Fighting for free public transit in Canada's largest city

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Stefan Kipfer and Herman Rosenfeld. They are active with Free Transit Toronto, an activist network focused on a long-term vision of high quality and completely free public transit, as well as on supporting short-term organizing that seeks winnable immediate reforms that move in that direction.

There used to be a project in Toronto called the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly. The Assembly doesn't exist any more, but for a period of time it brought together activists and organizers from a range of movements, organizations, and communities-in-struggle in the city. One of its campaigns was Free Transit Toronto. Since the Assembly faded away, Free Transit Toronto has become a network in its own right, bringing together a small but dedicated group committed to organizing around a vision of high quality, widely available, public transit that is completely free.

This focus was carefully chosen. The ability to get from place to place is very important, and it's not an easy thing for a lot of people, particularly in a large and expensive city. Even small changes that would make transportation around Toronto easier, cheaper, more accessible, and more available would have a major impact on people's lives, especially the lives of poor and working-class people. At the same time, focusing on transit that is totally free as a long-term goal centrally incorporates a transformative vision into the work -- a vision that includes not only the decommodification of transit but also all of the requirements and downstream consequences that such a change would carry with it. It would, today's guests argue, have important implications for (and open space for radical conversations about) all of the broad range of issues and struggles increasingly being talked about under the banner of "the right to the city" -- the fundamental struggles around who gets to enjoy, control, shape, benefit from, and thrive in urban space.

Free Transit Toronto has combined work that explicitly focuses on elaborating and articulating this larger radical vision and the anti-capitalist sensibility which informs it, with work contributing to broader campaigns that have more modest and immediately winnable goals. In recent years, this has included sinking considerable energy into building and supporting the TTC Riders and the Fair Fare Coalition -- the former is a sizeable membership organization that pushes for increased public investment in transit, lower fares, more services, and increased reach for mass rapid transit, while the latter is a campaign that emerged largely from the city's agency sector with the goal of reducing transit fares for people living on low incomes, especially people on social assistance.

Herman Rosenfeld is a retired autoworker and trade union staffer. Stefan Kipfer teaches Environmental Studies at York University. They speak with me about the politics and practicalities of the fight for free transit in Canada's largest city.

To learn more about Free Transit Toronto, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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