John Tory goes for tolls

A city ver­sus city fight is short-sighted

Midtown Post - - Contents -

The eas­i­est thing to do is to pick a fight with a neigh­bour and al­lege they are not car­ry­ing a fair share of the weight. For some politi­cians it seems a de­fault po­si­tion.

As it was with Mayor John Tory when he pro­posed that Toronto should levy tolls on the Don Val­ley Park­way and the Gardiner Ex­press­way. He didn’t ad­vance the usual ar­gu­ments for tolls — that the charge will di­vert driv­ers to use pub­lic tran­sit and that con­ges­tion will be re­duced. (I, as a sup­porter of road tolls, agree with those ar­gu­ments.) He ar­gued that the toll would en­sure that non-Toron­to­ni­ans paid their share of the cost of driv­ing on city roads.

The city’s neigh­bours im­me­di­ately re­al­ized what was hap­pen­ing, re­spond­ing with lots of com­plaints. It seems that al­most half of the tolls will be paid by them. Mis­sis­sauga mayor Bon­nie Crom­bie said she wanted to re­spond by tolling peo­ple trav­el­ling to Pearson Air­port, but the ma­jor ex­press­ways out­side of Toronto were funded by, built by and are owned by the prov­ince.

Mayor Tory could have eas­ily em­ployed the usual ar­gu­ments for tolls, but I think he wanted the main mes­sage to be that this was a rev­enue scheme that Toron­to­ni­ans would not have to bear, much like the ho­tel tax that he is ad­vo­cat­ing.

I would call it small­mind­ed­ness. There are about six mil­lion of us liv­ing in this large metropo­lis, and it serves no one’s in­ter­est to pit one group against an­other. Yes, our ur­ban forms might be dif­fer­ent, with too many peo­ple liv­ing in low-den­sity sub­ur­ban hous­ing built since the 1950s, a form that re­quires peo­ple to use cars for rea­son­able trans­porta­tion, a form that is much more ex­pen­sive for gov­ern­ments to op­er­ate than the higher-den­sity mixed-use hous­ing the city built be­fore 1950. But that is not the fault of the res­i­dents — it’s the fault of the politi­cians who ap­proved those de­vel­op­ments.

To­day we need a com­mon cause: all politi­cian rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the mega-city should agree to op­pose sprawl­ing de­vel­op­ment and to in­ten­sify the ex­ist­ing sprawl. Pick­ing a fight with them, as the mayor has done, is the wrong ap­proach.

But there are other prob­lems with the mayor’s strat­egy.

A toll of $2 per ve­hi­cle would pro­duce an es­ti­mated $200 mil­lion a year, once the $50 mil­lion or more is spent for the tolling equip­ment and it is in­stalled in about five years. Mayor Tory wants the money gen­er­ated used only for tran­sit and roads.

There are eas­ier ways to gen­er­ate this money. First, re­place the pro­posed Scar­bor­ough subway ex­ten­sion favoured by the mayor with the light rail sys­tem that pro­vides much bet­ter tran­sit ser­vice to that part of Scar­bor­ough and costs $1 billion less. Sec­ond, tear down the eastern end of the Gardiner Ex­press­way, for a sav­ings of an­other $1 billion. Th­ese two changes would gen­er­ate as much money as 10 years of the pro­posed tolls.

An­other prob­lem pointed out by some coun­cil­lors is that the city has an im­me­di­ate cash crunch, which is why the mayor is propos­ing to cut ser­vices, in­clud­ing tran­sit ser­vice. His road toll pro­posal does not ad­dress this fi­nan­cial short­fall. Coun­cil­lors Gord Perks and Shel­ley Car­roll have called road tolls a di­ver­sion, strate­gi­cally an­nounced by the mayor at the same mo­ment the 2017 bud­get is be­ing pro­cessed.

This is not a good en­try to 2017. The few months on ei­ther side of New Year’s Day is the last period be­fore the next elec­tion one can ex­pect the mayor to talk about ways to raise more rev­enue to ad­dress city prob­lems.

Our city has the high­est rates of child poverty in the coun­try. We are mak­ing no head­way in the pro­vi­sion of af­ford­able hous­ing. The pro­posed bud­get will cut more than 200 parks and recre­ation staff and will raise tran­sit fares. In­stead of ad­dress­ing th­ese is­sues, the mayor has talked road tolls to fund road re­pair and cap­i­tal costs for tran­sit.

Spend­ing his po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on at­tack­ing the city’s neigh­bours with road tolls is a sad and wasted op­por­tu­nity by Mayor Tory.

Post City Mag­a­zines’ colum­nist John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto and the au­thor of a num­ber of ur­ban plan­ning books, in­clud­ing The Shape of the Sub­urbs.

Mayor John Tory, at the Toronto Auto Show, be­fore his push for road tolls


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