I’d pay tolls to drive on the Gardiner—but only if everyone else does, too
I’ve already argued in favour of the hybrid option for the Gardiner Expressway, which would keep the eastern section of the elevated highway standing, but change the locations of off-ramps to free up land for other uses. The mayor agrees with me, as do many others. One of the most prominent obstacles to the hybrid proposal is the price tag: it would cost $400 million more, over its 100-year lifespan, than simply demolishing the Gardiner east of Jarvis.
So now the conversation has turned, as it does every decade or so, to tolls. Toronto owns the Gardiner Expressway outright, and the Don Valley Parkway too, meaning it has to foot the bills for their upkeep. Tolls would allow the city to collect direct revenues from the motorists who use those highways.
But tolls, at least in Toronto’s eternal debates about them, are more than just user fees. They are a means of enlarging Toronto’s revenue rolls beyond its own residents, which is a principle Toronto has long dreamed of enacting. Last week councillor James Pasternak laid the gambit bare when he proposed that tolls be levied exclusively on motorists who live outside Toronto, while residents would get a free pass.
Let me lay my cards on the table. I don’t live in Toronto; I live a 90-minute drive away, in Peterborough. Toronto is where I earn my livelihood, and I travel to the city regularly. My routine fluctuates, but in recent months I am frequently in the city twice a week. Though I typically travel on GO Transit (I drive to Whitby Station and ride from there), I also drive fairly often, and when I do, the DVP and the Gardiner are staples of my itinerary. I also have family in south Etobicoke, which makes the DVP and the Gardiner an essential part of that trajectory.
Simply put, I am among those non-Toronto residents who depend upon the Gardiner and the DVP for both work and life. Would I pay a toll to drive on them? The short answer is yes I would.
Let’s begin the long answer with the wonkish rationale: tolls can make for sound economic, transportation and environmental policy all rolled into one. Economically, motorists should pay for the infrastructure they use, particularly for express travel corridors they don’t share with other modes of travel. And tolls can help alleviate gridlock by encouraging people to use alternative modes of transport, which would have many environmental benefits, fewer emissions chief among them. I’d certainly be one of those people: if Toronto tolled its highways I’d ride the GO more than I already do (especially if the TTC fully integrates the Presto fare card).
More to the point, tolls are just not that big a deal anymore. At least they shouldn’t be, because this notion that they are politically toxic no longer fits with the lived experience of drivers in the region. Motorists make over 350,000 trips on the 407 every workday. The high-occupancy lanes on the 400-series highways are a kind of non-currency toll: those who drive alone, stuck in heavier traffic as the carpoolers zip past, pay not with money but with time. And with its ongoing construction slowing traffic to a near-halt at all times of day, the Gardiner is free only in a fool’s imagination. I love many things about the Gardiner—its architecture, its view, its utility—but in its current state, believe me, every drive on that infernal road exacts a toll. Like every GTA motorist, I love driving the 407 and hate driving the Gardiner, and that should be the whole story right there. Tolls can be a force for good.
Alas, it’s not the whole story. The underlying bone of contention isn’t tolls but residential property tax rates. Toronto’s property tax rates have long been among the lowest in the GTA, and to those of us who live outside the city (and who both depend upon and contribute to its economy), the Gardiner is the emblem of Toronto’s irresponsibility. On Metro Morning, Councillor Pasternak had the temerity to say that “Torontonians are already paying their fair share.” It’s plainly obvious they are not. If you use surrounding municipalities as a benchmark, there’s plenty of room for a property tax increase in Toronto to pay for road maintenance. Or social housing repairs, or transit expansion, or any of Toronto’s other urgently needed civic investments.
This is why Pasternak’s proposal stinks: it’s really just a means of subsidizing Toronto’s low tax rates, and on behalf of all non-Toronto residents I call bullshit. Worse still is the fact that the idea essentially abandons the policy tenets of road pricing. If getting people out of their cars produces social and environmental benefits, then surely it applies to all people and all cars. The toll-the-outsiders proposal is an Orwellian nightmare: apparently some drivers are more equal than others.
Mind you, if Toronto tolled its highways for all drivers, including its own residents, then everyone else would be left with little basis for complaint. Of course they’d grumble, but if all highway users are charged, and if the revenues are dedicated to the maintenance of the highways, then how Toronto sets its property tax rate once again becomes no one else’s business. Motorists, no matter where they lived, would pay the toll and enjoy the benefits of better-maintained highways in the city. And Toronto residents could continue to underinvest in their other public goods, or not, as they so wished. Hopefully not.
12 thoughts on “I’d pay tolls to drive on the Gardiner—but only if everyone else does, too”
Your logic is flawed. You are cherry-picking Toronto’s low property tax rates while neglecting the cost of Toronto’s exorbitant land transfer taxes which more than offset the cost of purchasing property in Toronto versus the surrounding municipalities.
Look, it’s this simple: the non-400 series highways (i.e. DVP & Gardiner) are paid for by the city of Toronto. Toronto citizens contribute to this funding, in large part, by paying massive land transfer taxes as well as property taxes. Non-Torontonians are freeloaders on these highways. They should be taxed accordingly for using these roads — heck, I will go one step further because even that is not enough for the greater problem of out-of-town commuters saturating Toronto’s streets. All non-Torontonian vehicles should be taxed daily for use of local roads which contributes to both increased traffic congestion and environmental pollution.
They should institute photographic technology along the roads that border the Toronto city limits to bill any licensed vehicle whose registration is from out of town. Then, and only then, will non-Torontonian commuters rethink their commuting experience with public transportation, working closer to home or moving closer to work versus polluting and congesting Toronto because it’s most convenient to their current lifestyle.
This certainly wouldn’t be a popular idea with the 905 crowd but, then again, as non-citizens of Toronto they aren’t voters so any mayoral candidate would be wise to consider this to better their citizen’s quality of life by disincentivizing non-Torontonians from polluting and congesting it.
I think that we need to clear the air in regards to property tax rates in Toronto.
If you look at the rate alone, Toronto appears to have low taxes. A $500,000 house in Toronto pays less tax than a $500,000 house in Richmond Hill. That is true.
But the $500,000 house in Richmond hill is at least twice the size, and sits on a larger lot than the one in Toronto. The Toronto property may even be a condo. Servicing smaller homes with one or 1.5 washrooms, less road frontage and in close proximity to existing infrastructure is far less expensive than servicing a massive home on a massive lot. The Richmond Hill home consumes more sewer resources (longer lines between houses, likely more use due to the number of washrooms), requires more snow clearing time/fuel and resources and more time/fuel picking up garbage.
The best way to look at this is by the tax dollars per square foot (or other area measurement).
Let’s look at 2 equally sized homes – 2,000 SF, one in Richmond Hill and one in Toronto proper. Let’s say the Richmond Hill home costs $700,000. That same home in Toronto will cost easily $1,00,000, probably more. The Richmond Hill house is paying around $5,975/year in taxes while the Toronto house is paying $7,230.
Now layer on the Toronto-specific Land Transfer Tax and you’re whole argument is completely debunked.
Torontonians pay their fair share – our taxes could probably go up without much harm but to say that we pay less than other municipalities is just incorrect.
this is a a lop sided article and lacking sufficient research and rustling up of facts. Completely cherry picked. While torontos taxes are lower – not only do we have the land transfer tax which can be huge we have the highest density per sq ft of any municipality in Canada. If you live in Peterborough you have huge amounts of roads for few people. Toronto is much more efficient. We have the laws of efficiency helping out and hence the lower cost of taxes. if you use the highway and you are from outside of town you need to contribute to the Toronto highway system and pay a toll. Toronto residents should be exempt from this tax because we already shoulder the burden. Your tax dollars pay for peterborough infrastructure not Toronto – so pony up or stay home.
“the Gardiner is the emblem of Toronto’s irresponsibility”, “it’s really just a means of “subsidizing Toronto’s low tax rates”. I honestly don’t follow. This seems to be heart of the argument (that the rest of Ontario subsidizes Toronto’s low muncipal taxes) and I don’t agree.
City of Toronto covers its own budget and its own debt. There are no transfer payments (that I am aware of) that send extra provincial money to Toronto because it’s extra-indebted/under-taxed than other muncipalities so why would you say that the province is subsidizing Toronto’s budgetary activities. In fact, I thought it was common knowledge that Toronto sends much, much more to the provincial coffers than any other municipality. There is provincial money for local transit (TTC), like every other local transit systems (ie your GO train) spread out across the province from provincial budget.
Toronto doesn’t need another “revenue tool” or what ever you want to call it. The only problem we have is a highly dysfunctional city counsel that fails to plan. I take that back, they do plan, they planned to ignored the maintenance on the gardiner for the purpose of creating and excuse to tear it down. The only solution to all our problems is restricting counsel to two terms. This would have a tremendous positive impact. We have proven that experience doesn’t help, so lets get them out by restricting them. Perhaps then some qualified people might take a run at it.. Look at Kristyn Wong-Tam for instance…Changing parks and street names to her friends names…. Does this qualify her to have the knowledge needed to make such life altering decisions that would impact Torontonians for the next century…
Yes – let the Torontonians keep the Gardiner up for the Peter Previlles of the world. Those who live in Peterborough and need to occasionally visit their familyin Etobicoke and never heard of the 401 or the 427. Visiting your family is so essential for our economy. Oh and btw PP, our economy is not depending on you, your livelihood depends on our economy. Great arguments especially the one on “aesthetics”. Big difference between a contrarian and a fool. Can’t believe I got sucked into this clickbait.
The continuous use of the ridiculous trope that “Torontians dont pay their ‘fair share'” of taxes needs to die. It’s flat out wrong
We are not Americans. I am not agree with this BS.
Improve alternate transportation i.e Public transportation. Were way behind every major city, it makes no sense, use tax money for that. It will generate revenue and clear up some of the congestion and pollution. Why is every solution to city generated problems to charge people even more money to fix it. Why don’t you make corporations pay, use some of the money from the Pan Am games.
#BuryTheGardiner like Babak at #CoreArchitects shared his vision of.
It is time to #DigDownandBuildUp that way corporations can finance a through way for autos and transit along the lakeshore.
Go beyond Babak’s vision and do this from the 427 to Bloor or beyond, our highways need to be put under ground, they divide the city and disconnect large swaths of it. The physical and psychological disconnects of highway infrastructure are too old fashioned to persist in their mid 20th century form continually into the 21st and beyond.
It’s time we evolved beyond our early childhood infrastructure. We humans are due some ‘built planet’ evolution, putting highways underground, or transit corridors is one of them.
ENB..// o and #BabakForMayor ;)
So many of the writers and articles of Toronto life are becoming extremely skewed and terribly biased. It almost seems like it’s turning in to tabloid like exaggeration. Probably running out of meaningful things to write about, or losing readers, so they have to take it over the top to create controversy, aka attention.
The city should receive a direct portion of consumption taxes paid anywhere within the metro. We shouldn’t punish people for visiting or working in the city. Every nickel they spend helps create jobs. The roads and parks in the city are terrible as well as most other services. A point or two from the HST would give the city a great chunk of revenue. In this day and age it should be possible for the bean counters to figure out.
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