Is the Privatization of Public Transport Incoming?

by Peter Xavier Rossetti

In case you took a double-take, no, the title is not a typo. Despite the fact that the privatization of public transport is an obvious oxymoron, it is seemingly a real possibility that may eventually take our cities and towns by storm. Some may even be inclined to welcome the development, as just a rudimentary inspection of public transportation, especially in Toronto, reveals that the systems in place are in desperate need of change. The TTC’s subway lines are unpredictable at best and inoperative at worst, while the buses and trams can be slow, crowded and just as susceptible to traffic, stalls and accidents as any other vehicle on the road. However, the “solutions” being provided by private companies are simply not the answers we need to solve our transit problems.

Zoox, a subsidiary of Amazon, has come forward with a new idea for transport called the robotaxi. Zoox’s robotaxi is a fully automated, self-driving taxi that can seat up to four passengers and, once fully operational, can take said passengers anywhere they want to go (Ludlow, 2023). It is essentially a 24/7 taxi service that can be summoned on demand and can take you wherever you want to go whenever you need to go there. And in the words of those at Zoox all, “the rider has to do is simply pay for the service” (Zoox). Simple enough, until you realize that this will not be like tapping your Presto card to enter the subway platform or bus.

The great thing about public transportation is that it is public, meaning it is subsidized by and held accountable to taxpayers. This ensures that no matter what, riders will never be priced-out from accessing their local transportation. In the private sector, however, no such insurance exists. Although Amazon may present Zoox and its robotaxi as a benign alternative to failing public transportation systems, at the end of the day it is a private company and its one and only goal is to make money. Neither Amazon nor Zoox is subsidized by the people and therefore not accountable to them either.

The implications of this privatization of public transportation could be huge. If Zoox was to ever grow big enough to corner the market to the point where city transportation services were no longer needed, many, many people would be in dire straits. There would be nothing preventing Zoox from pricing-out underprivileged areas from accessing its services, essentially trapping those who live there without a mode of transportation. Poorer communities, without access to their own reliable means of individual transportation, could see a massive loss of their freedom of movement – negatively impacting those living in the impacted areas’ ability to travel to work or school. Ergo preventing them from ever bettering their lives and the welfare of their community. Poor communities then stay poor and out-priced by privately run transportation. The negative feedback loop continues over and over again.

And this is why public transportation is so important. For all its faults it ensures that those who need it most will always, eventually, make it from point A to B. We have already seen the privatization of transportation gain its footing through companies such as Lyft and Uber. Their inception and the promotion of Zoox’s robotaxi could be troubling signs of what to come. We are to be ever vigilant. Or else our freedoms and rights to travel, our ability to move and live, could quickly be found to be under attack from a faceless, corporate, enemy. An enemy that does not care for you or I and the places we need to go to live our lives and better our situations. For this is an enemy that cares for one and one thing only – its bottom line.

Works Cited

Ludlow, E. (2023, February 13). Amazon’s self-driving car shuttles people on public roads for the first time. BNN Bloomberg. first-time-1.1883271

Zoox. (n.d). Company overview.

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