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Tolls, taxes, fees for transit?
John Tory aims to lessen the stigma

The Toronto City Summit Alliance has quietly formed a working group of about 25 top minds to pore over five options for funding transit, along with other issues of transportation and infrastructure
in Greater Toronto

By Kelly Grant
City Hall Bureau Chief

John Tory, like the policy battle he’s about to join, has evolved since 2003.

In the mayoral race that year, he “rose up in great indignation” at David Miller’s suggestion that Toronto’s roads be tolled.

Now, seven years later, Mr. Tory intends to use his platform as chairman of the Toronto City Summit Alliance to ratchet down the public indignation that often greets five ideas for funding public transit: road tolls; a Greater Toronto sales tax; a parking tax; a gas-tax hike and a property-tax increase.

“The notion that it’s none of the above is not on,” Mr. Tory said. “This is a test of leadership because otherwise to say you’re going to build all this transit without saying how you’re going to pay for it is, to me, a meaningless promise.”

The Toronto City Summit Alliance, which Mr. Tory took over after the death of founder David Pecaut, has quietly formed a working group of about 25 top minds to pore over five options for funding transit, along with other issues of transportation and infrastructure in Greater Toronto. Members have been drawn from the Toronto Board of Trade, regional transportation agency Metrolinx, and the prominent planning firms Urban Strategies, Inc., and IBI Group, among other organizations.

The official goal will be to recommend ways to raise the approximately $2-billion a year Metrolinx has said it needs to crisscross the GTA and Hamilton with new rapid-transit projects over the next 25 years.

More important, the TCSA, the city-building organization that helped conjure Luminato from thin air, intends to make it possible for candidates to utter the words tolls and taxes without being crucified.

“What’s going on right now is a bit of denial in the populace at large,” said Joe Berridge, a partner at Urban Strategies, Inc. and member of the TCSA subcommittee. “They feel we should just build this transit and get on with it. But we’re looking at a very big build and governments that are not flush with the cash. In some way or another we’re going to have to tax ourselves in the region - whether that tax is in the form of a gas tax, sales tax or various kinds of road pricing.”

Beating congestion has so far dominated the race to replace David Miller. His light-rail plan, Transit City, has been temporarily derailed by the province, which postponed $4-billion in transit funding in its budget in March.

Although the delay made the transit-funding question more urgent, all but two major candidates have rejected road tolls as a means of raising new revenue. Women’s Post publisher Sarah Thomson has pitched a rush-hour toll on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway to pay for more subways, while George Smitherman has said he’s open to discussing tolls.

“Any mayoral candidate who says you can have your cake and eat it too on transit is just not telling the truth,” Mr. Berridge said.

The TCSA group, which has met twice, intends to hold public roundtables this summer, Mr. Tory said. He said it was too early to say whether members would have firm recommendations in time for the Oct. 25 election. The TCSA’s next formal summit is not until February, 2011 - less than a year before provincial politicians face the electorate. Most of the funding options would need Queen’s Park’s approval.

The Toronto Board of Trade, meanwhile, intends to unveil separately its recommendations for funding transit in plenty of time for municipal voting day. “We may take it down to a short list [of funding options],” said Carol Wilding, president of the board. “We’ll ask the candidates to do the same thing, recognizing they may not want to go there. But we’ll be pushing.”




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