Transit Riders of Toronto, Unite!

Transit Riders of Toronto, Unite!

I found myself having an unexpected reaction to this past weekend’s transit strike: I was glad there was no sign of the TTC anywhere. No buses, no streetcars, no workers, no management. Over the course of the past four weeks, everything about the negotiations—the demands, the strike threats, the nail-biting, the coverage, the frequent Bob Kinnear appearances on CP24, the rare, pale and ghostly Gary Webster sightings—has left me hot under my white collar. Some commentators, most notably this one, felt that Friday night’s hasty job action represented the moment the TTC employees’ inner kettle finally hit the boiling point. It was the moment mine boiled dry. I was happy to have it all disappear for a couple of days.

The TTC, we are routinely told, enjoys the best fare box recovery of any major transit system in North America. Whereas other agencies may manage to recoup only about 60 per cent of their costs from riders, the TTC pulls in approximately 80 per cent. What this means is that we TTC riders are fools, and everyone takes us for fools. For weeks, union and management negotiated without any commitment from Queen’s Park to upload operating expenses for transit. The only money they had to talk about, really, was the money that their riders drop into the little glass case. The union asked for a guarantee that they will be the highest-paid transit workers in the GTA no matter what, and management, like Stockholm Syndrome–addled hostages, gave it to them. Then the union had the gumption to vote it down and return to the bargaining table with a list of new demands. The eventual bill for the collective agreement, whatever it turns out to be, will likely be paid at every fare box visit by Toronto commuters, the vast majority of whom, I am quite certain, are not the highest-paid whatever-it-is-they-do in the GTA.

I never expected the union to defend the interests of TTC commuters. I did, however, expect it of politicians. What I witnessed instead was stony silence, presumably for fear of upsetting the union and precipitating a strike. So much for that strategy. A couple of months ago, Mayor David Miller’s Fiscal Review Panel wrote that “the city and its unions must restrain the growth of average compensation in future labour contract negotiations.” This snippet of common sense lies at the tip of every TTC rider’s tongue, and I would have expected TTC chair Adam Giambrone to stand up and say those very words over and over again, to bang that drum every day, so that riders knew that someone was sticking up for them during the negotiations.

And not just Giambrone, but all the TTC commissioners, and the mayor’s opponents, too. Where are Denzil Minnan-Wong and Karen Stintz and Adam Vaughan in moments like this? Why did all these people—the kind who normally can’t shut themselves up—go mute? This is how politicians lose public confidence and earn their bad name: not when one of their number tells a lie or gets caught with a hand in the till, but when a lot of them identify so strongly with existing system machinery that none will say the words that are on everyone’s mind.

Clever little activist whippersnapper Dave Meslin is planning to start up the Toronto Cyclists Union, a membership-driven organization of cyclists that will cut through the nonsense and advocate for the needs of cyclists. Good idea. Let’s have one for TTC riders, too: an organization made up of Metropass holders and regular riders that will advocate unfailingly for lower fares, rider safety, new technology and better service, and that really doesn’t care how these goals adversely affect anyone else. TTC riders need a union of their own that will stand on the sidelines during collective bargaining and scream at the top of its lungs, in the hopes of curtailing the Stockholm Syndrome in the hotel conference room.

In the meantime, might as well toss those adorable little TTC station buttons into the trash. Toronto no longer needs the naive fandom of a TTC Optimists’ Club. It needs some rider militancy.