Posts Tagged ‘transit’

Transit and Tories

Thinking on the news, after a bus-ride to work with a large coffee and a couple of Vancouver’s free dailies.

During the together-portion of our commute, Meg and I chatted about the idea – floated by Translink and fought by city councilors in the burbs – that local bridges could be made toll-zones to fund the regional transit authority.

And then, as I left my girl and hopped on bus number two, I find in the paper a little piece featuring Larry Frank’s thoughts on the matter. Larry is a prof at UBC, one of the world’s top public transportation experts, and a guy I know quite well. So I was pleased to see that his comments were pretty much in line with what Meg and I had been discussing.

Short version? Tolls may not be a bad idea, and can be an important piece of a two-prong agenda – to finance infrastructure and upkeep for an expanded public system while driving up the cost of cars and so encouraging more folks to drop them as commuter vehicles. The key, though, is whether this really is the objective, or whether in practice the result would be a cash-grab with no substantive improvement in services.

I am all about public transit. I don’t drive, I don’t ride a bike. So I get around mostly on my own two feet or on the network of buses and skytrains that cross-crosses the city. And I like it, for the most part, cause I get to read and drink coffee on my way to and from work rather than sitting in exhaust fumes. Transit is also one of the few really public, really collective, experiences we have left – a place where a wide diversity of folks from all different communities come together. And while that occasionally has its challenges, more often, I think, it engenders conversation and provides a super-important experience in community.

I would like nothing more than to see an end to the automobile in the city core, at least during regular working hours, and a vast, well-kept transit system. It’s an incredibly important public service, a major infrastructural means to build a coherent city, and quite simply a requirement if we are to continue living in settlements of this size while weaning ourselves off oil. Obviously, then, I also think transit should be completely and universally free of charge.

Where I get frustrated with the transit system, then, is when we see cuts to service and increasing fares, and the transition of our bus networks away from public service and to a private enterprise model . And here’s where I worry about the toll thing. Will this really achieve what it can? Or will it mean simply more costs for us with no real benefits? Would this really, in practice, be about better service and less cars? Or would it end up as simply one more step to the universal marketplace?

Me, I’d like to see this thing given a try, but with a few more specific components:

Tolls, yes, but tolls earmarked for expenditure on a combination of expanded services and decreased fares. These two have to go hand in hand if we are really to make transit an attractive choice for people, and to keep it meaningfully ‘public’.

Rather than a minimal toll all the time, a high toll during working hours and no toll on evenings and weekends when folks are less likely to be driving alone and more likely to be heading somewhere off a major transit route.

Introduce toll-waivers for car and van pools and for folks who can demonstrate that the vehicle is a fundamental requirement of their jobs. Tolls are another form of taxation, yes, but if part of the goal is to get folks out of cars, a global tax ain’t gonna do it cause people will be paying anyway. Target those who drive un-necessarily, and we’ll more likely see the effect we’re looking for.

Something along those lines, I can certainly get behind.

And now, news item two.

Brian Mulroney. Y’know, this guy represented all the very worst when he was in power. His was Canada’s big push to the right as he showed us a Canada that danced hand in hand with Ronald Reagan, cozied up to Margaret Thatcher, sold its sovereignty in the free trade deals and brought neoliberal austerity into every home. Fucker.

But there’s nothing like the Conservatives to make me miss the Tories.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my folks and watching the TV news, and caught a bit of an interview with Mulroney in which he chided Harper et al for entirely failing to protect Canada and fundamentally misunderstanding that Canada is not the US. The line was to the effect that, to be conservative in Canada means to be right of centre fiscally and left of centre culturally, and by failing to see that Harper was doing significant damage not only to his party but to the whole country.

Hmmm. Kinda interesting. But knowing that there’s no love lost between the current PM and the old one, I presumed that much of this was just an excuse for shots at Harper.

But today the paper reports on a big celebration party in Montreal last night – a party to commemorate Mulroney’s election 25 years ago and a chance for conservatives in this country to put on a united front. And Mulroney? Well, the paper doesn’t indicate any public attack on Harper. But what it does cover is really far more interesting. Brian Mulroney, architect of Canada’s neoliberal plan, wades into the US health care debate, with this to say:

“The attacks on President Obama are often bitter and mean-spirited and his approval ratings, his popularity, are sinking like a stone. Still he fights on…Fifty years from today, Americans willrevere the name ‘Obama’. ..He chose the tough responsibilities of national political leaders over the meaningless nostrums of sterile partisanship…”

Huh. How bout that.

Brian Mulroney, you sure as hell fucked this country over, and you bear no small responsibility for the fact that we today have to fight to maintain our own public health care.  Still, I gotta admit it. When I look at our political spectrum today, I kinda miss you and the old Tories.


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