Time to consider tolls in the GTA

Consumer Policy Institute argues in a letter to the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel why tolls will ease congestion and increase transit ridership.

Introducing tolls on packed highways in the Greater Toronto Area and a congestion charge for entry into downtown Toronto during peak travel times are options the province should consider as it seeks ways to ease traffic flow and promote transit – as per the recommendation we proposed in a letter to the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel.

Both of these options would improve congestion and rally more commuters to choose transit. Tolls would also prevent the province from spending billions of dollars on a transit expansion that will only result in higher fares, increased taxes and less-than-expected transit ridership.

The Panel – currently seeking comments from the public – was established by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and tasked with reviewing Metrolinx’s funding proposals for a massive $50-billion GTA transit expansion plan over the next 25 years. Metrolinx has already tabled four options to pay for the proposed expansion: higher sales and gas taxes, increased development fees and a levy on all off-street parking. Meanwhile, the panel has already published two reports, “Hard Truths about Transit” and “The Transit We Need.” It’s expected to release its final report, “How We Pay for Transit Expansion” by the end of the year.

But tolls have yet to be mentioned in any of the panel’s discussions, even though their implementation in other major cities attests to their proven effectiveness at reducing, even eliminating gridlock. Public transportation would also benefit from tolls, both because consumers would seek to avoid the toll and because transit would become more reliable due to less congestion.

Tolls would also prevent the unnecessary construction of additional lanes and new highways.

The public has already come out in support of tolls. GTA residents, particularly low-income residents, are skeptical of plans for higher taxes and fees to fund transit, according to recent opinion polls. Even residents in favour of new revenue tools believe that tolls are more appropriate than sales and property taxes.

Massive transit expansions in other major cities across North America have failed to ease congestion or produce significant increases in public transit. Some cities have actually experienced a decline in transit use in the wake of major expansions after operators were forced to hike fares on the most popular routes.

Tolls are a proven tool to ease congestion and increase transit ridership – and one that the province should consider as it looks for answers to the region’s traffic woes.

Read the Consumer Policy Institute’s letter to the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel here.

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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