Hamil­ton tran­sit doesn’t need pri­va­ti­za­tion

An in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion would be ac­count­able to the peo­ple of Hamil­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - ERIC TUCK Eric Tuck is pres­i­dent of Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union, Lo­cal 107

An arm’s length com­mis­sion would solve HSR’s prob­lems — not pri­va­ti­za­tion.

As an HSR bus driver for al­most 29 years, and the pres­i­dent of ATU 107 — which rep­re­sents HSR em­ploy­ees — I’m all too fa­mil­iar with HSR’s short­com­ings.

Sched­ules haven’t kept up with de­mands. Large parts of the city are un­der-served. Hol­i­days, week­ends and spe­cial-event ser­vice is of­ten lack­ing.

The HSR, un­der city man­age­ment, clearly does not work as well as it could and has not kept up with the grow­ing need for tran­sit in our city. Whether this is a prob­lem of bad hir­ing choices by HR man­age­ment, or med­dling from city bu­reau­crats, the re­sult is the same. The HSR needs to be a lot bet­ter than it is today.

But just be­cause you don’t like the di­rec­tion of the school board, doesn’t mean the solution is to pri­va­tize public schools.

The Lib­er­als have al­ready pri­va­tized Hy­dro. Should we add pri­va­tized health care, too? No.

The HSR be­longs to us. All of us. We own it. And be­cause we own it, we can change it.

If we choose pri­va­ti­za­tion over mak­ing our public tran­sit ser­vice bet­ter, your votes will mean noth­ing in terms of the ser­vice you get. Your LRT ser­vice will be de­fined not by whether it is good for the peo­ple of Hamil­ton, but by the need to con­tin­u­ously shrink the bot­tom line for prof­its that will be de­liv­ered to dis­tant share­hold­ers who you will never meet.

Pri­va­ti­za­tion of the op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance of the LRT will leave Hamil­to­ni­ans with no con­trol over it, yet still leave us re­spon­si­ble if and when prob­lems arise.

Prof­its must in­crease year af­ter year. The only way this can be done is by re­duc­ing ser­vice, re­duc­ing safety and in­creas­ing fares. Rid­er­ship goes down or, worse, ac­ci­dents hap­pen. When costs ex­ceed prof­its, pri­vate com­pa­nies de­clare bankruptcy and walk away hav­ing made them­selves richer and a city poorer. The mess left be­hind is ul­ti­mately felt and paid for by cit­i­zens.

It’s easy enough to crit­i­cize the HSR, but do­ing some­thing about it will take con­vic­tion and courage. If, as many crit­ics have pointed out, the cur­rent re­la­tion­ship be­tween HSR and the city isn’t work­ing well, then per­haps an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion — like the TTC in Toronto — is the best way for­ward. We had one in the 1970s — The Hamil­ton-Went­worth Tran­sit Com­mis­sion — but it was re­pealed by the On­tario gov­ern­ment to al­low coun­cil to take di­rect con­trol.

An in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion could be com­prised of elected of­fi­cials, cit­i­zen ap­pointees and other vested in­ter­ests, such as ATU and tran­sit ad­vo­cacy groups. It would re­move the HSR from di­rect po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion and would make it more ac­count­able to the peo­ple of Hamil­ton, who are the only share­hold­ers for whom a lo­cal public tran­sit provider should pro­duce re­sults.

We have the power to de­mand bet­ter tran­sit in this city, and by keep­ing the LRT run un­der the HSR, we have the power to make the whole sys­tem bet­ter. World class. Is that a power you want taken away?

We can use this his­toric op­por­tu­nity to de­mand bet­ter public tran­sit across all of Hamil­ton. Or, we can hand the HSR’s largest fare gen­er­at­ing line over to a profit-mo­ti­vated pri­vate con­sor­tium, leav­ing the HSR weaker and the over­all sys­tem com­pro­mised with less demo­cratic con­trol and over­sight.

For us, the choice is clear.

By keep­ing the LRT run un­der the HSR, we have the power to make the whole sys­tem bet­ter.

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

An HSR bus us­ing its dis­abled wheel­chair ac­cess. Union chief Eric Tuck ar­gues the city needs an amal­ga­mated tran­sit com­mis­sion, not pri­vate op­er­a­tion of the LRT sys­tem.

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