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Even Slower than Usual…

Toronto transit workers are on an illegal strike this morning. There are no buses, subways, or streetcars. To make matters worse, this strike was sudden — there were only a few inklings in the news about it yesterday, so many people were caught off guard, standing confused at bus stops with no time to make alternative travel plans.

“Who is it that suffers? It’s the people who can’t afford cars,” she said. “The message being sent is that driving is the way to go – and that’s ridiculous.”

An underlying theme, once again, will be that cars are the only reliable method of transportation, and that public transit is inferior, to be used only as a last resort by the poor. Unfortunately, the TTC has a long history of strikes, lockouts, and threatened disruptions, which makes it very difficult for the average rider to sympathize.

I’d like to think that employers will be understanding to their employees who arrive late today, but I know that will not always be the case. I am reminded of the blue-collar job ads in the local newspaper for my hometown where, more often than not, minimum wage jobs are advertised with the caveat “must have own car.” Strikes like this provide more ammunition for that attitude, which I personally feel is as discriminatory as “whites only” or “no Irish need apply.”

A transit strike deemed illegal in New York City last year resulted in some of the leaders being jailed. I am not against unions or strikes per se — historically they brought a lot of good to all of us — but strikes are something that should be a last resort, after good faith negotiations have failed and the gap is immense. Too often it seems that riders are caught between worker and management politics, and used as pawns. Workers might want to remember that the riders are the ones who pay to keep the system going, and that more riders means more fares and more government funding for the system. Sending riders fleeing back to their cars helps nobody.

And finally, of course, this all comes down to money (although this is actually about driver safety and shift work, these are issues that derive from lack of funds). On that note, it’s worth noting that even though the recent Ontario budget began investing some much overdue money into transit, historically and in general our governments spend far more money expanding and maintaining our automobile infrastructure.

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