Paying for Transit in Toronto

Toronto transit is a mess. We have the longest daily commute in North America, possibly the world. This is nuts, but true.

Our mayor began his term with this: ‘the war on the car is over.’ Now he wants subways, but had no means of paying for them. We need $2billion a year for decades. So Metrolinx came up with some suggestions, and the shortlist included:

  • extra tax on gasoline
  • extra land development charges
  • extra HST dedicated to transit
  • tax on parking spaces of $1 each per day (off-street, business spaces)

What happened next is quite instructive. The Federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty, flatly stated that the HST cannot be modified for just one region.

And, the parking space levy was reduced to $0.25 – one quarter of what was proposed.

The HST was the bulk of the needed $2billion, providing some $1.3billion.

The parking levy at 25 cents would provide some $.35billion. (note that the amount of the levy was conveniently not made obvious in the attached link.)

Now for the dumb questions.

Why is the parking levy reduced? This is the only part of this tax that is not borne directly by consumers (although the cost will, of course, be passed on to them, eh?).

What would happen if the parking levy were $1. or $1.25? Multiply $.35 billion by four or by five, and you get $1.4 billion or $1.75billion. Enough to replace the HST tax, eh?

Given the relatively small contribution from raising gas tax (5 cents a litre, and the result was $.33billion), why do we assume people will buy gas near the GTA? (Disclaimer: I never drive downtown except under duress; I can arrange to get gasoline in Ancaster or Coldwater; my car does not go very far other than those trips, I only buy gas here to keep my local station running as it is 7/24 and thus convenient.)

Put it another way: why not pay for the whole transit plan with the parking levy and let the development charges go away as well? (Development charges end up in the house price, eh?)

Is it because businesses might actually have to contribute to transit improvements? If you look here, you’ll see that the (Greater) Toronto (Area) Board of Trade thinks it costs $6billion a year in lost productivity. (The article also mis-states the transit cost as being 50 million when it is in fact $50billion.) So now for the last dumb question:

Who is losing or paying this $6billion in lost productivity? If it is business, should they not pony up some of the transit money?

Write your councillor, mayor , MPP, MP, and Mister Flaherty. Let them know what you really think should happen. Oh yes, and write Kathleen Wynne as well. She at least may listen.

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