Toronto road tolls go from abhorrent to approved: how’d that happen?

Toronto road tolls go from abhorrent to approved: how’d that happen?

Road tolls for thee? (Image: TheTruthAbout) 

The Star reported on Saturday, and other papers have followed since, that the Toronto City Summit Alliance has released a new report calling for a bunch of new measures to control traffic and improve transit spending in Toronto. The recommendations read like an urban planner’s dream: tolls on the freeways coming into the city, parking surcharges and a couple of different gas taxes. Of course, two years ago, people proposing road tolls for the GTA were being shouted down and probably accused of being Communists. What changed?

In 2008, a Trent University academic said road tolls were a matter of when, not if, for the GTA. “I got the living daylights kicked out of me in editorials,” Harry Kitchen told the Star earlier this year. Paul Bedford, former chief planner for Toronto, no doubt has similar tales. Then, late last year, the one existing toll road in Ontario became public enemy number one when the Star reported on the 407’s habit of collecting tooth fillings unpaid fees from the dead, among other hardball tactics.

What seems to have changed people’s minds about road tolls—and by “people,” we mean report-writing academic types—is the discovery that not only is Toronto’s traffic bad, it’s worse than people had imagined: last year, the OECD released a study showing that traffic woes cost the city $3.3 billion; and earlier this year, we came behind smog-choked cities like L.A. in a Toronto Board of Trade report that relied heavily on the OECD’s numbers. Since the OECD report of 2009, tolls have been getting a lot more positive press in this city, 407 notwithstanding.

There’s still a ton of opposition to road tolls: many columnists (including those who disagree with their own editorial boards); most drivers, no doubt; and, of course, people who would impose them, like city and provincial politicians not named Miller or McCallion. For some reason, people who have to run in a contested election next time around are skeptical of the pitch “Hey voters! We bring you new taxes! Vote for us!”  Can’t imagine why.

• Highway tolls, new taxes could help alleviate gridlock: report [National Post]
• To avoid transit disaster, GTA needs road tolls and taxes now: report [Toronto Star]
• A call for tolls [Toronto Sun]
• Time To Get Serious: Reliable Funding for GTHA Transit/Transportation Infrastructure [TCSA]