Talk of using taxes to help fund transit expansion drew a colourful reaction from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on Tuesday — one that didn't impress the premier.
On Tuesday, Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency, issued its shortlist of possible funding tools to pay for transit expansion projects planned for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
The options for funding tools (see full list below) include a mix of tolls and taxes. When asked his opinion of the list of funding tools, Ford's response was a long guttural groan CBC city hall reporter Jamie Strashin described as a vomiting sound.
"We can't implement these new taxes to pay for transit," said Ford. "You want to pay for transit? I’ve got a good idea: it’s called a casino."
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the mayor’s reaction was "unfortunate," given the need to find the funds to improve transit in the region.
"I think this is a very important conversation because the reality is, there's not a mayor or councillor in the GTHA — or, I would suggest, in any urban centre around Ontario — who doesn't believe that we need more dollars for infrastructure and transit."
Possible funding tools
The funding tools announced Tuesday are part of an ongoing process looking at ways to cover the cost of transit expansion over the next 25 years.
The suggested funding tools include:
- Development charges.
- Employer payroll tax.
- Fuel tax.
- High occupancy tolls.
- Highway tolls.
- Land value capture.
- Parking space levy, including pay-for-parking transit stations
- Property tax.
- Sales tax.
- Transit fare increase.
- Vehicle kilometres travelled fee.
The tools are needed to generate about $2 billion a year to pay for The Big Move, a regional transit expansion plan expected to cost $50 billion over 25 years.
In making the announcement Tuesday, Metrolinx president Bruce McCuaig said there is growing impatience over finding a solution to the region's traffic problems.
"At our round-table meetings, we heard that there is wide recognition of the problem of congestion and there is impatience for a solution," said McCuaig. "Participants want to see more transit and transportation expansion, they understand that this requires significant investment and overall they supported tools to build new transit and transportation."
Tuesday’s announcement follows the release last month of the Toronto Region Board of Trade's list of preferred funding tools.
The four measures TRBOT is put forward for "serious consideration" included:
- A regional sales tax.
- A $1 a day parking space levy.
- A 10 cents per litre regional fuel tax.
- High-occupancy toll lanes in which drivers of single occupancy vehicles would play 30 cents a kilometre.
Metrolinx will submit its final investment strategy to the province in June.
"What we're providing is advice, we’re not the final decision makers," said McCuaig.
At that point, the conversation will shift to politicians at the provincial or federal level. So far, most have been reluctant to address the difficult, unpopular options for paying for transit expansion. Ford's response to Tuesday's news is just one example.
Several people who spoke to CBC News on Tuesday also opposed the idea of raising fares to help fund transit improvements.
Transit advocate Steve Munro said that a fare increase should not be one of the funding options under consideration.
"If people are going to pay more in the fare box, what they should get for that is more service on their local transit system," he said.
Coun. Karen Stintz, who is also the chair of the TTC, said she didn’t believe that Toronto councillors would support a move to increase fares.
"The one that surprised me was the fare increase, because typically fare increases have been to cover operational expenses — not capital expenses," she said Tuesday.
Wynne open to ideas
The premier has said she's open to new ideas to pay for transit, which can't be paid for by existing revenue streams.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak says people can't trust the Liberal government to spend money from new taxes or road tolls on public transit.
Hudak admits he too would have to consider tolls or taxes to fund public transit, but says he would not agree to put tolls on existing highways.
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton spoke about transit funding on Metro Morning on Tuesday. He said taxpayers are likely to support new funding measures so long as they are applied fairly.
"It’s got to be feasible, accountable and implementable," Burton told host Matt Galloway. "No free ride for anybody. Unless it’s fair, nobody is going to support it and if it’s fair, I think everybody will.”