Three reasons why road tolls are no longer politically toxic

Three reasons why road tolls are no longer politically toxic

(Image: dougtone) 

Back in March, mayoral hopeful Sarah Thomson suggested the city charge for highway use—a proposal that earned its proponents an unambiguous smackdown from the press. What a difference a month makes. After years of simmering on the political backburner, road tolls are suddenly everywhere—with one Trent University professor even calling them “inevitable.” City councillors and municipal candidates are giving the idea a cautious public airing, measuring its inherent value against the vitriol of voting Torontonians.

A recent Toronto Star-Angus Reid poll shows that only 31 per cent of GTA residents would support road tolls along the DVP and Gardiner. Why, then, are our elected leaders staying in this hostile campaign territory? Have they all grown spines? Perhaps, but we have three other theories:

1. Tolls are the better way
By announcing she would use toll money to pay for a citywide subway system, Thomson became a mayoral candidate with a recognizable name. The lesson: If the public can see a road toll as a means to an end (and not a cash grab), then the idea may be saleable after all. Plus, these days, any plan to improve the TTC is the electoral equivalent to a truckload of newborn puppies.

2. They actually work now
Two years ago, one of the most damning arguments against road tolls was that they couldn’t be effectively enforced. Apparently, this is no longer an issue due to recent advances in satellite technology (see: Highway 407). On the cost of that technology, however, councillors remain mum.

3. $120 million
“I also think there’s a realization that [road tolls] make sense,” Harry Kitchen, a Trent University professor, told the Star. Road tolls have already proved successful in Norway, Singapore and England, where they have reduced congestion and increased use of public transit. A recent study led by Kitchen projects toll revenues in Toronto could be between $74 and $120 million annually.

George Smitherman is open to the idea of tolls, and Rocco Rossi hasn’t yet ruled them out. Perhaps the question now is not “does this proposal make sense?” but “can our mayoral candidates grapple with the logistics necessary to pull it off?” On that all-important question, the evidence, unfortunately, may point to “no.”

GTA road tolls are inevitable, professor says [Toronto Star]