Nope, the Private Sector Doesn't Magically Pay For High Speed Rail
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Nope, the Private Sector Doesn’t Magically Pay For High Speed Rail

Please do not take any more ideas from True Detective season two.

Photo by BruceK from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by BruceK from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


John Tory loves the private sector. By itself, this is not bad. The private sector and the free market frequently serve people well, particularly when there’s high levels of competition and low barriers to entry for goods and services.

However, unconditional faith in the private sector is an unhelpful substitute for understanding the conditions where it is likely to work. And it’s unlikely to build transit in Southern Ontario.

When Tory was asked on BNN’s Business Day about improving the commute between the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor, which the host cites as one to four hours. Tory shares this concern, and says that conditions should be better to make Toronto more competitive.

In the end, the solution, quote unquote, is really going to come from some kind of much higher speed train. I would kind of just put that out there to the private sector and say “look, who out there can help us to get this done.” We in turn as governments can say we’ll have the regulatory approval happen faster so that you can have some higher speed transportation back and forth, because there’s no question–I staked a lot of Toronto’s future in building up the overall corridor between Toronto and Waterloo.

In summary, Tory believes there is a solution in a high speed train, and that the private sector will take care of it.

This hardly seems like the way to reliably build Toronto’s tech corridor, particularly a project that the mayor has “staked a lot of Toronto’s future” on. With a handful of exceptions in extremely high density cities like Hong Kong, commuter transit operates at a loss. The idea that, if only the government cut enough red tape, the private sector will waltz in to pay for extraordinarily expensive infrastructure that typically operates at a loss simply doesn’t add up.

It bring to mind another transit proposal that we were told had the perfect business case, and residents wouldn’t have to pay for it at all: what’s now called the UP Express.

David Collenette’s dream of an airport rail link finally happened, but, despite his faith, the free market didn’t take care of it.

Time and again Toronto is told by some politicians “hey, maybe we should just ask the private sector to pay for this public good?” Generally that’s another way of saying “I’m interested in this idea, but not in paying for it.” And maybe this isn’t the right idea to spend public dollars on–Via, which has steadfastly opposed it, would certainly appreciate that–but let’s get past the illusion that the private sector has the right incentives to solve every problem.

This has been another instalment in Things Cost Money

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