Public transit. Private transit. We’ve done both. Since 1899, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 has served Toronto’s transit needs.In the beginning, we worked for a private company – the Toronto Street Railway. Working conditions were horrible. But the passengers were also treated badly, with constantly increasing fares and no improvements to service. Toronto had difficulty growing because the private investors did not want to extend the transit system to areas of the city where land was cheaper so that people could afford housing and businesses could expand.
In 1919, the ATU went on strike for weeks to protest the private company’s practices. The union publicly exposed poor maintenance that led to many accidents. It recommended ditching the private operator and going public. In the end, the people of Toronto supported the union instead of the company. In 1920, a referendum was held on the issue: “Should Toronto establish a publicly-owned and operated transit system?” The referendum passed by 90%. In 1921, the Toronto Transportation Commission was established and it immediately began a program of rapid expansion. Toronto grew quickly in its wake and the prosperity that our city enjoyed throughout the 20th century was based on what became one of the world’s great urban transit system.
Today, the TTC employs 13,000 people, 10,000 of them belong to ATU Local 113. Ironically, we are now having the same public debate about transit that we did nearly a century ago. We need to expand transit in Toronto. But should it be public or private?
We’ve been there and done that. Private transit is a dead end. Not right away but eventually, as service takes a back seat to profits.
Let’s learn from the past. Let’s keep the TTC public.