Yesterday, sparks flew as Mayor John Tory endorsed expressway tolls on the Gardiner and DVP, and the City Manager released a Long-Term Financial Direction Update on new funding sources to be considered by Council, including road tolls and a hotel tax. The report is expected to be considered by Executive Committee on December 1 and Budget Committee on December 2, and will inform the City’s long-term financial plan.

Worsening traffic congestion – driven by historic under-investment in transit – has a negative impact on GHG emissions, public health, and the city’s overall economic prosperity. While Toronto’s Twitter war wages about whether or not road tolls are the right way forward or the fair choice to fund the City’s transportation investments, it is encouraging to see our mayor opening the door to an “adult conversation” about funding our ambitious transit plans – and the fact that new revenues are needed now to keep our current system running and to catch up with our overdue expansion needs.

While the implementation of new funding strategies will be difficult, it is critical that this be advanced by this government and not delayed. As a post-Paris C40 Cities report reminds us, “The decisions made by mayors within the next five years will determine whether or not the world is set on a high or low-carbon pathway.” This is definitely the case in Toronto, where a TransformTO staff report coming before Council next week shows that if we fail to start new GHG reduction initiatives right away, we will never be able to meet our 2050 GHG reduction target.

We know from public opinion polling that people are more likely to support the collection of new revenues if they are dedicated to specific projects – like the dedicated increase in property tax that for the Scarborough subway extension. To be supported by the public, spending decisions need to be transparent and supported by a well-developed business case. From an equity perspective, the revenue tools – and the routes they support – need to improve access and affordability to public and active transportation for our most vulnerable populations.

Aside from raising necessary capital, tools can also be strategically devised to help get people out of single occupancy vehicles and onto transportation alternatives. In some respects, a congestion charge serves this purpose – as it increases the cost of driving alone. So does increasing the cost of parking spots. Of course, this approach only works if reasonable and affordable non-car alternatives exist.

To make matters even more complicated, we must acknowledge that people and goods that are critical to Toronto’s economy and well-being will continue to flow across our Greater Toronto and Hamilton region will little regard for existing municipal boundaries. As such, we must resist the temptation to think of our transportation woes – and our proposed solutions – only within the confines of Toronto’s borders. Perhaps some inter-municipal dialogue on this matter could help set up harmonized solutions region-wide.

For the past five years, Move the GTHA, a coalition of 12 organizations representing a diverse group of business, labour environmental, health and citizen advocacy groups — has been working to build support for investing in a fully integrated regional transportation system.  An August 2016 report from the group revealed a worrying $30 billion gap yet to be raised to support build-out and operation of The Big Move regional transportation plan. An Op Ed endorsed by Move the GTHA was published in the Toronto Star this week, recommending ways to help move us beyond this funding deadlock.

It might be painful, but we can no longer defer the tough decisions on how to reach our climate target commitments. The good news is, progress on this front will also improve health, and reduce travel times, boosting the local economy.

In addition to road tolls, the suite of revenue tools examined in the staff report all deserve consideration. It’s time to get Toronto and our region moving again – this is just one of the bold steps needed.

 

Don Valley Parkway image: istock photo