Thursday, January 21, 2010

Broken Transit

Have you ever had one of those “ah ha” moments? You’ve just figured it out, now it’s just a matter of attacking the problem with your newly conceived solution.

That is what must have been going through the mind of the young chairman who runs the TTC (the People’s Transit System) in Toronto. The young chairman has been racking his brains trying to figure out why complaints against the TTC have spiked in recent months after a fare hike with no improvement in service. Apparently the people using the TTC were expecting better service for more money (not unreasonable), and not what they have been getting. Service has worsened over the years, long waits, crowded vehicles, delays and more delays and then a fare hike and a year later another fare hike and so on. It’s no wonder there are complaints.

So what was our chairman’s “ah ha” moment, simple, lets ask the “private sector” how we can improve service, and reduce complaints. Brilliant; I call that irony. Here we have a monopoly run by government that colludes with unions to set wages and fees based on the needs of the government and the union members with very little regard given to the customers – the transit riders.

In this mornings newspaper the TTC announced that it will establish a blue-ribbon panel (unpaid), led by a consultant (paid) to teach the TTC how to better serve its customers. Imagine how long such a poor business would exist if it were in the private sector, if it had to compete with another transit system. I know that is a heretical concept, but strangely private sector businesses will not hire governments to teach them how to treat customers, its not going to happen.
There is an obvious solution; it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be popular, and it’s not going to be pretty, but eventually the customer will be better served and the city will have fewer problems. Toronto should divest itself of the TTC (and other cities should do likewise of their transit systems), and ultimately allow competition. I know that’s not going to happen, not yet at least but a sort of competitive system already exists – taxis. Oh wait a minute; they are more expensive for the riders. Why? Because government regulates this particular private sector business by charging outrageous licensing fees to the cabbies. Catch 22, government has got you coming and going…..literally.

There is a simple principle that should be reexamined here. “Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another;” so said Nobel economic laureate F. A. Hayek. Good advice we need more choice.

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