The City of Toronto needs funding: funding for construction, for public services, and for infrastructure. Toronto Mayor John Tory, in a bid to generate additional revenue, has introduced a plan to implement $2 tolls on the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). Tory, in a conference introducing this proposal, warned that choosing not to implement some money-making scheme within the city would risk big cuts in services or a substantial increase in taxes.
Introducing tolls on highways is entirely feasible. It is already being implemented in the GTA with the 407 highway, which is privately owned and distance-based. Major cities around the world such as New York City, San Francisco, London, and Stockholm have tolls ranging from $3 all the way to $20 . These cities can provide a potential model for Toronto moving forward; in Stockholm, tolls became increasingly popular after the reduction of congestion over seven months, with public approval rising from about 35% to 70%. Stockholm tolls also led to a drop in downtown traffic levels, an increase in public transit ridership, and a reduction of greenhouse gases and air pollution .
While Tory looks to get funding for the city through taxes, such as an increased hotel tax on visitors to the city, taxes will not raise anywhere near the amount needed for major projects. Tolls, however, will: the proposed toll of $2 per trip on the DVP and the Gardiner would raise almost $200 million of much-needed money on an annual basis . $200 million of added revenue would more than cover the expected budget gap of $91 million, and lessen the need for staff and service cuts . Moreover, the tax would force people who use the city’s highways, but don’t live in Toronto, to pay for their usage of the infrastructure.
No matter how many other money-making schemes we come up with, they will all have their disadvantages. Tolls are the easiest way to get the funding Toronto needs, especially since the federal and provincial governments cannot provide any more. That’s not to say that there won’t be any drawbacks if tolls are implemented: not only would tolling likely increase the already omnipresent congestion on streets such as Queen and King, it would also place a financial toll on some families. Tolls in Toronto, which has one of the largest concentrations of low-income populations in Ontario, may place additional financial burden on these families . However, there are also some major upsides to these tolls. They would spread traffic out between the DVP, the Gardiner, and downtown streets, encourage many to find alternate transport, and most importantly, provide the city with the money that it desperately needs. The money will be reinvested into the city, through funding for infrastructure that will then help reduce congestion. While there may be drawbacks, the benefits outweigh them.
Admittedly, there are many details that have yet to be fully inked out. These include exemptions for multi-person vehicles, taxis, and low-income families, to help reduce any additional financial strain caused by these additional costs. Furthermore, the toll could be a fixed fee, as is currently planned, or based on distance travelled. Toronto City Council passed a vote in favour of further study of potential toll implementations, but all considerations will have to be resolved before getting final approval for the proposal at the municipal, and subsequently provincial, level . After the final city council approval, the proposal passes to the provincial legislature, though Premier Kathleen Wynne has indicated that she will likely approve these tolls. Similarly, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca has indicated that the Wynne government continues to be open to Tory’s proposal. He also emphasized that the provincial government will not implement highway tolls on provincially-operated and owned roads such as the 401 and the 400 . However, with the provincial election approaching in under two years’ time, this is more likely a political move to avoid potential backlash.
Ultimately, the issue boils down to the city’s need for money: Tory has made it clear that for Toronto to retain the services we want, not to mention the services we need, the city requires more money. And simply put, tolls make money. Despite some drawbacks, they are an avenue through which the city can generate significant revenue without resorting to tax hikes. Even though the tolls are a pain, they are the best way to fund the city.