Severe traffic congestion in Toronto region has given birth to reports upon reports and studies upon studies. The latest, from a panel chaired by Anne Golden, has a welcome focus on how to pay for a public-transit fix. It rightly places a strong emphasis on raising revenues in a way that corresponds to the more intense uses of the transportation network in the municipalities of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
Those who currently travel in cars and trucks are the chief victims of gridlock and stand to gain the most from new and better public transit infrastructure. Accordingly, the Golden panel recommends a gasoline and fuel tax gradually rising from three to 10 cents a litre. It also proposes a small increase to income tax on corporations, and a specific allocation of a portion of the HST.
A dedicated fund would manage these revenues. Without such a stand-alone fund, new money runs the risk of disappearing into general revenues, and being co-opted by other needs.
As a second step, the panel says, tolls on highways should eventually be put into effect, in a user-pay system that could connect road costs directly to road users. Tolls are notoriously unpopular, and politicians are accordingly reluctant. The Golden panel, in planning for eventual rather than immediate road tolls, is erring on the cautious side.
Not all of the projects proposed by Metrolinx, the province’s regional transit agency, or by Toronto (hello, Scarborough subway), should go ahead. Some plans were created by ward politics, not transit economics. Reasonable people can quibble about how money for transit should be raised, and who should pay. But the Golden panel gets the starting-point right: dedicated, transit-related revenue streams make sense.