Starting Jan. 5, GO buses will no longer enter the York campus. GO buses formerly servicing our campus will be redirected to the Highway 407 TTC station, and the York bus loop will sit empty. Thousands of students who rely on these buses every day will have to ride the subway from the station to get to campus. Thanks to this service change, commute times will be even longer for GO bus users, and they will have to pay an additional fare on top of the hundreds they already pay each month. Students who commute five days a week will spend an extra $60 a month if they use a Presto transit card, or an extra $130 without.
Why are we being forced to spend more time and money to get to school?
Students have been told that GO bus routes to York are being canceled because having both GO buses and the new subway station will result in a “duplication of services”. In 2009, the decision was made to cut GO buses (as well as YRT/VIVA buses) once the subway extension was completed. Commuters were not given a say in the matter. Those in power supposedly made this decision under the assumption that “full fare integration between local and provincial transit providers would be in place when the subway opened.” In other words, commuters would only be required to pay a single fare when traveling between different transit agencies (TTC, VIVA, etc.). Since then, Ontario has not moved one inch closer in the direction of fare integration. As a result, the cancellation of these bus routes will result in a double fare for many students.
Metrolinx, which is the crown agency that owns GO services, is controlled and funded by the Ontario government. And the Conservative Ontario government is cutting transit services as part of its ongoing austerity agenda, not just at York but across the GTA.
Commuters are already suffering, with bus routes being underfunded across the region and buses packed wall-to-wall. Anyone who uses public transit has noticed the worsening of services, and it is unlikely to improve. Doug Ford’s administration is hellbent on cutting costs wherever possible, as long as the victims are ordinary people. According to the NDP’s Jessica Bell, $1.4 billion previously earmarked for transit infrastructure is now missing from Ford’s Fall Economic Statement. While the Ford administration saves money by cutting bus routes, it doesn’t touch the millionaire Metrolinx CEO’s salary. He will make $375,000 to $479,000 this year. This money is being taken from students and workers who use transit to get to work and class.
How do we bring back our buses?
We are fortunate to have a number of unions on our campus, the largest being the York Federation of Students (YFS), which represents over 60,000 undergraduate students. Earlier this year, the YFS launched its yuride campaign to bring back YRT/VIVA buses and keep GO buses. The campaign involved circulating a petition and organizing a letter writing campaign. The petition received over 17,000 signatures. There is clearly a desire among students to fight, and the YFS is well placed to lead.
However, we will not win this fight if we limit our campaign to signing petitions and writing letters. The Metrolinx executives and politicians know that we would prefer shorter, cheaper commutes. They don’t need letters to remind them. The function of these individuals is not to serve students, but to carry out the government’s austerity agenda and to protect their lavish salaries at all costs. This leaves us no option but to mobilize and force those in power to act.
The YFS must organize a series of escalating actions, including rallies, in order to restore the cancelled bus routes. At the YFS Annual General Meeting this year, the highest democratic decision making body of our student union, Socialist Fightback activists successfully passed a resolution which commits the YFS to carrying out these actions. The resolution also demanded that the yuride campaign take on the fight for free transit.
There is more than enough wealth in Canada to not only make transit free, but to massively expand the system. In 2017, Canada’s top CEOs made around $10 million each, or 197 times what the average Canadian worker makes. Under capitalism, however, much of that wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, who then promptly stash their riches away in offshore bank accounts. This starves public coffers, resulting in the ruination of our public transit system.
The demand for free transit will test just how far capitalism is able to bend. Facing a militant mass movement, the capitalists will find themselves forced to offer the maximum amount of concessions that their system allows. If free transit ends up extending beyond these limits, then the system will stand condemned for not being able to provide, and the need for its replacement will be made all the more clear. In their place, the working class will manage industry along socialist lines, and harness the enormous wealth in society to carry out the job the capitalists are unwilling to do.
Strike to win
If rallies prove to not be enough to win our demands, we must escalate the campaign further. The current YFS slate ran on a platform of a one-day student strike for free education in 2019. The recent cut to transit services makes this strike even more necessary. Free transit and the restoration of GO, VIVA and YRT services to campus should be a priority for that strike. Recently, over 50,000 students in Quebec went on a week long strike to oppose unpaid internships. This is exactly the kind of example that we need to follow if we’re going to win.
It is only through militant struggle, such as student strikes, that students can fight back against rising costs of living and education. Whether it is the skyrocketing cost of tuition, rent, or transit, these are issues that affect all students and which have been successfully resolved in other provinces and countries through militant student union leadership. Our student union needs to organize and lead us in the fight for better living and learning conditions.