Rogers set for subway cell service windfall

Well, the good news is that subway riders on the TTC will finally get access to cellular service at some time in the not too distant future. However, this is even better news for Rogers, since they are now the sole provider of cellular services and get an opportunity to charge other carriers, such as Bell and Telus, a fee for their customers to use their phone in the subway.  

It would appear that everyone wins — except the city of course.

The typical model for providing cell service in subways is for all the carriers to work together to build the infrastructure, sharing the costs and the service. This is what occurs in Montreal and should have happened in Toronto. Instead, over 10 years ago, the city gave the contract to BAI, a provider that couldn’t provide the coverage that was promised. Once it was clear the contractor couldn’t fulfill the terms, the TTC should have issued a request for proposal for all the carriers to respond, which should have included a monetary benefit to the transit system.

Instead, Rogers bought out the BAI contract for an undisclosed amount, didn’t give the city a penny and didn’t commit to working with the other providers. Even after it was brought to the attention of the city and the TTC that customers wouldn’t get the access they were expecting, the TTC carried on.  

Luckily, the federal minister of infrastructure stepped in and demanded that Rogers work with other providers on access. However, the minister was unable to direct the significant profits that Rogers will make off this deal to the city or the TTC.

Some may argue that it doesn’t matter since the goal of getting cell service throughout the subway network was achieved. Perhaps, but other levels of government took note that the TTC negotiated against itself and lost an opportunity to collect millions in revenue. 

Although this contract wouldn’t have been the answer to all the TTC’s financial problems, it shows that the transit agency doesn’t do a good job negotiating contracts. While the province is negotiating with the city, it might get an idea that the TTC shouldn’t be managed by the city at all and may make a move to take over the operation of the transit system. If this happens, it may be the silver lining in what is otherwise a fiasco.

KAREN STINTZ is a former city councillor and was a chair of the TTC.