Tory Plan: Fire the Managers

According to today’s Toronto Star, PC leader John Tory’s solution to GO Transit’s on-time performance problems is to fire managers if they cannot meet the targets.  Although this is a refreshing change from the usual right-wing habit of blaming everything on the unions, it is no more realistic or responsible a platform.

GO Transit operates in the unenviable position where much of the physical plant is not under its control.  If CNR doesn’t have enough switch heaters, or decides that their freight train is more important than GO’s service, there is very little GO can do about it.

Yes, operating contracts could contain penalty clauses for poor performance, but I doubt that CN would ever sign anything with draconian penalties that would actually affect their profits.  Indeed, performance management of “private partners” is a big problem and there is a balancing act between holding the private sector’s feet to the fire and reaching a point where they don’t bother trying to meet their obligations.

We need a much better public accounting and explanation of the reasons why trains don’t run on time so that everyone can discuss what areas (a) provide lots of opportunity for improvement and (b) why some problems will always be with us.

How often is GO service blocked by freight activities?  How often does a train not run because there is no working equipment?  How often does the crew show up late for work?  How often is there a problem with the track or signals?  How often is there a cow on the tracks?

Each of these problems needs its own approach, and there will be different issues on each line. 

John Tory’s simplistic “solution” shifts the blame from where it really belongs — at Queen’s Park and the decades of underfunding — to the managers who try to run an organization under difficult times. 

Tory needs to own up to his own party’s legacy, to changes in funding and downloading of costs to municipalities, and say what he would change.  The Liberals may have left some Harris policies in place for their own convenience, but if there are things Tory would change, he should say so.  He should acknowledge the damage that was done the last time his party ran Ontario and set himself clearly apart from that regime.

15 thoughts on “Tory Plan: Fire the Managers

  1. Uh-ooohhhh! Looks like we’ve got (yet another) PC leader with no clue about public transit. Do you suppose he ever uses it? (Even Arnie has alternative energy Hummers, maybe that’s what Tory’s Tories think will help solve the enivronmental transit problem).
    I fear a return to Harris-o-nomics.

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  2. There are plenty of reasons why I dislike GO Transit, and would be grounds for new leadership (resistance to regional rail, or the attitude of being more or less a parking authority than a transit provider, a determination to dissolve the university student fare discount, poor service levels), but I really think it is ridiculous to fire the managers over late trains. GO has been slowly trying to address this problem with track expansion and rehabilitation, switch improvments, the new Don yard, the new locomotives that will be coming.

    You can’t blame GO too much for CN’s incompetance or CP blocking the tracks at West Toronto, for example. That said, GO’s public relations and customer service could use a kick in the behind – if GO actually handled the situtations with better communications, more responsive customer relation plans and contingency plans, than at least commtuers would be a little more understanding.

    Tory might be right, that GO could use a shake-up, but he’s right for the wrong reasons. Better to lead and want change than to find fall guys to woo 905 votes.

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  3. Hi Steve:-

    I agree that Mr. Tory hasn’t identified the big picture in this complex arrangement that GO has with its hosts. The managers may be a part of the problem, but they definitely have their hands tied with underfunding and previous government meddling. I’ll give him this though, he has at least opened a dialogue that now needs to be made reasonable and workable for all of us be it taxpayer, rider or shareholder.

    In this day and age, maybe CN might go for a different agreement with GO, if they have taken the CP Rail attitude of:- ‘If you pay for it we’ll accomodate’! Since the CNR now has to be responsible to its shareholders and not merely its swayable, illinformed political bosses prior to privitasation, they may be interested in making a buck or two and take a page from the CPR’s dealings with GO trains.

    CP Rail has said all along that they’re not in the railway business per say, they’re in the business of making money first. To do this, you maximise what you can get out of what physical plant you own. Therefore their accomodating stance with GO. You pay for the third track to Milton, we’ll entertain your trains, otherwise, its hike time away from the bargaining table!

    It may prove costly, but that’s what negotiations are for. Maybe GO has to take over all maintenance on CNR’s plant to make it passenger train reliable. Via might be persuaded to buy into sharing expenses in this too if it means better on-time performance for them in the GO area overlap. Maybe GO needs to offer to do it the other way around by having their dispatchers take over freight dispatching on the affected routes with GO accepting responsibility for CN’s trains if held. Loads of details come to mind and those are the topics that need to be addressed to make it work.

    CNR may prove unreasonable, true; but good PR may persuade them to bargain in good faith. It will need high class negotiators on the Government side to make it work. They too must come to the table having intimate details of all of CN’s other Transit Authorities agreements who run on their tracks. Obviously it is an optomistic dream that I hold but this dream is based on the successes GO has had to date. Since John Tory has started, let the discussions continue for it’s now time to massage the kinks out!

    Dennis Rankin

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  4. We suffered through 8 years of Harris/Eves government. We do not want a repeat of those 8 years. Given that John Tory is saying such stupid things about GO Transit, I think that he is no different. His transportation strategy appears to be to kill public transit and extend the 407 to Ottawa. If he gets elected, I’ll be protesting in front of Queen’s Park.

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  5. I wonder if Tory will go through with this promise, and if there will actually be GO officials fired. If CNR is behind these problems (which I think we’ve established very well; thank you Steve), I’m also curious to see what pretexts will come up. I also doubt that the public will ever find out about the history of transit in the GTA, but it will create a lot of satisfaction and look very proactive to fire some people. There was a time when leaders proposed downtown expressways instead, but despite the technical improvement I don’t think we have the luxury of waiting several more election cycles for realities to sink in. This has to change.

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  6. Well, in Mr. Tory’s defence, this election will be won or lost in the 905, who basically fall for this simplistic logic. No one has yet to convince me that a logical, calm, reasoned debate can ever be had on any issue with the electorate.

    That political reality aside, this is short-sighted to the nth degree.

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  7. Totally agree. (except with the silly comment above – Conservative governments in Ontario made possible Toronto’s entire subway system, even Sheppard, which was paid for by, yes, Mike Harris). My old boss (I won’t say where – but he was certainly not left wing by any stretch) once suggested that the only way to address this physical plant issue was for the province to effectively nationalize the GO corridors in the GTA, since GO is now the primary user of most of them, and let the railways lease track time instead of the other way around. Unlikely to happen but the current situation is especially bizarre when the railways benefit from government investment in their tracks (a la Lakeshore) but don’t contribute any money of their own.

    Steve: The “good” Tories like Bill Davis started Ontario in the transit subsidy business, and the “bad” Tories like Harris ended it. The Liberals have still not undone the financial disaster Harris visited on cities and on transit in particular. Until John Tory says he will do something concrete, and sooner than some vague “five year” promise, the sooner he will have some credibility.

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  8. Even the 905 was hurt by Harris’ cuts. As soon as people realize that John Tory = Harris, they won’t vote for him.

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  9. I don’t know if this was John Tory’s plan but I read an article last week that the GO Trains have expansion planned to go to Niagara Region and also one to Brantford. My parents live in St. Catharines and when I travel by GO to see them I take the Go from here in T.O. to its terminus in Hamilton and then transfer to a Niagara bound bus to stop in St. Catharines. If the GO was expanded to Niagara it would eliminate this transfer I have to make.

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  10. [Re : GO Plans for Brantford and Niagara.]

    Via rail services this area already.

    I grew up in Niagara and personally I do not want to see GO transit expand to the area. We all thought it was nuts to consider Niagara to Toronto a reasonable commute. It is not.

    Some made the Trek to Hamilton and back for jobs but most people lived and worked within the region. That is why it is small. If you had to leave the region for work like I did, we moved away.

    If Niagara becomes a bedroom region for commuters they will be forever saddled with development issues and skyrocketing taxes.

    GTA ends at Hamilton and that is far as it should go.

    I realize this view is probably not very popular but it is what I think.

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  11. More accountability for public servants might not be a bad idea, just as long as you give them the resources to meet their goals. After all, shouldn’t they have already thought of every good suggestion in this thread and a few more?

    If operating arrangements need to be changed, or if the government needs to acquire the tracks those are changes that must be led by the GO bosses. Your average commuter can’t change the system, I can’t see why CN/CP would care too much, and politicians are …. well politicians, so that leaves the GO bosses as the obvious proponents of these changes.

    So yes, they should be fired if they screw up repeatedly or consistently fail to improve the system. I don’t think that’s asked a lot – after all I’d be fired if I consistently messed up jobs and alienated clients and I’m sure most other readers would be too. I’m not suggesting that the first time a train runs late we clean house, but after a long consistent slide in service standards and without any signs that the problem is improving we should identify the management problems and replace as needed with people who possess the skills and the will to make the necessary changes. Now that I think of it, shouldn’t that be the way everyone’s job works – you do it reasonably well or you’re out.

    Also, I’ve got to second Karem’s opinion. Extending GO to Barrie is bad enough, lets not punch too many corridors across the greenbelt lest it become another joke like the greenbelt-cum-hydro corridor in Markham.

    Steve: One thing I will say in defence of Managers is that often their political masters don’t want to be reminded how little attention they are paying to things like good service, or how much money should be spent to keep the lights on. If reports start coming out in plain brown envelopes that embarrassed Queen’s Park or City Hall about the stupidity of some transit plans (not naming any names, of course), people might find their job prospects limited. Cooking the books to make someone’s pet project look good, or to underplay the impact of cutbacks, is a long-standing tradition.

    The irony is that management has to be careful not to do their jobs too well lest they be fired. For example, would John Tory really like to be told that his proposed spending comes nowhere near close enough to funding the infrastructure deficit in transit by, say, the head of TTC or GO Transit, let alone someone in the Ministry of Transportation? If Mike Harris were still in office, anyone who proposed increased public sector spending on transit would find they had “volunteered” themself as a cost cutting measure.

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  12. “As soon as people realize that John Tory = Harris, they won’t vote for him.”

    Based on what, exactly?

    Steve: Until the Tory caucus and John Tory in particular disavow the mantra that tax cuts and cutbacks in public service are the solution for everything, I won’t believe there is any real change. Tory often shows up with Bill Davis hoping to benefit from his reputation as a right-winger with a heart, but where does the rest of his caucus (and potential candidates) sit on the political spectrum?

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  13. Fair enough, but I would argue Mike Harris wouldn’t have come that close to beating David Miller four years ago, even if there was no political baggage.

    And this notion of where his caucus or candidates sit is ridiculous. One could disagree with him until they’re blue in the face, but Mr. Tory’s policy is party policy, vague as it maybe.

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  14. Hi Steve:-

    Poor Mr. Tory. All he made were negative statements. He has been many, certainly far more than one, upped with today’s announcement by Mr. McSquinty. If only we could see it to believe it, eh?

    Dennis

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