Thursday, September 10, 2009

The following is from the website of the Teamsters Rail in Canada. Yeah, I know, but as the following article says they are reporting for a group of unions (who no doubt have differing ideas about solutions) who work for the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission which oversees transport in northern Ontario. The response is basically a statement of how important bus and rail transport is to the North. Somewhat a motherhood issue, even if the following is a somewhat veiled advocacy of public ownership in the transport industry. Others, such as our local NDP MP here in East Kildonan, Jim Maloway, are considerably less circumspect. You can read about Maloway advocating a provincially owned bus company analogous to Saskatchewan's STC HERE. While I disagree with Jim that this is the best solution it is indeed one possible way out, and a considerably better one than caving in to Greyhound's demands for free government money to keep running their buses. One also has to give Maloway full points for candor, something that the statement from the Ontario unions seems to lack.
Greyhound never achieved any gold stars for managerial acuity before it was bought out two years ago by the Scottish FirstGroup. The new owners have demonstrated that they have little interest in this one tiny piece of their empire, in actually making it a well run profitable company. What they have decided instead is to let it coast and advance it as an ante in a poker game with government, hoping that this will lead their opponent to fold and turn over money that will hardly be used for improvements in the local business. Nope, the money will be used for further acquisitions elsewhere, and a few years down the road First Group/Greyhound will be back, cap in hand, to government for even more money.
Jim Maloway's solution does have the advantage that it could be tied to other economic stimulus, such as bus purchases from local manufacturers. Under private ownership, especially a transnational such as Greyhound, there is no guarantee of such an advantage.
Personally, however, I still think that the solution of cooperatively owned buslines is the better one, if for no other reason than a large government monopoly such as an STC clone, would still leave smaller communities at the mercy of an alien (to them) bureaucracy that has little idea of local needs. The needs of some communities that are presently provided by Greyhound may actually be able to be filled at less cost. Certainly without the cost of sending profit off to Scotland. Yes, there would need to be a transition period for this as local communities met, organized, discussed, negotiated with the unions, Greyhound and the government. There would also, however, be a transition period needed to set up a public utility. In either case Greyhound should be presented with the counterthreat of declaring the bus service as "essential service" with all that implies in terms of their ability to carry out their threat. Long distance bus service is, indeed, just as much an essential service as are many of the union groups who have been legislated back to work over the years across Canada.
Jim Maloway's solution may seem the better because of its familiarity, especially to those of us (like Molly) who hail from Saskatchewan. The cooperative model, however, is not unknown. Much of the bus service across Latin America is actually organized as cooperatives. Even here in Canada we have the example of the Strait Area Transit Co-op in Nova Scotia. It is small, and in some cases a very small operation would be all that was needed, and one that could be provided much less expensively than Greyhound can. In other cases communities along a given line might find it to their benefit to cooperate, sharing costs, services and job opportunities. It can be done because it has been done elsewhere.
The most likely outcome, of course, is that the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba will fold in this game and fork over the first of what will likely be some very hefty subsidies as the years go by. Greyhound/First Group will then go on to put the squeeze on other provinces and territories, all of which will be more likely to cave in after the first line has fallen. The managers will cackle as the funds are shipped overseas to buy up some other companies elsewhere in the world, and the local service will be allowed to deteriorate. Once you start giving the company money, of course, it will have a huge incentive to let rural service get worse and worse. Each degeneration will lead to yet another call for a bailout. This is perhaps the worst of the options. Total deregulation, without the support of either public ownership or a cooperative option, will be something of a shock to remote communities. It would strip away many of Greyhound's claims about certain lines being unprofitable as others would be able to make a go if it, but there would remain some lines that, while necessary to communities, simply cannot deliver profit at a desired rate of return. For these the non-profit option would be a necessity. Non-profit wouldn't mean that they couldn't go beyond breaking even, but say a thousand dollar surplus at year's end is success to a small bus coop while it is dismal failure to a behemoth such a Greyhound.
But enough off my opinions. Here's the article.
Unionists call for public action on Greyhound bus cuts:
Published: September 9th 2009 Source: Ontario Northland General Chairperson Association
Erosion of intercity public transportation in the North cause for concern
NORTH BAY – The Ontario Northland General Chairpersons’ Association has grave concerns over the continued erosion of public transportation service in Northern Ontario.
Over the past decade, the trend of private sector companies, as well as Ontario Northland, has been to reduce intercity bus and rail service across Northern Ontario, with some communities losing service entirely.
“While Southern and Central Ontario's passenger transportation options have greatly increased or matured, the residents and communities in Northern Ontario continue to suffer slow erosion of their services. From Parry Sound to Wawa to Hearst to Sault Ste. Marie and through to Thunder Bay, there are very few communities in the North that have not had reductions of intercity bus or rail service,” said GCA spokesperson Brian Kelly.
“Communities like Chapleau, Foleyet and Manitoulin Island have lost their bus services altogether. With the recent Greyhound announcement many other communities in the North are on the brink of losing their public transportation service,” continued Kelly.
“Intercity bus service is inexpensive, efficient and convenient. Quite often it is the only service available in rural areas and small communities, including many First Nations. Bus service is eco-friendly, provides effective feeder service to other forms of public transportation like rail and air, and provides access to medical services in large communities, transports persons with disabilities, students, vacationers, seniors and many others,” said Kelly.
“Rail passenger service provides all of the above but also is a vehicle for tourism opportunities connecting Toronto, Canada’s largest source of domestic tourism with remote wilderness and indigenous cultural tourism. With the increased focus on environmental impact, and the desire to support Northern Ontario tourism, the importance of preserving public transportation has never been more crucial”, continued Kelly.
“What Northern Ontario needs is a long-term, integrated and socially responsible plan for transportation options in the region to stop this erosion of service. With provincial government direction and approval, the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission could become the province’s transportation and communications authority for the North,” added Kelly.
“The CGA believes the erosion of public transportation services, rail and bus can be halted. We seek the support of all communities and residents to let the provincial government know that public transportation on Northern Ontario is a vital service and must be renewed, expanded and protected,” concluded Kelly.
The CGA is made up of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, United Steelworkers and Canadian Auto Workers unions who represent all unionized employees at the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

1 comment:

Toronto realtor Julie said...

Well and reasonably written(your part, I mean). You have some good points. I am quite curious about the future of public transport in Ontario and whether it will improve at all.

Regards, Julie.