Drivers are crash test dummies for province’s transit plans

Metrolinx is asking drivers to pay up for transit expansion, but a new report says they already pay more than their fair share.

A Metrolinx plan to pay for $50 billion worth of transit-related projects across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), through gas tax hikes and other fees, will strike drivers as staggering in the wake of a report showing they already pay more than their share.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, drivers in the region pay $1 billion more annually in taxes and fees than it costs to build and operate the GTHA’s road system, or 135.5 percent of what it costs to maintain and build roads in the area.

Drivers will be rightly miffed at a new plan by Metrolinx — the provincial transit agency — to raise another $2 billion a year for the next 25 years to fund a wide-eyed set of plans, dubbed the Big Move. Part of these plans include building a host of new public transit lines in nearly every corner of the GTHA, irrespective of how uneconomic many of these projects pan out to be.

Metrolinx meanwhile has tabled four options to fund its Big Move: a one percent hike to the current sales tax, a new 5-cent tax on each litre of gasoline sold in the province, a levy on off-street parking and an increase in development charges. According to the agency’s calculations, the cost to drivers as a result of gas tax and parking fee increases will be $680 million annually.

Based on the 3.7 million registered vehicles in the GTHA, that cost amounts to an additional $183 a year for every GTHA driver. For a household with two cars, that cost climbs to more than $360 annually.

If we add that increase to the $270 a year that every driver already pays in excess of what it takes to build and operate roads in the region ($1 billion split between 3.7 million registered vehicles), a household with two cars can expect to pay $900 every year over what it costs to use the region’s roads and highways.

And for what? Metrolinx estimates that drivers spend 82 minutes every day commuting to and from work. After spending $50 billion over the next 25 years, the agency estimates drivers will be spending 77 minutes a day in commute which, in dollar terms, amounts to $10 billion for every minute less spent on the road.

Does that sound like a fair bargain?

Brady Yauch is an economist and Executive Director of the Consumer Policy Institute (CPI). You can reach Brady by email at: bradyyauch (at) consumerpolicyinstitute.org or at (416) 964-9223 ext 236.

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