Toronto

Labour leaders rally at Union Station to demand transit services be kept in public hands

A handful of labour leaders launched a campaign at Toronto's Union Station on Tuesday morning to stop what they say is the privatization of public transit projects.

Leaders launch campaign, Keep Transit Public, against privatization moves by Metrolinx

Paul Thorp, president of Amalgamated Transit Union for Canada, which represents 30,000 transit workers, says Metrolinx needs to change its procurement model to move away from public-private partnerships when it builds transit projects. (CBC)

A handful of labour leaders launched a campaign at Toronto's Union Station on Tuesday morning to stop what they say is the privatization of public transit projects.

The campaign, Keep Transit Public, includes a website and an online petition directed in part at Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency. 

Organized in part by the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents transit workers, the campaign aims to stop transit from being built as public-private partnerships, in which public services are delivered by private, profit-making consortiums. 

Paul Thorp, president of Amalgamated Transit Union for Canada, which has 30,000 members, told the crowd outside Union Station that if private companies maintain public transit services, then costs to taxpayers can be higher, wages can be lower, benefits can be reduced and jobs can be lost. 
Union members gathered at Union Station in downtown Toronto on Tuesday to show their support for the Keep Transit Public campaign. (CBC)

"Privatization is affecting all of us," he said.

"Constituents across the province are screaming for better transit. And what we are being given is not what we deserve. We're here today to tell everybody: 'Stop getting what they want to give you and demand better transit. You deserve it.'"

Thorp said transit gets people to and from their workplaces, but privatization will interfere with that service.

"Metrolinx isn't our enemy. But we are telling them: 'Listen, we want you to change your model. We want you to give the maintenance and operation to the current people that are operating the transit system safely and effectively and passionately,'" he said.

According to Frank Grimaldi, president of ATU Local 113 Toronto, which represents 10,000 Toronto Transit Commission workers, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be run by the TTC when it is finished, but will be maintained by Metrolinx, which could privatize the maintenance work.

"Transit is not a privilege. It's a right," Grimaldi said. "The Eglinton LRT belongs to the TTC and we can do it better." 
Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, said the provincial transit agency is planning and building rapid transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. (Craig Chivers/ CBC News)

The labour leaders said the campaign began in Hamilton. There, city council passed a motion in August asking the province and Metrolinx to make the Hamilton Street Railway, its public transit company, the default operator and maintenance provider for the LRT being built in the city, instead of a private consortium as planned by Metrolinx. 

Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, said in an email that the Ontario transportation ministry and Metrolinx are considering the motion approved by Hamilton's council to allow HSR to operate and maintain the LRT. 

"No decision has been made as yet. We remain committed to ensuring the project continues to progress and remains on schedule for major construction beginning in 2019," she said.

Aikins said Metrolinx is planning and building rapid transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. These include several light rail transit project in Toronto, Hamilton and Mississauga.

"Eglinton Crosstown LRT is being built now and it will be operated by the TTC when it opens in 2021. LRTs are an important project for communities as they drive economic growth and improve connectivity across local communities." 
Hamilton city council wants its transit agency to run the new light rail transit system. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

For the Hamilton LRT, she said Metrolinx proposed using what it calls a design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) procurement model. That means the consortium that is responsible for designing and building the project is also responsible for operating and maintaining it for a set period of time, typically 30 years. 

"This approach transfers risk to the consortium and provides a strong incentive for high quality design and construction since the same people building the project will be responsible and accountable for operating and maintaining it after it is complete," she said.

"To be clear, projects procured as DBFOM remain publicly owned by Metrolinx once complete and the consortium operates the line on our behalf."

Aikins said a number of transit lines are operated by third parties across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. That includes the GO Rail network, York Region Transit and the York VIVA Bus Rapid Transit project. 

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