A Solution to Transit Disorganization: Merger

Ontario’s GO Transit and Metrolinx to be combined into one agency

In the Toronto region, the Toronto Transit Commission provides transit service within the city and GO Transit, a separate agency, runs buses and commuter rail throughout the rest of the region, from Hamilton in the west to Oshawa in the east. Today, an agency called Metrolinx serves as a master planner, deciding which transit lines will be built and how much to subsidize each service, though the two other agencies contribute to the discussion with their own projects and plans. Yesterday, however, Ontario Transport Minister Jim Bradley announced that the province would attempt to legislate a merger between GO Transit and Metrolinx into a broader agency that would have the power both to plan transport services and to provide them. The TTC, under the direct control of the city of Toronto, will remain separate.

The province makes a good point in arguing that consolidating transit planning and service provision will provide better, more efficient transit and quicker implementation of major projects. I’ve pointed out in the past that major discombobulation between transit agencies and a regional planner produces difficulties for average riders attempting to use the systems and ultimately slows down project completion timetables.

The merger, for all its good aspects, is problematic in its proposed execution. Regional chairs who currently sit on the board of Metrolinx would be replaced by transportation “experts” who supposedly would make better decisions about how to invest limited funds. The change in policy is an open challenge to local politicians who want to have a say in how transit is used in their areas. The city of Toronto, which is the biggest contributor of funds towards regional planning, would lose out in the process as it would lose political authority over the agency, though the new vice-chair of the agency promises that “the new body will consult with all the stakeholders.” How believable is that?

While they are advantages of having “experts” control the decision-making process, ultimately, politicians should be determining how to use public funds; otherwise, these public bodies cease to be democratic organisms. We have a collective responsibility to keep public decisions as democratic as possible, so let’s hope to see these merger plans altered over the next few.

3 replies on “A Solution to Transit Disorganization: Merger”

I take a dim view of this argument. Planners are not prone to like disorganization, but it often comes with a number of advantages.

I think good service is more important than a nice organized map. If you have a dysfunctional organization, by all means merge it. But there is a long history of organizational mergers, and by and large they cause more problems with service delivery than they solve. This is also true in the corporate world. If the little scrappy local transit organization is effective and innovative, it would really be a shame to have it merged away into the big system especially if that system (as is often the case) is filled with problems.

British rail privatization is often held up as an example of how awful it is when a system fractures. But ridership more than doubled, many new services were tried and all kinds of innovation happened. The ridership numbers tell the story: the greater innovation from many organizations was worth more than the lack of organization of the route map.

I grew up in DC, which united all of it’s transit lines together under Metrobus around 1973. Decades later the same boundaries and often a strikingly similar route structure can be seen. Same story in Boston, where the MBTA absorbed several systems.

Sounds a lot like the MTA in New York and environs; how’s that currently working out?

A new tax structure is needed, until then any reorganization is moot.

This kind of reorganization would be most welcome in Chicago. Right now CTA and Metra couldn’t coordinate anything if their organizational existence depended on it (eg Metra runs a train line designed for rapid transit service as a commuter line while CTA runs frequent buses all along the route), they compete for expansion funding, and they refuse to work together to make a universal fare card. RTA, Chicago’s version of Metrolinx, was theoretically strengthened by new legislation last year, but is finding it nearly impossible to actually exercise its new powers. But Yonah’s right – any such reorganization would have to make the agencies *more*, not less, accountable to those it serves.

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