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.

Your TTC Fare Will Go Up in Downsview

Metrolinx, the Provincial body in charge of building transit in the GTA, is considering a number of changes on how we pay for transit. This conversation will result in the average trip being more expensive for residents in Downsview.

Metrolinx is doing this, because of budget pressures and because different modes of transit (buses vs. trains) and the distance of each trip (1km vs. 10km) need to be factors in calculating the price of each trip.
Currently, a trip from Downsview to the downtown core, which normally requires a bus and a subway ride, costs the same as a trip from Bay St. and Queen St. to Bay St. and Bloor St. -one bus ride. This means that people in inner suburbs benefit from a system that understands that the distances traveled in the suburbs are greater than they are in the downtown core.

Metrolinx is considering changing this. Their rationale for questioning the current system is that it is not fair to charge the same price for someone that rides a train versus a bus, or takes a short trip versus a long trip. What this misses is that the accountant’s methodology to building transit will create a dysfunctional system.
If we want more people riding transit, we need to figure out a transit system that caters to the needs of riders, not the other way around. Metrolinx seems to be coming to the decision that the riders need to meet the demands of the transit system -they’ve done this before.

Leading up to the PanAm games, Metrolinx built the UP Express from Union Station to Pearson International Airport. Their business model assumed that there would be a wealthy market of transit riders that would pay a premium fee for the convenience of the service they created. What they missed, is that most of the transit trips to the airport were made by the 10,000 employees who are employed by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA). Since the service was not practical, or affordable for most of the employees, the trains ride mostly empty -even a reduction in fares has not changed ridership.

The UP Express experience should have taught Metrolinx that its focus on market based transit building is not a viable model. For Downsview, this could mean a more expensive transit fare in the next couple of years. Let us not forget where the decision are being made: the Province is not investing in the operating costs of transit, so Metrolinx is trying to come up with the money by raising the price of transit.

New Trustee elected in by-election

A very tight race culminated with a new name being chosen as Trustee to York Centre. The election was held on Monday, July 25th to fill in the opening created after the passing of Howard Kaplan. Alexandra Lulka is the new school trustee. She won by just over 100 votes in a very close election. 10 candidates put in their names for the contest and the top two won 31% and 29 % respectively. Erica Shiner came in a close second. This is the 4th by-election the TDSB has held as a rash of events has led to multiple Trustees needing to be replaced.