Residents of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are ready to spend money to build transit, and the province’s civic and business leaders must seize the day, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
In a lunch-hour speech to a mostly Bay Street audience, Ms. Wynne also gave her strongest hints yet at what new sources of money she favours to pay for the planned network of subways, LRTs and dedicated bus corridors. The burden must be spread evenly among drivers, transit users and cyclists so that no one group pays a disproportionately large share, she said.
Ms. Wynne also indicated that new revenue tools should “encourage choice” and have a “positive impact in people’s behaviour” – which suggests road tolls are in the offing. She also called for the tools to be tied to more efficient planning, suggesting new fees or taxes will encourage developments to be more closely aligned with transit.
Much of her talk, however, was aimed at encouraging the influential crowd to pump up the public for transit construction and persuading them that politically charged taxes, tolls and levies can be sold to the public.
“Although I believe passionately that building transit is great public policy, I am really motivated on this issue because I think this is where people are. They feel the need acutely,” she said. “Good policy and public opinion are intersecting.”
Ms. Wynne accused some politicians of “short-sightedness” for opposing new revenue sources. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is against any new taxes and tolls to pay for transit. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has ruled out tolls or gas taxes. And Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wants the government to search within the existing budget first.
But the Premier said that, in a time of austerity, there is no more money in the treasury and any delay will simply push transit construction off.
Reports by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and provincial transit agency Metrolinx buttress the Premier’s argument: The politically easiest revenue tools bring in the least amount of money. A Metrolinx-commissioned study by AECOM KPMG estimates that hiking development charges by 30 per cent, for instance, would net just a little more than $100-million a year – enough to build a kilometre or two of light rail.
To bring in the $2-billion every year that Metrolinx estimates it will need to build all the necessary transit, Queen’s Park will have to seriously consider gas taxes, road tolls, parking charges and sales taxes. The agency is set to present a list of recommended revenue tools next month, after which it will be up to Ms. Wynne to implement them.
She pointed to the example of Los Angeles, where voters approved a regional sales tax to pay for transit in 2008, thanks in large part to a mayor who championed the levy. Since 1990, L.A. has opened 140 kilometres of subway and light rail lines. In the same period, Toronto has constructed just two streetcar lines and the truncated, underused Sheppard subway line.
“We have to focus on uniting people in a sense of optimism around infrastructure investment,” Ms. Wynne said. “This is not a dark dale of taxes and tolls. It’s a story about laying the groundwork for our own success and the success of our children and grandchildren.”