Taking a toll on the city
This morning Toronto City Hall released its Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Action Plan, a truly remarkable policy proposal with many laudable recommendations, including a massive expansion of the bicycle-lane network and a ban on leaf blowers, which, as I argued for in one of my very first posts on this site, is a fine idea. The plan also suggests road tolls, which, as I argued some time ago on this site, are stupid. They’re still stupid, and the mayor knows it, which is why he’s already full of caveats about it.
Here’s a story a little birdie told me: not long ago, David Miller was having lunch with a provincial bigwig (can’t say which one) who was needling him about the toll idea. Mr. Big pointed out that all the major financial institutions—the banks and insurance companies that supply most of the downtown’s well-salaried, white-collar jobs—all have office facilities outside the city centre in places like Mississauga and Brampton, and that he might have to suggest to them that they start moving jobs to those places. He was only half-joking. Mr. Big’s point was that Toronto is far more dependent upon its suburbs than it likes to believe, that its status as the GTA’s main centre of employment is more precarious than it seems, and that the city could price itself out of job creation in a hurry with something like road tolls. The downtown needs to be cheaply and easily accessible to its suburbs, and transit cannot accommodate every commuter’s needs. That’s why Miller is now insisting that any road tolls must be implemented region-wide.
The upshot is that, if you make the link between today’s news and yesterday’s, road tolls might not be necessary. TTC ridership is increasing far faster than anyone expected, thanks to nothing more than existing congestion and the cost of gas (which seems to have settled nicely upon its new, cushy, three-figure floor price at $1.00 per litre). These factors make it expensive to drive to work no matter where your job is located—in other words, it keeps the playing field level.
Unfortunately, for eco-activists and downtown policy wonks, the implementation of road tolls—or congestion charges, or whatever—has become a sort of Holy Grail, the measure of courage and progress for Mayor Miller and his administration. The death knell has been sounded for the Carbon Age, which is great, and I know we’re all in a hurry to rush it to its grave, but given that it has formed the foundation of daily life for more than a century, it won’t be dismantled overnight.