It has been said that the goal of the company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary. In private enterprise there are clear incentives to provide a superior service or product, namely that if you do not, consumers will deal with your competitors. Companies are constantly trying to be better; creating a positive cycle of growth. However, things can get a bit more complicated in a monopoly. Things get much more complicated in government run monopolies. These monopolies generally emerge because there is a gap that the private sector refuses to cover, generally because there is little to no profit, or because the state feels they can better deliver the service. This brings me to a unique monopoly: public transit. By all means, a necessity to get from point A to B for many individuals. However, few have claimed their ride on public transit to be a pleasure or the customer service to be legendary.
Public transit systems across Canada lack the funding they need to emerge a leader in the market. Toronto’s subway system has been described as the world’s best 1970’s subway system. People complain about public transit to their friends, they Tweet it, they post Facebook statuses, and some even call in to complain. However, I ask: does it even matter? The reason no one takes public transportation is that the service is so bad while the reason that the service is so bad is that no one takes public transportation. This problem could be solved by having more people take public transit, or by improving service. Unfortunately, one cannot happen without the other.
The Halifax Regional Municipality made a great step forward by creating a new bus line which services the airport. They took a step backwards when they said that luggage would be at the bus driver’s discretion. Of course if I wanted to take the bus to the airport I would have luggage, and anybody who has a flight to catch would not leave their luggage up to chance. It is instances like these, where common sense is lacking that public transit finds its faults. But how do we make a stronger system without creating undue stress on hardworking tax payers?
I propose a simple solution: competition. Competition would give consumers a choice. If Company A provides inferior service, the bus-rider could chose to ride on a bus owned by Company B. I realise that in cases where extensive infrastructure is required that this could get costly. However, if open to competition market forces would ensure that both services become better, less expensive, and more efficient. A more efficient system would move more people in a shorter period of time which would create satisfied consumers. The satisfied consumer would be more prone to ride the bus again, which would decrease gridlock, and pollution while increasing revenue. If people start riding public transportation because the service is better, the service will continue to get better and so more people will use the transit. This would create a positive cycle of growth, efficiency, and positive experiences on public transit.
Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” So let us make our public transit systems across Canada more responsive to change. Let us empower them to create new routes, and open the industry to private competition and public-private partnerships to ensure that the systems operate as businesses and not merely as lost earnings. Until consumers are able to say “I won’t complain. I just won’t come back”, and mean it, our public transit systems will continue to provide poor service while continuing to throw away tax payers’ money.