Suffer not the transit strike

As our decrepit and largely incompetent transit commission once again prepares to raise fares, the people of Toronto are mad. Like indignant. So great is the moral outrage at this dishonorable assault on our pocketbooks that people are actually planning a transit strike. Yes, angry Torontonians will abstain from riding the TTC tomorrow to let those fatcats at City Hall know exactly what's what. This would be a great idea if it weren't so stupid.

For the sake of argument, let's say there are three ways a transit strike could somehow make the TTC rethink its fare hike: 1) Create pressure through and outpouring of popular support; 2) Hurt the TTC financially; or 3) Create sufficient publicity to focus public anger and act as leverage against the hike. Let's explore, shall we?

The transit strike fails the first criteria outright. There are approzimately 2,400 people on the official Facebook page. That's about 0.17 per cent of the TTC's daily ridership. It's pretty hard to argue that this strike approaches anything near a popular movement. The reason why "strikes" against the use of public services always fail is that people (surprise!) actually rely on public services to conduct their daily business, no matter how poor those services perform. Given the choice between participating in a transit protest  or, you know, going to work and making money, it's pretty easy to predict how people will choose.

The financial impact is equally laughable. If we assume that everyone of the members of the Facebook group would normally ride transit twice, then the TTC stands to lose a whopping $12,000. And that's only if everyone is paying a cash fare. If they use tokens, then the TTC loses $10,800. And for everyone of those people using a Metropass, the TTC loses nothing at all. In fact, it's the striker that loses the cash.

So, the only possible way a transit strike could  meaningfully affect TTC policy is by acting as a kind of media event, focusing public rage through reams of publicity. This isn't that hard to do in Toronto, where the media is more than happy to cater to mass ignorance and spread plague panics than facilitate public debate. Nevertheless, an thorough airing of public discontent in TO's fourth estate is only really useful if the TTC is somehow surprised to learn that people hate fare hikes. The TTC knows we hate fare hikes. No amount of coverage or vitriol will surprise them. They have planned for this, and they will ride it out like they have with every fare hike since 1980.

Also, "strikes" refer to withholding your labour from an employer. "Boycotts" are when you withhold money from a service. At least use the proper words.

I guess the thing that really bugs me about empty gestures like this is that people seem more interested in stomping their feet and joining Facebook groups than discussing the issues. Ever wonder why the TTC is chronically underfunded and terrible? Is it mismanagement? Our archaic federal-provincial-municipal funding arrangements? A federal government oblivious to the needs of urban Canada? Who Cares! I'm having a ball on Facebook and participating in pointless protests. Transit rider boycotts and their ilk preclude informed debate, and let the TTC get away with being poorly run and perpetually disappointing.

So, yeah. Nice work.