Road tolls are a solution to what?

You may think that road tolls are a good idea.

You may think that, as Toronto mayor John Tory asserts, those people coming into the city use the roads paid for by local property taxes. Those commuters should have to help pay for the roads they use.

You may understand that there are too many cars producing too many emissions and imagine that tolls will work as a deterrent. People will carpool or take transit to avoid the tolls.

You may have concluded that the City needs new revenue streams and that tolls are a necessary or desirable way of raising capital to fund infrastructure investment. Toll revenue can be used to pay for the Don Valley and the Gardener. And also that same money can be used to pay for expanded transit.

Superficially these seem reasonable.

First, please explain to me how commuters working in Toronto do not contribute to the economy of the city. While they do not pay Toronto property taxes if their homes are elsewhere, the fact that they spend their working lives at Toronto businesses means that the majority of their contribution to the economy is localized in Toronto. The City is the principal beneficiary of their labour.

Moreover these people do pay property taxes where they live, often amounts similar to those paid by Torontonians on much higher valued properties in areas with much more robust services. That they should subsidize another municipality additionally is tyrannical.

This attitude is emblematic of the worst kind of us-and-them regionalism. It is petty. Moreover as a principal it means that when tens of thousands of Toronto property tax payers head out to cottage country, they should have to pay a toll to use each regional and municipal road they did not pay for in their property tax.

Now, consider commuters. I live in Ajax. I could not be better connected to Union Station and Danforth/Main by GO. Inevitably if I am going to either I take transit because that is the most practical option by a long shot. This is absolutely not true of most of the Toronto area. People driving into Toronto are mostly not doing so because they want to. They, like myself, likely live where they do because they could not possibly afford to live closer to downtown.

Most commuters who drive in on the DVP in particular are going somewhere they could not reasonably or practically go to by transit. My wife at one point considered a job that would have been quite near the Bloor GO. Can you get there from the east in the morning? No you cannot.

When I started driving gas was 22¢/L. Gas prices five and six times that have not changed when or where I have to go and the impracticality of doing so, except in specific cases, without driving. Increased cost in the form of tolls will not accomplish this either.

You cannot make anything better by making something else worse. Ideally anyone in Ontario should be able to go out their front door on foot and get anywhere else in Ontario in a reasonable time frame at a reasonable price on transit. The only way you get there from here is to consistently improve and expand transit. As part, or more often as the entirety of a transit strategy, making alternatives to transit more difficult or more costly without providing a realistic and practical transit alternative is doing nothing useful.

And finally, revenue. How is Toronto to pay for the roads that were downloaded onto it? How is the City to fund transit expansion? For transit expansion is desperately needed.

To justify the need for more transit I will just make this argument. Some time ago 20% of trips into or within Toronto were via transit. Lets say you then wanted to reduce automobile use from 80% of trips to 60% of trips, which would still leave cars the principal method of getting around. It is basic math that to increase transit trips from 20% to 40% you are likely to need twice as much transit. So, that would cost ballpark twice as much in investment.

So, are tolls going to pay for that? The 2016 TTC expenses were $1,749,274,000.00. The Gardiner/DVP tolls are projected to bring in $200,000,000.00. That is about 11% of the TTC budget and does not include funding the roads… So, no, this is not a revenue solution.

But Toronto needs a revenue solution. This is not the only area of spending where the city is not keeping up. So why does the City not have enough money? Transfer payments from the Province are not what they should be. The provincial and federal governments are underfunded. Why is that? Why is not enough money trickling down to municipalities?

Part of that can be found in Steven Harper’s firewall letter. It was his explicit purpose in going to Ottawa to impoverish and thereby diminish the government in Ottawa. But this is not only his doing. Canadian’s high-income tax rates are much lower now than they were in the 1980’s. There has been a relentless campaign to relieve the wealthy of their tax obligations. This includes far better ways for the wealthy to shelter their incomes from tax. And corporate income tax rates are at century lows. Formerly the CIT was around 40%. Today it is about 22%.

The richest Canadians and the corporations they control hold the biggest share of the country’s wealth and we keep decreasing how much of that is taxed and at what rate.

Governments do not have a spending problem. We need to double and treble transit infrastructure investment for instance. Governments have a revenue problem. And that problem has been deliberately caused by lowering income taxes for the wealthy and their corporate interests.

So what about tolls then? What are they for? What are any user fees for? This is how we put the cost of tax cuts onto the people least able to pay. Tolls exist to fund tax cuts for high-income people and corporations.

If that is what you want, lower taxes for the 1%, by all means be in favour of tolls.

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I am an experienced freelance graphic artist and sometime canoeist. I feel strongly about the quality of professional work and like sitting by a remote lake on a sun-warmed rock.

2 thoughts on “Road tolls are a solution to what?”

  1. I concur. Almost all our “economic problems” are caused by the funding of the rich and their corporations. I travel by vehicle, all over the GTA every day. Over 70% of people working in the Toronto area commute in from Durham Region, as do I. The resolution to the crippling congestion and failing infrastructure, will only be found in relocating work places to any region outside of Toronto, and adding public transit that reaches all the extremities of the GTA. Urban planners have failed us throughout the last three decades, in their focus on maximizing density to maximize property tax revenue. I feel Toronto could end up like Detroit.

  2. Someone who lives on a rural road in the Niagara region was complaining the other day that he was paying the same amount of property tax as many homes in TO. Since we have market-value-assessment that means Torontonians must be paying one of the lowest property tax rates in southern Ontario. Maybe that is part of the city’s revenue problem; being able to afford a 1.2 million house and paying the same property tax as someone out in the sticks in a small house in an area with frightening underemployment.

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