I, for one, welcome our new NDP leaders


From the Inkless emailbox. I’ve received about a half-dozen of these releases in recent weeks. It is always the same: Jack Layton will “announce” a major public-transit or urban-infrastructure “plan” in one city or other. I’m actually not sure this is a bad idea. Briefly, two years ago, Layton was talking as though his plan was to supplant Liberals and Conservatives and actually govern this country. The question then arises: how would he govern it? Releases like this would be less jarring if there had been more of them, earlier. Anyway, over to the Prime Minister:

AUGUST 22, 2008


LONDON –NDP Leader Jack Layton will be at the London Transit Commission on Monday to announce the NDP’s plan for significant new investments in the city’s public transit system.

Layton will be joined by NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, local elected officials and members of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

“The NDP understands that you can’t tell people to change their habits without giving them viable alternatives,” said Layton. “Public transportation can be a great tool in the fight against climate change, as long as it’s accessible.”

MONDAY, AUGUST 22, 2008                                         LONDON

10:30 PM        Press conference with NDP Leader Jack Layton

        • 450 Highbury Avenue N (at Brydges St.)
    • London Transit Commission


I, for one, welcome our new NDP leaders

  1. “Sweet dreams and flying machines, in pieces on the ground… umm, flying safely through the air…”

  2. “The NDP understands that you can’t tell people to change their habits without giving them viable alternatives,” said Layton.

    Does the NDP also understand that the only people who use public transit are people who are forced by circumstances to use it and no one changes ‘using your own vehicle’ habit, no matter how nice and shiny the buses are.

  3. “Does the NDP also understand that the only people who use public transit are people who are forced by circumstances to use it and no one changes ‘using your own vehicle’ habit, no matter how nice and shiny the buses are.”

    No one? And you know this how?

  4. Oh, I don’t think that’s true, jwl. I know any number of voluntary public transit users. Then again, I also live in a pedestrian-friendly city (when it’s not, you know, covered in snow and below forty). But I don’t think the car culture is so heavily ingrained as to make it impossible to convince someone to take the occasional bus.

  5. just think of all the work that will be created for unionized workers….who’ll bleed the public and make this transit just to expensive to use.

    What’s the matter Jack? ATM fee issue not working out?

  6. Speaking of ATM fees, does the NDP even have a policy addressing the economy?

  7. I wouldn’t give up my transit pass even for the free use of a car! I can read or even nap during my morning commute – try that while driving!

  8. I am one of those voluntary public transit users. I don’t even live in a particularly transit/pedestrian oriented city (Hamilton) and my husband and I even have a child, and more than enough disposable income to buy a car. But we refuse to buy a car. Instead we use the “cocktail transport” as they say in Montreal (where I originate). We ride the bus, we ride our bikes, we take taxi rides, and rent the occaisional car.

    We wouldn’t have it any other way, and we love announcements like this. I’m looking forward to the NDP’s plan for transit in Hamilton.

  9. As do I. We are actually considering becoming a one car family.

    Hamilton is looking at an experiment to hike property taxes $170 for everybody but make all city buses free for everybody.

    I do have to admit to a bit of morbid curiousity at the concept, though the libertarian in me cringes at such an idea. After having experienced “free transit” in Ottawa on Canada Day my guess would be there likely wouldn’t be enough funds to buy enough extra buses to meet the demand surge, the bus experience would be MUCH less pleasant, and I could see the system crumbling under the demand placed on it.

  10. I just moved to a major urban centre and thus have access to public transit for the first itme in my life, and I like it. I have a car (granted, its slowly dying) and I much prefer the bus- it’s less expensive.

  11. I’m part of a small group, though. Even where it’s available, there are a lot of people simply too lazy or selfish to avail themselves of public transit despite the environmental benefit. it is one of the things that make me think we may be doomed as a species.

  12. Did they actually say the news conference would take place ‘Monday’ August 22 at 10:30 p.m.

    that should help attendance.

  13. Heard that, Mike T. I live in the suburbs yet I still wouldn’t drive into work. I leave the car at the park/ride, hop on the bus and am downtown in no time, rain or shine, snow storm or not.

    I keep trying to understand why everyone doesn’t do the same.

  14. Maybe Jack is planning ahead. The only time public transit numbers increase is when there is a downturn in the economy, so maybe Jack is getting cities ready for when he takes control of economy and bankrupts the country.

    Kady Unfortunately, you and your acquaintances are far from typical. Most people stop using public transportation as soon as they can afford it.

  15. I’m all for investing much more in public transport, although we also have to somehow move people back into cities and curb suburban sprawl. I’m glad Layton understands this. I wish he also understood that we would have a lot more people living below the poverty line and more people slipping below middle class status if a cap and trade were implemented without the corresponding tax cuts and credits aimed at low and middle income. I have difficulty taking anything he says about this topic seriously, when he insists on acting as if a cap and trade doesn’t mean increased costs for everyone and, worse than a carbon tax, one can’t actually say exactly how big those increased costs are or how much they will fluctuate. Better to err on the side of caution in protecting the lower income brackets. But ignoring it completely, writes Layton off in my opinion.

  16. “only people who use public transit are people who are forced by circumstances to use it ”

    uhh.. isn’t that true of every behaviour? I mean people do not drive to work unless forced by circumstances to do so – for example, if you work a three minute walk from your house, do you drive?

    Similarly, if the commute from, say Surrey Centre to Downtown Vancouver takes 40 minutes by transit and 1h40m by car, then yes, people are going to use transit. Some would call that “being forced by circumstances” others would say it is rational behaviour. And Layton is merely saying that if we make Public Transit more attractive – in terms of making it faster and more convenient – then people will rationally choose to not drive some of the time.

    To put it another way, why do 40% of Torontonians use the TTC to get to work?

  17. I converted to a GO bus from a car to save money and aggravation. One of things that I see holding back further transportation alternatives is the lack of private transit systems. A case in point is the latest brouhaha about the PickUpPal service, which is being actively opposed by the current transit monopoly holders.

    Jack Layton’s vision is restricted to more subsidized municipal bus services staffed by union drivers. This is a dead end. What we need is to allow private bus and cab companies to compete actively for business. The consumer will make rational economical decisions about the cheapest way to travel if given the chance.

  18. JWL –

    Are your assertions anecdotal or empirical? Otherwise, you know, it becomes, like, when my daughter, you know, is, like saying on the phone, that, like, everyone knows green is the new pink, and everything.

  19. Mike T.- Ihave, the results aren’t good. :)
    Granted, I’m a student, and mimnimum wage and high gas prices are awful combinations, but the first thing I did when I arrived in the city was get a bus pass. That aside, I’m consistently surprised at the number of people who can afford to drive but choose not to. It’s easier, less expensive, and more enviromentaly friendly.

  20. It will be interesting, how they will pay for it. Raise taxes? Cut spending? Because there isn’t much fiscal room.

    When you go around making spending promises with real dollar figures you open up many a can of worms.

  21. only people who use public transit are people who are forced by circumstances to use it

    Many, many people choose transit, they aren’t forced. Forced implies that they’d rather not. I know when I lived in Toronto I could easily afford a car, parking and insurance but I *chose* not to get one. That was because the Subway was much, much more convenient. I would rent a car when I needed one and saved a bundle of money.

    When I moved into the suburbs, I had a car and I *chose* to use the GO train and TTC. I could read, eat or even sleep on my way to and from work.

    Now I live in Ottawa and, despite the fact we have a car, my wife has a bus pass because it saves us a lot of money, gets her to work quicker on dedicated bus lanes, runs constantly and goes door-to-door.

    People making boatloads of money in all sorts of major cities throughout the world use transit. It’s not just a ride for the poor.

    Clearly, jwl, your exposure to transit and transit users has been a very limited one.

  22. The only time public transit numbers increase is when there is a downturn in the economy

    … or major service improvements.

    Really jwl, you need to get out more. I’m truly sorry you have such a huge hatred of public transit, but it isn’t shared by many members of the public.

  23. I believe the correct term would be “overlords”, instead of “leaders”. And I was disappointed to not see an accompanying, hastily sketched graphic depicting a giant Jack Layton whipping the workers into shape.

  24. Just adding another anecdotal refutation of jwl here. I take the bus from Kits to downtown here in Vancouver and there are plenty of people taking the bus during the rush periods out of choice and not some inability to get a car. If transit systems actually get funding then they can become pleasant and useful transportation options. What transit blackhole do you live in jwl?

  25. In fact, the only thing that sometimes has me wishing I was in my car instead of the bus is the fact that they are so overcrowded.

    Some mornings, getting a seat next to a window is a matter of survival.

  26. Well, I am one of those people forced to take the TTC. I am visually impaired and do not have a driver’s license. Believe me, if I could drive, I would. Each day, I would prefer to get my hair pulled out one by one than take public transit in rush hour.

    The real issue here is whether or not there are votes to be had with such announcements. Will anyone not already voting NDP suddenly decide to vote NDP because of the promise of more transit money? I highly doubt it. This type of announcement rallies the troops, but it does not bring people onboard. Now, if the Conservatives had some kind of plan for cities and city dwellers, they might make inroads into Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver. They have to win seats somewhere to get a majority!

  27. An alternate opinion: I walk to/from work and have done for almost 20 years. It’s about 35-40 minutes door to door. The only time I don’t walk would be when it’s pouring rain, or the temperature is -35 or lower (just wear more layers). In Ottawa, that happens regularly in winter (natch), however it’s usually in the morning, and has warmed up by the afternoon. That said, I absolutely despise the local public transit system (which is a disgrace and why I choose to live where I can walk to work). So on those mornings where it’s too cold to walk, or when it’s raining cats and dogs, I take a cab. It’s a 10$ ride. I figure I walk about 90-95% of the time, so it’s costing me less than buying a monthly bus pass, and far, far less than taking the car.

    And by living downtown, I can walk to theatres, restaurants, and so on. My car is 6 years old and has 30,000 or so miles on it – used only for shopping trips and the occasional trek to Montreal (and once to the Gaspé).

  28. Andy I don’t live in public transportation blackhole, I actually use it a couple of times a week to get to city centre and I find it rather pleasant because so few people use it.

    What I was trying to say, not very well apparently, is that shiny new buses are not going to attract new riders to the service. Or at least not in any great number.

    Unless Layton is going to announce a new subway line, which I doubt, he is going to improve buses and I don’t believe people will change their habits because of the improvements. How many people in London are dying to use public transportation but they don’t now because the buses are not good enough? There might be a few but not many.

    People have a variety of reasons to use public transportation but the quality of the bus itself is rarely a factor.

  29. To forestall a longer thread, a shorter JWL:

    “The only people who ride the bus are poor people and communists.”

  30. Now that jwl has abandoned his first assertion this is kinda moot, but I thought I’d add my voice to those who use public transit exclusively but aren’t “forced to” by circumstances. I could easily afford a car, but I don’t want one. And maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’m hardly the only person in my tax bracket that I know for whom this is true. And while perhaps better bus service might not add hordes of new users to the public transit rolls, I CERTAINLY believe that better bus service can keep people from leaving them. The point isn’t JUST to get people to abandon their cars for buses, it’s also to prevent people like me from abandoning the buses for cars.

  31. But that, sir/madam, is clearly because you’re a commie. HUGE commie. Moscow circa 1921-level commie.

    (Just like Ms. O’Malley. Apparently.)

  32. The only thing worse than public transit in Vancouver is driving.

  33. I, for one, choose to use public transit. I could easily afford a car, but I choose not to – for many reasons: the environment, my health (I bike and walk most places), convenience (SkyTrain is faster then driving), and economics (cars are expensive).

    I welcome announcements like this from the NDP. There argument that the Liberal’s GreenShift will actually make public transit more expensive is valid. I much prefer the NDP’s plan to take some revenue from either a cap-n-trade or carbox tax system to direct to public transit. You need to give people alternatives to driving.

  34. I actually live in London and London Transit is horrendous. I live downtown. Guess how long it takes me to get to work on the bus? Answer: I can’t get there! The bus doesn’t run to where I work.

    The government should invest in transit in places like Toronto and Vancouver where it’s actually a viable alternative. In London, you may as well set fire to the tax dollars instead.

  35. Chris- except those ‘alternatives’ advocated in the NDP literature are useless to any and all people in towns without a major transit system.

  36. Now, the story may well be different for those who live in cities with massively subsidised rail systems sucking away their paycheques through a straw. But I bus in Victoria and believe me, if I physically could sell enough of my own organs to be able to afford driving while still being in a condition to enjoy it, I would.

    The bus is slower than driving. It’s less convenient. It holds a much greater chance of getting a malodorous, belligerant man sitting next to you. Also, it’s operated by unfireable unionised government contractors working in a subsidised monopoly with absolutely no motivation to do their job with even a modicum of respect and professionalism. Besides, timing my life around the transit schedule and dealing with the essentially random nature of when said bus actually turns up isn’t my idea of a productive morning.

    These problems are, of course, minimized for systems like the SkyTrain, but then we run into serious financial barriers. Me, I’ll take a car every time.

  37. Now, the story may well be different for those who live in cities with massively subsidised rail systems sucking away their paycheques through a straw

    Ottawa, where Kady and I live, has only a toy train and nothing else. It’s almost 100% buses. It’s *much* quicker than driving in many cases, and is manned by (for the most part) quite professional drivers on a well-run timetable.

    Yep, you can get a malodorus man beside you. That definately is the trade off.

    But, other than that, it sounds like your gripes are with the city, not with the concept of transit. The city controls whether buses get priority on the roads (or a completely grade-separated road system like in Ottawa), and how it staffs the busses, etc.

    To say that the federal government shouldn’t encourage people to use transit because you have a lousy implementation (due to your local government) is like saying the federal government shouldn’t fund sewage infrastructure improvements because your city dumps it’s waste directly into the ocean.

  38. (BTW, that’s not to imply Kady and I live together. In fact, we’ve never met.)

  39. (That’s not to say I would be adverse to meeting her, in fact I would likely enjoy it.)

  40. (That’s not to say… oh forget it. Better to stop digging.)

  41. jwl – Sure shiny new buses won’t, in and of themselves, get people on transit but they’re a component of such a strategy. The frequency of transit constituent parts, be they buses, trains, or ferries, goes a long way towards how useful they are to people and therefore how much they can be used. In addition urban planning can make or break transit due to zoning choices and traffic regulation. With all that said though, these aren’t questions or variables with no answers and guidance from a good policy, be it Federal or lower, can help move things along.

    Oh and I suppose I should fess up to walking home after work in the summers. The shame of that is no matter how fast I walk home, it doesn’t seem to translate well to the Grouse Grind.

  42. Well, there goes whatever vestige of reputation I had left …

  43. Sorry!

  44. I’ve been taking public transit for 30 years and anyone who says it’s faster than driving is either trying to sell something or living a very sheltered life.

    It can be faster for the 10% of people who live close to commuter stations and who never take transit outside of those times. But generally, no, taking transit only makes sense if you don’t value your time at all.

    If I had a paper route for the number of hours I’ve wasted waiting for the bus, I could be driving an SUV. Wait, I’m already doing that!

    Off to pick up the kids from camp. Try and do that with your bus pass.

  45. Grade-seperation in Ottawa is actually a good idea.

    But my gripe isn’t with public transit, Scott. You’re right about that. However, I don’t think you can show me one city in this country which the buses don’t run on a schedule, or are run by unionised employees who are harder to fire than a pile of wet stones, or which face no to next-to-no competion, or which are subsidised by the government to make even theoretical competition impalatable.

    What I object to isn’t the idea of public transit. It’s the idea that throwing money at it will cause people to abandon cars en masse, or that people who choose to drive are, to quote Mike T.’s early comment, “too lazy or selfish”.

  46. Most of us are lazy and selfish. Worse, we are usually too vain to admit it.

  47. True, Steve. I think ordering pizza and eating Cheetoos and rushing red lights to get that extra thirty seconds are good examples of things we do because we’re lazy and selfish.

    I just don’t think that failure to ride the bus falls into that category.

  48. Chris you’re right that a carbon tax would raise public transit costs more than for private vehicle commuters. If you’re interested I can toss some studies your way but the short explanation is that buses spend most of the day driving around empty. When you include the relevant factors, it’s a less efficient way to move people around.

    The NDP plan would appease common prejudices about the evils of driving, but it would be bad policy.

  49. Sweden fuels its buses with contraband liquor, dead cows and aims to be oil free in a decade. Public transport is good if it is well used and either fossil fuel free or, at least, fuel efficient. It is not simply a matter of throwing money at it, it is also a matter of tilting the economic balance away from fossil fuels and encouraging alternatives. Carbon pricing is one key ingredient in this.

    I’m not sure the NDP has thought this through as Layton is going around promising money for public transport whereas his proposed cap and trade, which would make fossil fuel use more expensive, would only kick in years later. One wouldn’t want fuel guzzling public transport to be funded, just because carbon pricing was still far down the road. Sweden enacted their carbon tax first, and then the alternative fuel buses followed from economic necessity.

  50. The reason Sweden was able to invest massively in transit following their carbon tax was because they used the revenues from it to invest in solutions, not giving it away in more pointless tax cuts like Dion’s carbon tax.

    In that way, by putting a price on carbon and then using every cent from it to transform ours into a lower-carbon economy, Jack’s cap and trade system is more like Swedish experience than Dion’s carbon tax — a point environmentalists like Sadik and Bramley were making before Dion’s announcement.

    As for whether investing in transit will change whether people drive or not, one can imagine similar arguments were made about government investment in highways back in the 1950s. If you build it …

  51. I’m not sure the NDP has thought this through…
    There’s a line that could be pasted in many an analysis of NDP policy. Catherine, you should copyright it!
    Luckily for Canada, the NDP’s electoral chances do not require a whole lot of thinking through on its part.

  52. “The reason Sweden was able to invest massively in transit following their carbon tax was because they used the revenues from it to invest in solutions, not giving it away in more pointless tax cuts like Dion’s carbon tax.”

    Actually, if you look at Sweden’s tax structure, you see that various credits/programs help the lowest income brackets more than Canada does, and the Liberal Green Shift moves us toward that. Sweden had a low poverty rate before their carbon tax and managed to keep it low. If Canada introduced a carbon tax (or cap and trade) without increasing tax credits and making tax cuts in the lower brackets, we would have more people living in and near poverty.

    I don’t think Layton’s cap and trade bears much resemblance to Sweden’s carbon tax. First, Sweden implemented their carbon tax in 1991 with little delay, whereas Layton’s cap and trade would take years to set up. Second, Sweden exempted many of their industries, or gave them a reduced tax rate, so they could remain competitive, whereas Layton thinks industries should be hit the hardest. Third, Sweden made sure to protect those in need, whereas Layton is ignoring this fact. Layton says “make big polluters pay”, whereas in reality, all Canadians are polluters and will pay under any carbon pricing scheme.

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