Aiyanas Ormond: TransLink fare increases are part of privatization of public transit

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      By Aiyanas Ormond

      On April 1, bus riders in Vancouver face a 10-percent rise in the price of monthly bus passes and FareSaver tickets. The fare increase is one important aspect of the broader process of the privatization of our public transit system. This process is stripping transit-dependent bus riders of our right to mobility. It is also robbing the public broadly of an important tool for promoting social justice, public health, and environmental sustainability in our region.

      Rapidly rising fares are in themselves a form of privatization. As the fares increase, the burden of paying for transit shifts from governments—using tax revenues—onto individual riders. This “user pay” model undermines the very essence of a public service—that a necessary public good is paid for by the public and user fees (if any) are set at a nominal rate that ensures broad public access. The redistributive function of public services like transit was one of the things that made it possible for low-wage workers, the unemployed, and low-income seniors and students to survive economically in a context of stagnant incomes. As we constantly hear from bus riders when we are organizing on the bus and in the community, “everything is going up except our wages”.

      The second aspect of privatization is private-public-partnerships—the specific mechanism for redistributing the economic benefits of the public transit system to corporations and their shareholders. The Canada Line, built on the Olympics’ timeline and on the backs of exploited migrant workers, transferred millions of dollars into the coffers of SNC-Lavalin and includes an “operating” contract guaranteeing a profit to the private operator for 30 years, regardless of ridership.

      The battle over the Canada Line exposed the lack of meaningful democratic input and accountability in the operation of our transit system. The B.C. Liberals, in conjunction with right-wing regional politicians, including Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie, forced three separate votes to push through the line despite broad public opposition. In the wake of the Canada Line struggle, Kevin Falcon, then the transportation minister, decided that something had to be done about this excess of democracy. Falcon created a new governance structure for TransLink consisting of a board appointed by the province and comprised of “private individuals” with extensive ties to big business, the Vancouver Board of Trade, and regional developers. The new board meets in private and has strict limitations on public input and participation. This elimination of even the inadequate participation and accountability that existed in the previous board structure constitutes a third aspect of the privatization of public transit in Metro Vancouver.

      The fourth and final aspect of this process of privatization is the regime of surveillance, harassment, and criminalization of bus riders. The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service, created in 2005, enforce fares armed with guns and tasers. Bus riders unfortunate enough to not be able to afford a $2.50 fare are faced not only with the humiliation of being singled out and berated, but real or threatened violence, and a $173 ticket to add insult to injury. Moreover, youth of colour, aboriginal people, and people who look poor face the inevitable racial and class profiling endemic in this kind of “policing”. In this aspect of transit privatization, our public transit system, particularly the buses, has been transformed from spaces of public interaction, exchange, and dialogue into “fare paid zones” where people who are already oppressed experience additional stress, anxiety, and violence.

      Taking a hard look at the process of privatization of public transit gives us insights into the broader processes of privatization happening in our society, a process that shifts the economic benefits and political control over formerly public institutions to corporations and the rich. Working-class communities are stripped of the limited (and inadequate) economic redistribution embodied in public services, and of our sense of entitlement to a public service built by working people, with taxes from working-class communities.

      As organizers on the bus and in the community, we constantly hear from bus riders that “the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer”. If we are to reverse this trend toward greater inequality, we need to demand expansion of public services and greater democratic control. We need to organize for public transit, accessible education, affordable housing, people-centred healthcare, universal daycare, and liveable welfare as fundamental economic human rights.

      Aiyanas Ormond is an organizer with the Organizing Centre for Social and Economic Justice and the Vancouver Bus Riders Union.




      Mar 29, 2010 at 2:59pm

      "a $173 ticket to add insult to injury"...where's the insult? where's the injury? If you're too stupid to obey the rules, then pony up the $173, stuff that tail between your legs, go home and fix up your old ten speed.
      I say it's the freeloading riders (between 10% - 15% on the last survey I saw) that are a big reason fares continue to rise with limited service increases.
      And while the current TransLink board may not be the best solution, the old batch of Lower Mainland mayors couldn't get jack sh*t done if they had a gun to their heads.
      By the way, defacing public property with posters (see pic above) is subject to a fine as well.
      I look forward to reading Ormond's comments about who's going to pay for his breakfast now that McDonald's free coffee promo has expired.

      John Simpson

      Mar 29, 2010 at 3:55pm

      While I'm not happy about fares going up, claiming that fines for fare evasion are wrong is a bit silly. By this logic poor people shouldn't be arrested for shoplifting because they can't afford products in stores.

      I agree that fares should be lowered and more of the costs of public transit should be covered by things like gas taxes, but the kind of rhetoric we constantly hear from the Bus Riders Union will never get much support from mainstream citizens.


      Mar 29, 2010 at 4:21pm

      You managed to lump: social justice, class warfare, housing, education, healthcare, and the 'scary demon of right wing politicians' into an article that is nominally about a 10% increase in fares.

      Is there actually a person writing this, or did the Marxist Party press officer just hire some manatees?


      Mar 29, 2010 at 5:13pm

      Not a big fan of fare increases and agree that other funding sources should be used to fund transit, ideally road fares. At least TransLink has not cut service like so many transit agencies around North America have.

      However, many the arguments used in this post don't really make sense at all. Sadly, the Internet seems to be a prime breeding ground for illogical arguments.


      Mar 29, 2010 at 11:56pm

      sometimes fare evasion is not a choice. i used to work in income assistance advocacy and many people on income assistance need to fare evade because they don't have the money to pay for their bus tickets. i had numerous people call me for assistance but they couldn't physically get down to the office because they can't afford the fares.

      so, in order for them to get assistance, pick up groceries or do other daily tasks, many people fare evade.

      i think mobility is definitely taken for granted in our society and we need to recognize that there are many economic factors that restrict one's mobility.

      Barking Mad

      Mar 30, 2010 at 1:17am

      I do not know world what Mr. Ormand has been living in, but city buses (across the world) have always been "fare paid zones" because riders need to have paid for a ticket in order to be on the bus. Just because you are able to sneak on a bus does not mean you are entitled to a free ride. Public places are free "spaces of public interaction, exchange and dialogue" while buses are transportation for those of us with paid tickets.

      While higher fares are a concern for most of us (a major problem for low wage earners) and public transit provides many benefits to society, the economy and the environment, someone still has to pay the bill. The difficult question is how to deal with it.

      However, the Bus Riders Union's agenda is not to promote public transit, but to demand that buses be the ONLY form of public transit. Mix in accusations of racism in transit system planning and insinuations that transit police have been armed solely to intimidate the poor and "people of colour" (nothing to do with drug dealers and aggressive crazies roaming the system) and it does become difficult to "dialogue".

      Open Society

      Mar 30, 2010 at 8:46am

      Ormond raises important points. Do we want to live in a society where public services and public spaces are segregated - that is, denied to people without acceptable income or status? Or do we want to move toward a society where these barriers are lowered, and perhaps someday dismantled?

      Evil Eye

      Mar 30, 2010 at 9:43am

      Here is the big problem for TransLink. The BC Government already subsidizes SkyTrain and RAV for about $300 million annually and that money is taken from the buses. To increase revenue, TransLink has to:
      a) Increase taxes or
      b) Increase fares
      c) Eliminate unproductive bus routes

      The taxpayer has been hit enough with tax and user fee increases, that it would be political suicide to increase property taxes.

      Most marginal bus routes, like South Delta's 609 or 'Wally Wagon' were created for political reasons and it would be politically embarrassing to eliminate them. The Wally Wagon carries up to 10 passengers a day!

      This leaves fare increases as the only option to use transit and of course the higher you raise fares the less one uses transit.

      The heavily subsidized U-Pass is also putting enormous financial pressure on TransLink as well.

      The remedy for higher fares would be:

      1) Eliminate marginal bus services
      2) Build much cheaper LRT instead of the premium priced "Edsel" SkyTrain.
      3) Design the transit service to cater to customers needs.

      The Europeans found out over two decades ago, operating a public transit service as some sort of public welfare was a financial disaster and TransLink is taking us down the very same road.

      Free Loaders Cost?????

      Mar 30, 2010 at 11:06am

      You are under arrest???? You just tried to rip off public transit and we have BC's Finest to set you straight. Now I think these guys are what is costing the tax payer and not citizens in desperate need of transit so desperate they take the risk or maybe something happened on the way. Because instead of giving them a tickets cops should be writing deferrals so people can get to work or school or doctors appointments or where ever people have to go like a job appointment.
      So do freeloaders cost? I don't see it because if you don't ride you don't pay and if you ride you don't pay because what your a thief or someone who really needed to get somewhere. Do these freeloaders pay taxes? I bet many do as even Robertson had his run in with the cops. And if your going to get the cops get the thieves could you put your sights a little higher than $2.50 variety that sounds more like desperation or someone in real need.

      Free Society

      Mar 30, 2010 at 1:06pm

      @Open Society

      The goal is to maximize the number of people who can afford mobility. This is accomplished by maximizing economic freedom, ie letting people choose to do what THEY want with their money instead of burdening them down with taxes to fund the whims of the majority.

      This requires a system where the provision of goods and services is made possible by paying for what is used. Why should somebody pay for a service that isn't provided? And if a service is provided, who should pay for it?

      The idea of 'economic rights' is appalling, because it is equivalent to slavery. Education, transport, housing, and daycare all require labour to make them possible. Should the workers work for less than a fair wage, simply because 'the public' need their services? Of course not, that would be slavery. Should the employer be forced to lose money because he risked his own capital to start the provision of services in the first place? No, that's theft.

      Passing the buck to the taxpayer through the facade of a democratic government is no different from a moral standpoint, just more convoluted.