Last week, the Ontario government delivered its budget, which everyone in Toronto now knows slashed funding for municipal transit, diverting funds to develop rural highways instead. It’s a blatant political move intended to build Liberal support in rural Ontario. Clearly the Liberal party is confident in their urban vote base (they most certainly shouldn’t be). What it means for Toronto is that mayor David Miller’s hard work and advocacy for almost his entire term as mayor to secure upper-level government funding for the expanded light rail system in the city is wiped away in one bonehead political move. Although much money has already been spent and construction has already started, most of the system will now never be built.
This is the kind of political dumbassery that left Toronto with the Allen expressway to nowhere, the Black Creek stub, two land-wasting fragments at either end of the long-scrapped Richview and Crosstown expressways, and two severely over-capacity transportation modes to the core – the crumbling Gardiner/DVP and the equally congested Yonge subway – leaving the city with near-permanent gridlock, and no vision whatsoever how to get the city moving again.
Toronto’s transit system has a lot of now well-publicized problems, but what it needs more than anything is a steady source of non-political revenue. This can’t be achieved through one-time politically sensitive government handouts. In short, since the Ontario government is not willing to provide the region with guaranteed, sustainable transit funding, Toronto should seek that funding elsewhere.
Part of the problem with the TTC’s funding model (and Toronto’s budget in general) is that many people commute into the city from neighbouring communities, and those people don’t directly contribute to the city’s tax revenue. The only money that Toronto collects from those people who use its services daily is limited to what the province decides to provide. So the amount contributed by someone who lives just west of Etobicoke Creek and visits Toronto every day is the same as that contributed by someone who lives in Thunder Bay and has never been to Toronto. That’s really not fair to taxpayers in Toronto. Or in Thunder Bay, for that matter.
So how to solve the regional funding disparity? Road tolls are a must, in my opinion. That is, electronically-collected per-use tolls on Toronto’s municipal expressways – the Gardiner and DVP, exactly like the 407 except that low-income commuters could apply for an exemption, and tolls collected would go directly back to road projects. Tearing down the Gardiner shouldn’t even be considered (not yet) – traffic on that highly congested route has no other route to use.
And what about transit funding? Last year, New York instituted the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax, a small (less than 1%) flat tax on payroll, collected from employers in a designated area surrounding New York City. Companies in the city and several surrounding counties are required to collect & remit the transit tax to the state government, which directs the money back to the Metro Transit Authority. By imposing this tax, the people and businesses that benefit from the region’s transit system contribute more to it, as it should be, and the MTA has at least some consistent funding. Ontario should consider instituting a tax like the MCTMT in the GTA, and if the province won’t, we should call on the Toronto Board of Trade and other chambers of commerce in the region to levy a similar fee among their own membership, and even consider handing over transit to the private sector, if that’s what it takes to get the region moving.
Local and regional transit is vital to Toronto and the GTA, and this region is the economic hub of the province. We deserve better than our 30-year-old system of decaying, overcrowded and underfunded transit.
Sent from my mobile device, on a bus, stuck in traffic