Can privatization solve the GTA’s transit woes?

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Sabrina Almeida

It’s a great option to have. Thanks to private transit travelling to New York from Jersey City was a breeze during our weekend trip. While these buses to NYC run at 15-minute intervals, city-run services are an hour apart. We used the service twice a day and were able to reach our destination in half an hour both times. Return service from New York was almost dreamlike with buses leaving as soon as they filled up. Demand being high, the wait was hardly 5 minutes. Sheer luxury for those of us living in GTA cities like Oakville, Mississauga and Brampton where public transport in many areas is poor if not non-existent.

The NJ locals advised us to use the private-run transportation which seems to be very popular with them. Buses come in different sizes ranging from mini to full-length and the system is overseen by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure compliance. Reports suggest fares are slightly cheaper than public transit. What’s more you can pay in cash and don’t need exact change. Single fare to New York was $3.50 and well worth it.

Living in the north west corner of Mississauga where bus service is sporadic (except for a few routes), it would be impossible to get around the city without a car. Currently commuting to either of the two GO stations in my area is not easy. Also, getting to Toronto by public transport during off peak hours is a gruelling whole-day affair. A round trip which involves a million connections took one of my guests more than 5 hours. (And a round trip to Square One police station took him 3 hours) Having come from Mumbai which has a strong network of public transport even to its far flung suburbs, the GTA all but resembled an underdeveloped village. Unable to afford housing in Toronto, which is better connected, he’d be forced to live in one of its cheaper suburbs and incur the cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining a vehicle to get around. I think that put him off living in Canada.

Many arguments have been written for and against the privatization of public transportation. The most obvious disadvantage being that private operators might not be willing to take on less profitable routes. A two-tiered system where the busiest routes are operated by the city and the others by private services could level the playing field. More routes, better connections and frequency offered by private services might also encourage more residents to hop on the bus which would boost the operator’s bottom line. Cities could save thousands of dollars which could be diverted to other high-need areas as well as operational, maintenance and staffing headaches.

Other than New Jersey, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver and some areas in California including Los Angeles have contracted out all or a portion of their transport services. Many other US states are expected to follow their lead. It seems like a win-win situation for local authorities and commuters.

Closer home the highly-touted Toronto transit network is reportedly losing ridership as a result of which services are becoming difficult to maintain. Outlying suburbs face the same challenge albeit for slightly different reasons. Poor service, diminishing use and consequent routes cuts are a vicious cycle prompting many to switch to ridesharing services.

Private mass transit operators could help improve public transport services without adding to city budgets as well as help reduce the gridlock and pollution. Route planning and service quality could be overseen by local authorities. York’s Viva bus rapid transit service which uses the public-private partnership model is a poster case of how this might work.

Most of New Jersey’s Jitney bus drivers rent a bus by the day. The fares they collect are their take-home pay. Others own their own bus. Jitneys have to meet requirements such as vehicle maintenance, proper insurance, commercial drivers’ licenses, drug tests, and hours-of-service limits for drivers. Something similar to what rideshare operators are doing.

No doubt my recommendation is based on a single route (a very busy one) and experience but I’m willing to run with it. I’d love to be able to leave the car at home and use public transport instead. I’m sure you would too! – CINEWS

Comments: 1

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  1. This is a horrible idea.

    A) this article doesn’t address why public transportation can’t simply apply whatever ideas private transportation is doing.

    B) 3.50 USD would be a massive rare increase to Toronto’s fare prices.

    C) how on earth would private companies make money off of taking the least profitable routes? That’s a recipe for increased pricing on lesser routes and a nightmare for people who would cross the public/private routes in one trip.

    D) you’re not addressing the fact that public transportation is massively underfunded in Ontario. Let’s actually fund it first before we give it away.