The Globe and Mail carried an online commentary by Michael Warren, the man who originated the position of Chief General Manager at the TTC.
Warren was hired after a lengthy, bitter strike that the Commission felt was triggered by poor bargaining by their own management. The Commission wanted their own man in charge (the strike cost then-Chair Karl Mallette his seat on Scarborough Board of Control), and Michael Warren was the one to do their work.
However, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Very quickly, Warren, who had no background in public transportation and who came to the TTC fresh from Ontario’s Ministry of Health, discovered that he couldn’t get anything done without TTC staff and management support. He became part of the very problem he was hired to solve. Over the years, the position of CGM has been strongly coloured by the style of each incumbent with strong contrasts among Al Leach, David Gunn and, now, Gary Webster.
Warren began an era where style mattered more than substance at the TTC, an era from which we are only now recovering.
What is Warren’s recipe for fixing the TTC? His arguments are reasonable up to a point:
- We can’t get people out of their cars if we don’t improve transit. Congestion is a GTA-wide issue, and the GTTA needs to hold Queen’s Park’s feet to the fire to make a real change in transit’s role in fighting congestion.
- If Ottawa is going to be part of the solution, they need to participate seriously, not with one-time programs or events designed more as photo-ops than true remedies.
- Ontario must resume its role in capital funding on a predicatable basis.
Where Warren goes off base for me is with his call to privatize portions of the TTC as a way to reduce the “ask” for funding from other governments. He makes no suggestions about what, specifically, might be moved into the private sector.
Alas, Warren misses two vital points in this debate:
- The vast majority of the TTC’s operating costs come from their specialized workforce that, on the TTC’s scale, simply cannot be transferred to the private sector overnight. We are not talking about getting someone to run a fleet of 50 buses. If there are working conditions in the labour contracts that Warren wants changed to improve productivity, cite those. Don’t just leave the impression that the real goal is to cut everyone’s pay.
- Capital projects including construction projects and vehicle purchases are overwhelmingly already contracted to the private sector. Any issues with featherbedding or wage levels rest with the suppliers and contractors, not with the TTC. If projects are ineffectively designed and managed by the TTC (the neverending construction at Broadview Station comes to mind), those are problems of management (bad project design) and funding (piecemeal project approvals leading to inefficient work plans).
Organized labour is a handy target whenever someone wants to critique public sector spending, but we rarely hear, chapter and verse, how things would be improved. Warren undermines his entire commentary with a two-paragraph coda implying there’s nothing wrong with transit funding that some strong-armed labour relations couldn’t solve. Why ask Ottawa for money when the obvious solution is just to pay everyone less and make them work more?
Updated August 13, 4:10 pm
Michael Warren’s commentary included:
While we argue over who should finance our ailing transit system, cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Madrid and Chicago have been aggressively expanding theirs, achieving higher density, more energy efficiency and financially sustainability along the way.
Warren is out of touch at least with Chicago where substantial service cuts and fare increases will take effect in September according to an article in Mass Transit. Chicago is on the verge of bigger cuts than are proposed for Toronto thanks to the ongoing debate about appropriate funding levels and the perceived inefficiencies of CTA management.
[Thanks to Dennis Rankin for passing on this link.]