Tolls are Not the Way to Build a City

The City’s Mayor recently proposed to put up tolls on the Gardiner and the DVP in order to raise money for transit and roads. Many people support this idea as the environmentally responsible thing to do and just as many more think that out of town drivers need to pay their fair share too.

This line of thinking, however, has many problems. For starters, this new levy is going to hurt working people that have no travel options the most. If you work downtown, but have no other mode of transportation and cannot afford to live downtown, this will be very unfair to you. Most people cannot afford to live in the core of the City any more. If that is where you work or study you are not driving there by choice. Nobody drives downtown without a reason during rush hour nowadays, the commute is awful. Let us not forget that the drive in the 401 is awful, because Hwy 407 costs money to use. If we force cars and the people that drive them off our highways for environmental reasons, but Lakeshore Blvd and Avenue Road become rush hour parking lots, will that reduce the carbon foot print of the City? Where is the study that shows that the effects seen in other places will work here? What options are being built for commuters and when will these be available for them?

Many of us do not have an easy transit route downtown and a car isn’t an option for many, but is instead the only means of getting to the place where you make a living. Tolls may, in theory, provide some resolution for the transportation needs of suburban commuters, but do not solve their real life transportation problems for the next 10 plus years. The poorer you are as a regular commuter, the worse tolls will make your situation, because tolls are after all a flat tax that hits the working people relatively harder.

Tolls are not used normally to pay for major infrastructure projects as it is being proposed in Toronto, but instead for operational maintenance. Tolls are normally used to repave roads and other operational costs and City’s alone do not build major infrastructure project in North America. The City is short of money, because the Province has structured it that way and it lacks the power to make a better choice, but it is still a poor choice. We must remember that the Gardiner and the DVP are Provincial highways, but the government is making the City maintain them. There is no natural disaster we are dealing with, but rather, we are dealing with the downloading that has been happening for decades now.

Furthermore, to think that tolls would allow Toronto to build new subways lines, more LRT’s or more highways is not thinking outside the box. It’s defying reality. You would never be able to raise enough money from this type of taxation tool. Tolls will be bad for the health of the City in the long run because they accentuate poverty.

Most of us do not like user fees instinctively. Not too long ago in the Advocate, Howard Moscoe wrote an article about hospital parking fees and we had a good response from our readers about that article ( There is no difference between parking fees in a hospital, the fee you pay nowadays for your passport renewal, fees to use libraries or public parks or any number of other fees that are new and that keep on adding to the cost of living for working people.

The truth is, neither property taxes nor tolls will build a City. In order to build a City we need the Province and Canada to come to the table with plans and the funds to build and maintain our infrastructure. Hundreds of millions of dollars that were available to the City of Toronto and other cities yearly throughout Ontario in the past are no longer there. They came from Provincial coffers through income tax, a much more progressive taxation method. We must change the existing conditions of Toronto and other cities to truly fix our transit problems. The services we all share and use collectively, like roads, libraries and hospitals need to be funded properly, but tolls will not solve our current problems.

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