Transportopia! (or, For whom the road tolls)
You can skip tomorrow’s Toronto Star, because here’s what will surely be its front page story: a report recommending every possible road and vehicle tax you can think of—an additional fuel tax of six cents a litre, a vehicle registration fee (which Toronto already has, but which the report says other municipalities should charge too), a $25 annual tax on non-residential parking spaces, and tolls of seven cents per kilometre on all the 400-series highways, as well as the Gardiner, the DVP, and the Red Hill Creek and Lincoln Alexander Parkways.
Surprisingly, the report wasn’t written by any government, but by the Residential and Civil Construction Association of Ontario. Its members are the construction companies and the labour unions that build and repair the roads, and it has, of late, been commissioning lots of highly academic studies on transportation in the GTA. “From our association’s point of view, we’re not backing every recommendation in the report 100 per cent,” says RCCAO executive director, Andy Manahan. “But we do have an interest in elevating the discussion.”
What he means is that the RCCAO has a keen interest in making sure that government money keeps flowing to the road and rail construction projects from which its members profit. But there’s no shame in that—especially given the sorry state of GTA infrastructure, which is in desperate need of fixing just about everywhere at all times. The logic behind all the taxes is to make driving more expensive, which, in turn, will encourage more people to take public transit, thus solving the congestion problem. Meanwhile, the money raised would be dedicated to road and transit improvements in the region. The end result? Transportopia! Roads paved smooth as black silk ribbon with no congestion, and shiny new transit vehicles whisking people to their destinations right on time. All for the low, low price of seven cents a kilometre. Don’t you just love academic reports?
Anyway, with Metrolinx (what’s that? It’s the region’s new transportation authority) due to release its transportation master plan for the GTAH (what’s that? It’s the new acronym for Greater Toronto And Hamilton) this spring, we will be talking about road tolls and the like for most of 2008. Politicians at all levels are busy amassing the will to solve gridlock. The only trouble is that the problem might disappear before everyone can agree on the solution: if the economy tanks and people’s disposable incomes dry up, cars come off the roads by the thousands. It happened in the early 1990s, and it may happen again. When it comes to alleviating congestion, a scorched-earth economy beats a road toll hands-down.