The New Struggle for Public Transit
Publisher: The Socialist Project
Date Written: 09/04/2014
Year Published: 2014
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20493
In an argument against privatization of Toronto's transit system, Rosenfeld draws on Booth's examination of the ongoing situation in London since the city had turned over responsibility of planning, operating, and budgeting transit to private companies and have since suffered from economic decline and inefficiency.
As we in Canada (and especially Toronto) face the painful and seemingly never-ending process of developing actual projects for public transit expansion, the drumbeat of calls for privatization in its various forms is inescapably present. Indeed, there is a failure even to fund properly the existing public transit network in Toronto and other Canadian cities. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) network proposed for Toronto, as part of the plan of the provincial government agency Metrolinx, has integrated a Public Private Partnership (P3) structure for a 30 year maintenance contract on the new light rail lines on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). New projects associated with the federal government and the Ontario provincial governments have "alternative funding mechanisms" (AFM), the term being invoked for P3s and privatization (given the miserable record of P3s so far).
With a series of elections pending and an ongoing ferment about transit issues, a number of commentators featured in the local Toronto media, for example, have been touting the wondrous powers of private ownership to help deal with the fiscal woes associated with current transit constraints in Canada's largest city.
But if there ever was an instructive set of lessons to teach us why privatization and, in particular, P3s are decidedly not a solution to the challenge of paying for, planning and operating and maintaining public transit, one can find it in the recent book, Plundering London Underground: New Labour, Private Capital and Public Service, 1997-2010 (London: Merlin Press, 2013, 240pp), by Janine Booth. In it, the writer -- an activist with the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transit Workers) -- details the outrageous failure of the farming out of London's fabled underground transit system's maintenance and construction work to private corporations.
In the process, Booth provides a panoramic narrative of the complex interaction between the political, economic, social and technical elements that shape the operation of London's underground public transit system, always in the context of history and class struggle. And, in the rather tawdry story of the ultimately failed experiment with P3s, she deconstructs the real structures and forces underlying the massive rip-off by corporate consortia of public resources, in collaboration with a Labour Party leadership and bureaucracy that was desperate to ingratiate itself with private capital.
Yet, in all of this, there is the remarkable and continuing opposition of the RMT and other unionized workers (along with Booth's own decidedly socialist and democratic alternative vision for public transit). This is part of an emerging global movement for free public transit, including the Free and Accessible Transit Campaign in Toronto.