Sunday, August 1, 2010

Real mayors talk about road tolls: Editorial How do you pay for new subways?

In Toronto’s hotly-contested mayoralty race, the elephant in the room is gridlock.
We have it. Bad. The Toronto Board of Trade estimates traffic congestion costs the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas $6 billion annually.
The average Toronto transit commuter, or motorist, takes 80 minutes daily to get to and from work — 24 minutes longer than in Los Angeles.
It’s getting worse. Every year.
We’ve heard much talk in this campaign about building subways. Unfortunately, there’s no subway fairy to fund them and they cost about $300 million per km to build.
We’re all for the next mayor cutting waste at City Hall.
But there isn’t enough waste to tackle gridlock, build new roads, fix the ones we have and properly fund public transit.
Mayoralty candidate Sarah Thomson has raised the discussion we need to have.
She’s suggested paying for subways by toll roads and kudos to her for having the courage to talk about it.
Problem is, her math is flawed and she’s limited the idea to roads in Toronto like the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.
That won’t work. It will just wall off Toronto from the Golden Horseshoe.
The solutions to gridlock have to be developed region-wide. That’s where Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with overseeing the development of a new, integrated regional transportation network, must show leadership.
Finding the money to fund new highways, roads and public transit can come from many sources — tolls, a dedicated gas or sales tax, congestion charges.
To succeed, the money raised has to go to dedicated projects that will relieve gridlock.
It can’t be sent down the rabbit hole of general government revenues, leaving the public furious they’re paying for the same roads twice — once through taxes, and again through tolls.
The conventional wisdom is even talking about road tolls is a campaign killer.
We don’t believe that’s true for a real leader.
Americans care at least as much as we do about paying high taxes. During the 2008 presidential election, 32 referendums were held across the U.S., asking voters in dozens of communities to approve new revenue tools for public transit. Three quarters passed, often with two-thirds of the vote.
In Los Angeles County, 67% of voters approved a sales tax increase to fund mass transit, including subway expansion.
The specific revenue tool isn’t the issue. What we need are politicians with the courage to lay out our options honestly.
Promising more subways is easy. But without adequate funding from senior levels of government and with no alternative way to raise money — the status quo today — they’re just subways to nowhere.
What we know is if we don’t do anything, gridlock will get worse and a decade from now we’ll be facing the same choices — at much greater costs.
The time to start this discussion is now.

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