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View from the Cordillera

A Commentary on Achieving Excellence in Local Government
Read by Municipal Leaders on 4 Continents
Published by the Cordillera Institute
Moving People and Goods
Public Transit: The Better Way? (Vol. 2, Issue 12)
The Toronto Transit Commission provides public transit services in the amalgamated City of Toronto.  Its slogan is:  TTC – the Better Way.  But, is it really the better way?  For that matter, is public transit anywhere the better way?  Or, is there another better way?  After spending time in countries which offer other alternatives, I think it's time we took another look.  In this issue, we provide a brief overview of how public transit evolved in earlier times and how it came to be publicly owned.  Next, we see how these assets have performed in government hands and offer some explanations for that performance.  Before outlining a response to the challenges, we identify those who support the status quo.  Then, we review alternatives found elsewhere and identify why those alternatives aren't currently available here.  For those of you fortunate enough not to have the albatross of public transit, this may give you 2nd thoughts should someone from senior government come calling with the offer of subsidies to join the crowd.
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 1) (Vol. 4, Issue 7)
This commentary was sparked by an article about the possible end of rail service to several communities in northern Ontario.  If you are in Alberta or Missouri or California or the State of Victoria, you may be wondering what this has to do with local government in your back yard – especially since the end of rail service, and the closing of rail lines, has been going on for several decades.  There are 2 reasons.  The 1st is that your community may face a similar situation in the years ahead.  The 2nd is that a series of poor policy choices by our senior governments have left us with an incomplete – and much less efficient – transportation system.  This matters to every community because it raises the price of everything that is moved by some form of transportation.  That includes many of the products used to construct your municipal buildings, the machinery and equipment that you operate, the materials you use on your roads, the furnishings and supplies in your offices ...  When we reduce the cost of something, we are freeing up precious resources.  In this current economic downturn especially, can we afford to overlook opportunities to strengthen our bottom lines?  But, before considering solutions, it's important to understand the background.  So, in this issue, we see why rail services are disappearing, what policymakers have done, what role the regulators played, and what results they have produced.  With an understanding of how we came to be in this mess, we will be better prepared to choose solutions which work – and to reject those which don't.
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 2) (Vol. 4, Issue 8)
In the previous issue, we saw how poor senior-government policy choices have stacked the deck against rail in the competition for our transportation dollars.  In this issue, we see how to begin levelling the playing field so that, ultimately, all modes of transportation will be treated equally by government at all levels.  Where should we look for solutions?  Should they be market-based or should they rely on the intervention of senior government?  What should be done about monopolies in our transportation systems?  What is the challenge with an open-access solution?  How should open access be structured?  How can we avoid the creation of new monopolies and promote the benefits of competition?  How should abandoned railroad rights-of-way be handled?  What should happen to rail lines which are no longer profitable?  How should rail networks be expanded?  This commentary provides some answers to those questions.  Their purpose is to show how rail's house could be put in order and to offer a model for doing the same with other modes of transportation.
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 3) (Vol. 4, Issue 9)
In part 1 of this series, we saw how massive senior-government interventions tilted the competition for our transportation dollars decidedly in favor of rail's competitors.  So, the challenge is to re-level the playing field.  Where should we look for solutions?  Once again, there are 2 basic choices – market-based or intervention-based.  Is a government-monopoly rail system the answer?  To see how such a system would perform, we need look no further than the existing GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises – Amtrak in the U.S. and Via Rail in Canada).  If we are going to level the playing field for road and rail, how should our highway systems be structured?  How can the disadvantages of the current monopoly be overcome?  It does not mean trading that monopoly for a government-sponsored monopoly in the private sector.  Then, what role would our senior governments play?  Even after divesting their highways, they would still have an essential role to play.  This issue describes that role and offers a prescription to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of our land-based transportation networks.
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 4) (Vol. 4, Issue 10)
In the previous commentary (part 3 in this series), we reviewed a market-based solution for levelling the playing field in the competition between rail and road for our transportation dollars.  In this commentary, we turn our attention to the competition between rail and air transportation.  If we are going to level the playing field for air and rail, how should our air-support infrastructure (including airports, air-security systems, and air-traffic-control systems) be organized?  What problems has the current monopoly structure caused?  How should the shortage of air-support infrastructure be addressed?  What about flight delays and cancellations?  How can we end taxpayer subsidization of airports and the air carriers they serve?  How can we maximize user-pay ratings?  How can we do the same for air security and air-traffic control?  If the reforms outlined in this series are implemented, rail should be able to compete on a more or less equal footing with its road-based and airborne competitors.  And, that will surely improve the overall efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of our transportation systems.  But, outlining a path to success is just the beginning.  Whatever happened to the Huron Central Railway (the proposed line closure that sparked this series)?  What is the biggest challenge for rail?  What can local governments do?  If our local governments take the lead, our children and our grandchildren could be riding the rails again – without taking a dime from taxpayers.  However, if we continue to shake the senior-government money tree – if we keep forcing our neighbors and total strangers to pay for what we could be doing for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren may not be riding the rails.  Instead, they may be riding the skids to a 3rd-world future.  It all depends on the choices we make today.
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