FTO’s Recent Op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen

We are happy to report that an op-ed submitted by some of our members was recently published! The article covers “on-demand transit,” its limitations, and the need to think about broader and more effective reforms to our transit system that allow us to bring back and expand ridership post-COVID.

Check out the article here!

And read more about some of the concepts we discuss:

Induced Demand: despite what city planners and developers say, adding lanes to a road does not reduce car congestion. Rather, studies show the new space is back to being clogged with traffic in a few years. Cities should reallocate the millions of dollars in their road widening budgets to support and expand transit, instead of carbon intensive infrastructure like roads.

Dedicated Bus Lanes: also called “bus-only lanes” these are a simple and cheap way to enhance service reliability. Giving more space to buses and exempting them from car traffic means trips are about 20-28% faster and thereby more reliable. This can entice people to ditch their cars for the bus, curbing pollution without depriving people of viable transportation. These lanes have also been associated with fewer traffic collisions.

What should a green economy look like? A Review of Tom Rand’s “The Case for Climate Capitalism”

Even now, with a ten year timeframe left for action, it’s rare for the climate crisis to be treated as the emergency it is. So, credit where due to Tom Rand: he calls for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables; he blames the political and business elite for the mess and says they will have to pay the price as markets turn against oil and assets are stranded; he even advocates for expansion of public transit. Where the book gets less refreshing is Rand’s tone towards the people who have been saying these things all along: his secondary enemy, leftists fusing demands for climate action with calls for economic justice.

Rand’s 2020 book The Case for Climate Capitalism aims to preserve and “co-opt” the forces of capitalism to usher in a transition towards green tech. His case is presented as simple pragmatism: the emergency we face affords us no time to discuss economic reforms; we must unite and do what works instead of holding out for a perfect system. His concern is that left ideas like the Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto – which wed strong climate action with job guarantees, labour protections, taxing the rich, and expanding social programs – alienate conservatives and the business class when we need them in our coalition to save the planet.

The book’s analysis is based on the need to manage the risks of climate change. Rand has no love for neoliberalism and sees government regulation as essential to any thriving market. He advocates for market-based climate solutions like carbon pricing, targeted public subsidies, accelerated exports of renewables, “flexible regulations,” publicly mandated Green Banks to fund green industries, and government Green Bonds managed by the private sector to provide low interest financing for low-carbon industries. These are all necessary measures, but Rand wants to preserve private property, markets, and profit motive alongside them. He concedes endless growth is a problematic feature of capitalism but sees it as inevitable under any system and something to be dealt with later. Socialism on the other hand is a “dangerous distraction” that “would rip apart our social and economic fabric” and “divide us when we need to come together.”

Despite assigning them moral equivalence, more ink is spilled on chastising leftists than the libertarians and oil barons who Rand admits are at fault for the climate crisis. He mostly attacks Naomi Klein and says fighting for a better world is just a quest for “moral purity” that will sink real efforts to get everyone on side while wasting time we don’t have on ideological debates.

There are several conceptual problems here. First, the environmental movement’s pivot from narrowly ecological concerns to a broader focus on economic justice has been a deliberate strategy to foster a mass movement for climate action by giving working class and marginalized people something worth buying into. It’s not quixotic to tie these demands together because many people face more immediate, daily emergencies than climate change. He refers to the Leap demand of status for migrant workers as part of a “grab bag” of policy that distracts from climate action. But this is a basic protection for workers building our shared economy, something any decent society concerned with human welfare should be doing anyway.

Rand does not acknowledge the other crises of capitalism that manifest as unemployment, precarity, poverty, homelessness, labour abuses, and colonialism nor does he seem concerned about the massive displacement an energy transition would cause for workers. It isn’t practical to expect people to sign up for an extremely disruptive economic transition without at least a plan for job retraining and expanding the social safety net. 

Second, he underestimates how hard it will be to sell his agenda. Rand believes his business colleagues mostly want to do the right thing but can’t without policy guidance, a suspect claim given the resources they easily marshall for other political agendas that help their bottom line. He highlights a carbon tax and rebate as something conservatives can get behind, ignoring they have fought that very policy since it was enacted federally in 2018. The right wing support centrists crave is seems a lost cause and unnecessary in a country where the vast majority of Canadians view climate change as an emergency and want the government to act accordingly, with 72% supporting a Green New Deal. The goal isn’t to spend time appealing to conservatives, but to design a climate strategy that is both fair and effective.

Rand contends a regulated market system is best for he has “yet to hear a coherent alternative” to capitalism. Admittedly, the left has struggled to mobilize around an alternative economic roadmap but some great ideas are out there with much more substantive solutions than Rand’s. Jason Hickel’s book Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World also came out last year and shows how Rand’s narrow focus on emissions belies the full scale of the environmental crisis and why growth is a problem. Like Kate Raworth’s concept of Doughnut Economics, Hickel’s focus on strategically limiting growth while meeting human needs acknowledges that biodiversity, deforestation, desertification are all major if underwritten issues that even a capitalist economy based on renewable energy would still fall short of addressing. The more we produce, the more energy we use and the more resources need to be consumed. These processes can be made more efficient, but growth entails more absolute space for energy infrastructure to electrify our economy, to grow food and clothing materials, to expand roads, and to store waste – plus more mineral extraction for renewables and batteries. 

These are not problems for a future generation to deal with; Hickel argues it will be hard enough to decarbonize our current economy, let alone one that keeps growing bigger. We need to at least slow down and scale down in the next decade in order to make the switch from oil to renewables feasible. The idea of degrowth isn’t about lowering GDP per se, but rather not focusing on it as an end in itself. We need to grow some sectors (renewables, healthcare, public transit, childcare, etc) while quickly shrinking others (fossil fuels, arms, advertising, etc). By ending planned obsolescence, sharing community assets like cars and lawn mowers, and curbing food waste, the focus would be on quality rather than growth. 

Economic democracy would enable this shift toward needs. Most people hear ‘nationalization’ and think of a Crown corporation run by partisan bureaucrats, but there’s no reason for it to be that way. Under a cooperative model, workers, consumers, Indigenous and marginalized communities, and scientists could set priorities as stakeholders – restructuring corporate boards into “economic parliaments” that elect management to pursue social needs rather than profit for its own sake. A green enterprise or sector structured this way wouldn’t need to read the tea leaves of the market – its customers would be right there on the board giving direct feedback on community needs, balanced with labour rights and fair wages. Rand dismisses energy co-ops as too small, but it’s just a matter of re-structuring any sized enterprise so shareholder governance is replaced with worker and community input. While he rightly argues a high level of industrial capacity and expertise are necessary for a rapid energy transition, it’s not clear why the power relations of capitalism must accompany it.

Rand claims that markets are subject to democratic rules, yet capitalists routinely subvert democracy. It is telling that Rand champions a “disruptor” like Elon Musk as one of the good guys. Musk is often hailed as a climate savior but he is a prime example of the risks inherent to even green capitalism. Musk has a net worth of 180 billion USD, a symptom of the inequality produced by market systems. He is anti-union and ignored local regulations by sending workers back to Tesla’s California factory during COVID, suing the county and threatening to move shop in defiance of “fascist” health restrictions. 400 Tesla workers have since contracted the virus. His vision of public transport is roads choked with EVs instead of gas cars while fear mongering about the strangers and “serial killers” you might find on public transit. Musk is now working on weapons delivery systems for the US Military. The problem with market systems that give a lot of power to a few people is that power is often used in unchecked and unsavory ways.

But can’t capitalism be reformed with better social programs, higher minimum wages, and taxing the rich? We absolutely need to fight for these, but having a few very powerful people in society is a liability to their success. The wealthy can easily lobby against or support campaigns to reverse progressive policy; they can convince people jobs will be lost or outsourced because of higher business costs and unionization. 

Rand seems disinterested in substantially taxing the rich. He supports revenue neutral carbon taxes ‘balanced’ by corporate tax cuts and using public money to subsidize green enterprise. A Green Bank is a good idea, but why give the private sector more handouts instead of drawing on the massive wealth of billionaires, corporate cash reserves, capital gains, and tax havens to fund a green revolution that includes affordable housing, healthcare expansion, mass transit, social supports etc? Rand simply doesn’t see these as emergencies, and fails to understand climate change for the transformative opportunity it presents.

We face a range of emergencies including but not limited to climate change and we can’t trust the same people and systems causing them to helm the transition, or the next major crisis for that matter. The real solution is democratizing the economy – managing risk by empowering those whose lives are impacted by the outcome – and tackling the interrelated crisis we face with a common set of solutions. For all his talk of the need for emergency climate action, Rand ends his book conceding we may have to accept 3 degrees Celsius of warming. But this isn’t negotiable. 2 degrees was always the ceiling past which climate change would usher in catastrophic and irreversible effects, so anything overshooting that is just not good enough. Tom Rand ignores the crises of capitalism in the name of fighting climate change, with a strategy that would fail to do even that. 

by Nick Grover

Our Remarks at the March 31st Transit Commission Meeting

We recently joined other members of the public and advocacy groups like Horizon Ottawa, Ottawa Transit Riders, and ACORN Ottawa to speak against proposed cuts to transit service. OC Transpo’s draft plan addresses lower pandemic ridership by suspending, shortening, and reducing frequency on many routes linking suburbs to downtown, to begin in June.

It’s bad enough they want to reduce service right as many vaccinated people will begin to take the bus again, but it’s yet another a failure to recognize 1) that transit is a public service and should be available regardless of demand, and 2) that we have plenty of money for things like road budgets but act broke when it comes to making the buses run. The reality of cuts is never as clean and efficient as management makes it sound, and leads to people moving away from transit long term. It is neither practical nor safe to have an infrequent or unreliable bus route.

These “service adjustments” therefore take us in the wrong direction. The city needs a plan to fix transit and bring back riders, not cuts and “concerns” about cost savings.

You can see what two of our members had to say about it: Kirstin Pulles and Nick Grover

Québec solidaire’s recovery plan

Toward free public transit

The pandemic has discouraged the use of public transit. Confinement, telework, and fear of catching the coronavirus have made people avoid collective transit options. We cannot allow this decline in popularity to be permanent.

Between 2006 and 2019 the Quebec population of driving age increased by 13%, while the number of cars on the roads increased by 23%. We know that 40% of Quebec’s total emissions are attributable to the transportation sector, so we must aim to decrease the use of individual vehicles. Both ecologically and socially – the hours swallowed up in road congestion increase each year – there must be a profound restructuring of public transportation policies.

We propose the eventual achievement of free public transit, beginning now with a 50% reduction in present fares, at a cost of $559 million.

Public transit should be tantamount to a free public service. Not only is it a way to reduce poverty and social exclusion, there are many studies and examples of cities around the world that have already made the leap, demonstrating that free public transit pays for itself by its positive consequences: greater mobility which increases economic activity, lower health care costs linked to pollution, a decrease in automobile accidents, lower road maintenance costs, elimination of fare collection costs, etc.

For new public transit networks in all regions

Given that any decrease in fares increases ridership, this measure must be accompanied by major investments in the system in order to improve service and expand its scope. The CAQ government has allocated $13.6 billion to public transportation in 2020-2030. We propose that the government double this sum immediately to $27 billion, the amount currently spent on roads.

This ambitious investment would be used to develop public transit systems in all Quebec cities. In Greater Montréal it could be used to extend the Metro while building regional express trains. In Quebec City it would be possible to break the deadlock over the proposed tramway by building new lines to the suburbs effectively immediately. In Gatineau, Sherbrooke and Saguenay, the municipalities could plan systems adapted to their situation.

To fund public transit, the CAQ government should abandon all the proposed superhighways around major cities such as the “third link” between Lévis and Quebec City. These projects are an obstacle to the needed ecological and social transition.

Inter-city transportation is a public service

Interurban bus transportation is at present handled by private monopolies supported by the government.  These carriers, interested only in profitable lines, are unable to provide uninterrupted service throughout the territory, which results in decreased use: between 2000 and 2014, ridership declined by 47%, both a cause and a consequence of reductions in service.

Only 0.67% of the Quebec budget is currently spent on public transportation in the regions. If nothing is done, this downward spiral will accentuate and the decline in services will lead to new declines in ridership, which will reduce revenues and lead in turn to further declines in service, and so on. The pandemic and the restrictions imposed on inter-regional travel have led to a major shortfall for the carriers, which leaves little hope for an improvement in regional routes.

This crisis is an opportunity for a new departure in inter-city transportation. Instead of bailing out the private monopolies and returning to the unsustainable dynamic that prevailed before the pandemic, we must make a transition to making transportation lines functional.

We propose the establishment of an Interurban Transport Agency (ATI), a public inter-city bus transportation system that can provide ongoing widely available service at an affordable price. Inter-city transportation must be considered a public service.

This measure represents an investment of $2 billion for the takeover of the private monopolies and their  licenses, and the construction of the necessary transportation infrastructures. By ensuring a reliable link among Quebec’s regions, this service would offer a means of replacing private cars, contributing to regional economies and promoting local tourism. In short, this transportation system linking Quebec’s regions meets a social need in addition to being indispensable to the ecological transition.