In the wake of Toronto’s fifth transit strike in 19 years, we may expect a groundswell of support for “declaring transit an essential service,” ie taking away transit workers’ right to strike.
As appealing as this is, given the union’s behaviour (union leader Bob Kinnear’s professed reason for giving next to no notice of the strike — that the public would open a can of whupass on his members — for once has the ring of truth), it will achieve precisely nothing, or about as much as that other post-strike demand, that the union “apologize.” It won’t put an end to strikes, for starters: making strikes illegal, at least in this country, only brings on illegal strikes. The transit workers’ last walkout was illegal, as was the last teachers’ strike.
But even if it did achieve the goal of ending service disruptions, all that would ensure was uninterrupted TTC service: slow, infrequent, obstructive (Toronto is the only city in the world where traffic improves in a transit strike, since the streetcars are no longer blocking both lanes), and unpleasant.
If we really wanted to release the city from bondage to periodic transit strikes, and at the same time do something about the TTC’s appalling regular service, there’s a simple solution: end the transit monopoly that gives rise to both. Do what cities around the world have done — allow competition on the roads. As I argued in this 2006 piece,
if we were really serious about transit, if it is as vital as we all say it is, if we wanted to make riding the bus such a delightful experience that passengers would give up their beloved cars for it, is this the model we would choose — a monolithic, state-owned, vaguely Stalinist monopoly?
UPDATE: The C. D. Howe Institute’s Bill Robson makes much the same argument, and is echoed in this National Post editorial.