With the Toronto Region Board of Trade finally taking an official position in support of new taxes and fees for transit expansion on Monday, politicians and pundits in the Greater Toronto Area that still deny the need for regional transportation revenue tools are now officially on the fringe.
We can lump them in with the likes of climate change deniers, because, like those who claim the earth isn’t warming, those who protest the need for new transit taxes now find themselves standing against a strong and growing consensus of experts. It’s a consensus that crosses party lines and income groups, and includes everyone from granola-chewing activists to planning professionals to stuffy Bay Street executives. It’s rational and fact-based — built on evidence that points to the simple truth that we cannot keep transportation in this region moving without new and dedicated revenue streams.
The remaining deniers — a group that, yes, includes Mayor Rob Ford and a minority of Toronto City Council — can now only grasp at straws, suggesting that maybe a casino will somehow raise more than ten times the most realistic estimates or that some kind of private sector voodoo will jumpstart transit construction at zero cost to the taxpayer. These are baseless notions that don’t deserve any more of our time.
Unless someone can actually come forward with a realistic, costed and detailed alternative, there’s no use considering these kinds of vague ideas.
So yes, the Board of Trade deserves some kudos for their big announcement. In proposing four concrete revenue streams that together would bring in between $3 and $4 billion per year — more than enough to fund Metrolinx’s Big Move transportation plan — the Board sent a strong message to businesses in the GTA, underlining the importance of mobility to a healthy business climate.
There’s lots of room to quibble with the specifics of the proposal. The revenue tools chosen by the Board — a regional sales tax, a gas tax, a parking space levy and highway toll lanes — are ripe for debate. Already people are asking questions. I’ve got a few of my own.
For example: why not look to the income tax, government’s most progressive source of revenue and one that has effectively paid for virtually all our existing transit infrastructure? What about looking to something like a vehicle registration tax instead of an increased gas tax, since gas taxes could prove unreliable as vehicles continue to get more fuel efficient? Is it really fair to levy a tax on parking spaces when municipalities still mandate a minimum number of spaces be constructed with every development? And what’s the deal with the highway toll lanes idea, which reads like a last-minute add-on to the plan?
But I’m confident that most of those questions will be answered in the months ahead. The important thing is we’re finally having this discussion and this new consensus on transportation funding continues to drown out the protests of an ever-shrinking group of politicians and pundits who deny reality.
Transportation Funding: what the Toronto Region Board of Trade recommended
In their report, the Toronto Region Board of Trade endorsed four specific revenue tools to fund the expansion of transportation infrastructure in the GTA. A regional sales tax would apply to all purchases, while their proposed gas tax would add another ten cents per litre to the price of fuel in the GTA. They also endorse a parking space levy of $1 per parking space per day. Businesses would either pass that cost on to the consumer through parking fees or absorbed via profit margins or commercial leases. Lastly, the Board proposes allowing single occupant motorists to use existing high occupancy vehicle lanes on highways at a cost of about thirty cents per kilometre.
The chart above includes low and high estimates for annual revenues derived by each revenue stream.