State of the Union
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State of the Union

The idea of a TTC riders’ union is nothing particularly new, but after what happened this weekend, it’s quickly—and deservedly—picking up steam.
Torontoist’s last article about a possible riders’ union was written by Roxanne Bielskis in November 2007. Our article was inspired by Erica Barnett on WorldChanging, who described the problems of Seattle’s transit system and looked at the success of riders’ unions (or their equivalents) in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Santa Clara, Atlanta, and New York. Toronto has since seen the formation of a Toronto Cyclists Union, by Dave Meslin, but all has been quiet on the TTC front. Too quiet.
On his Toronto Life blog, Preville on Politics, Philip Preville reintroduced a proposal for a riders’ union this morning. “We TTC riders are fools,” Preville wrote, “and everyone takes us for fools.” Preville suggested a way to make that change: “Let’s have [a union] for TTC riders, too: an organization made up of Metropass holders and regular riders that will advocate unfailingly for lower fares, rider safety, new technology and better service, and that really doesn’t care how these goals adversely affect anyone else. TTC riders need a union of their own that will stand on the sidelines during collective bargaining and scream at the top of its lungs, in the hopes of curtailing the Stockholm Syndrome in the hotel conference room.” Preville ended his call to arms with a reference to Spacing‘s subway buttons: “we might as well toss those adorable little TTC station buttons into the trash,” Preville wrote. “Toronto no longer needs the naive fandom of a TTC Optimists’ Club. It needs some rider militancy.”
Coincidentally, it’s one of the members of the TTC Optimists’ Club that may be most able to help get a union off the ground: Matthew Blackett of Spacing (who, with Meslin’s help, brought that magazine into existence). Blackett can’t create a union himself—he doesn’t have time to—but he is ready, willing, and able to give advice to anyone who does.
Blackett told Torontoist, “I fear [a union is] most likely to be taken over by people who only want to bitch about a fare collector making $50,000 a year. That wouldn’t be the point.” (Torontoist, for the record, agrees.) Instead, Blackett says, a union “should focus around placing the rider/customer first and opening up a direct line of communication between the TTC and its riders. It could serve as a way to mobilize folks when bullshit like this happens—if there was a group/web site dedicated a collective voice for riders it would be a force to work with. It’s easy for the TTC to deal with riders since we’re not organized and you can ignore individual complaints. But if you have thousands of riders mobilized to hand out flyers on buses, or each rider says the exact same thing to a driver, or each rider [doesn’t] pay their fare the first day after a strike, then the TTC and its workers may have to pay attention to your concerns.”
It’s an idea that we’d gladly get behind, one that could change the entire city for the better. If you’re interested in starting something, you can contact Blackett at [email protected].
Photo of a mural at North York Centre station by David Topping.