Toronto Mayor John Tory has announced a plan to implement road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. While he and his supporters are touting it as a plan to raise funds for the city, ease congestion, and maybe even help the climate, here are a few reasons why this tax is not remotely progressive.
1) Road tolls amount to a highly regressive tax. Poorer people pay a disproportionate share of their incomes in a toll system. And it is simply not true that only the rich drive in Toronto. Once we have a transit system that is remotely functional outside the downtown core (where increasingly only richer people can live), and actually affordable, the conversation may change, but at the moment the only practical option for many people is to drive.
2) Collecting tolls is massively inefficient, and by the City's own estimate you lose a third of the revenue off the top in administrative expenses just in collections.
3) Tory plans to allocate all the new revenue - which won't begin to arrive until 2019-20 at the earliest - to capital expenses. No doubt Toronto needs new capital investment. But that does nothing for an operating budget where Tory continues to apply massive austerity to social services, libraries, transit, and other services, with no plan to change that. Of course, companies don't make money off properly funding such things, where they do make money on P3 (Public-Private Partnership) infrastructure projects.
4) The City's revenue problem in fact comes from two sources. First, the failure of the federal and provincial governments to properly support municipal services through their much broader and more progressive tax bases - thanks in large part to the actions of Tory's own party, but also the provincial and federal Liberals. Second, through the City's own choices for years of quietly giving massive tax breaks to businesses - huge cuts to commercial and industrial tax rates, lowering already low development charges even further, for example. Residential property taxes also need to increase, but it should be a part of a broader progressive re-orientation of municipal service funding.
5) Politically, introducing road tolls is a disaster and opens the door to a Rob Ford redux. We have to broaden the conversation to a real alternative agenda of progressively funded public services, and not choose between competing conservative millionaires. Otherwise, the rich will keep running Toronto for themselves at the expense of everyone else.