lets have a vote.

Doug Ford has a plan to take over Torontos subway system its not a secret plan, just a confidential one.That.

Doug Ford has a plan to take over Torontos subway system its not a secret plan, just a confidential one.

That shouldnt come as a complete surprise. The taking over, dismantling and selling off of public assets to private interests tends to happen behind a veneer of covertness. Does Highway 407 ring a bell?

There are valid reasons for keeping details of some government financial information confidential. There is a science behind dealing with assets worth billions of dollars. But there is also a fundamental question that must be discussed before any of the technical stuff: who benefits? Should it be the private sector or the general public that profits from public assets?

Thats a straightforward question, the kind that can easily be asked in a referendum. Ontarians would be able to make an informed choice based on recent experiences with the privatization of public transportation.

For example, the provincial transit agency Metrolinx grants private consortiums rights over the construction, maintenance and operation of transit projects. If we compare Metrolinxs GO Train and the UP Express services with Torontos TTC, we find a stark difference a public transit agency trying to provide seamless rides at reasonable fares and a public-private partnership offering high-end services at premium prices.

The same thing happened the last time the province entered into a public-private partnership with another transportation asset Highway 407.

The Ontario government leased the road built by public dollars to alleviate traffic on the 401 for $3.1 billion. Financial analysts estimated the lease was worth more than $12 billion at the time of the deal. A more conservative estimate put the price of the road at $6.3 billion only 2.5 years after the signing of the lease.

Tolls originally approved only to cover construction costs became permanent, and the lease to a private owner allowed it to increase tolls by 2 per cent above inflation every year for 15 years. In 2004 the private operator tried to hike tolls by 7.7 per cent, triggering the Ontario government to launch legal mitigation.

In the most recent Transportation Tomorrow Survey, 43 per cent of respondents who use Highway 407 have a household income of $125,000 or more. In contrast, survey respondents in the below $60,000 income bracket comprise only 9 per cent of 407 users.

To sum up, we paid for it, leased it for cheap, had to engage lawyers to control toll prices, yet most of us never use it because of sticker shock prices. Thats Ontario’s experience with privatization of transportation services in a nutshell.

Its one thing for a highway to become a designated roadway for the better off, but theres no such leeway for public transit. For many people who can’t afford a car, its the only way to get around.

So should the TTC be uploaded to the province, where it will likely become part of confidential privatization schemes, or should it remain under the public control of the City of Toronto? Lets put it to a vote.

A referendum may sound like overkill. But much is at stake. The only other question is, do we have a government open to listen? That may be a challenge.

Ricardo Tranjan is a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ontario office.


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