All things private and publicThe issue of privatising the TTC has come back into the news in the last few days, and I would like to take this opportunity to announce my opinion on the subject:
I don't care.
Some background, after the jump:
First, we have to be clear about what is and what is not on the table. Selling the transit agency to a private, for-profit company is not on the table. What appears to be on the table is contracting out the operation and maintenance to a private entity. The public body will continue to control all policy issues, and the private operator's only job will be to drive and/or maintain the vehicles and infrastructure. The level of service and cost to ride are completely irrelevant to this discussion.
There may be cost savings to be had, but it is also quite possible that the cost to operate the system now is fairly competitive with what the private sector can offer. If anything, contracting-out will bring cost certainty, as the terms of the contract will specify exactly how much the private operator will be paid over the life of the contract. But, there is a risk that at renewal time the cost of the contract will sky rocket. We may be trading small yearly fare increases for large ones every few years. There risk of a strike is not lowered, and there is a risk that the operator could simply go bankrupt one day.
So here's why I don't care:
The reason for this debate is the public sentiment that the Union is the source of the dissatisfaction we have with the transit system. "If we just break up the union," people say, "we'll get them to act more professionally." Let's not kid ourselves. Cost, in this debate, is secondary to customer service. Every agency has a front-end (the face the customer sees) and a back-end (everything else). We, the people, have a right to demand a high-quality front-end, but we don't need to care about how the back end works. The message to our leaders should be "We want deliverables X, Y, and Z. You are the experts. You figure out how best to give them to us. Go!"
The process matters, but mostly to the planners and administrators implementing it. At the end of the day, most transit users care only about the experience of using transit - just as they don't care how their clothes are dry cleaned or how their cell phone works. The process transparent, of course, but I don't see the public vendetta against the Union continuing if the level of customer service on the transit system met expectations.
That why I, a transit user, don't really care if the TTC is privatized or not.