While no tax would be popular, Geordie Graham and Richard De Gaetano discussed the least objectionable way to come up with the $2 billion a year needed to solve crippling transportation challenges facing the Greater Toronto Area.
At first, Graham leaned exclusively toward taxes imposed on drivers, such as a fuel tax and highway tolls, which he felt would persuade drivers to take public transit.
But De Gaetano argued increasing personal income and corporate taxes is fairer because they are the least regressive of all taxes.
When it comes to solving the transportation woes of the GTA, the economic engine of Ontario, he would rather see the discussion focus on how we collaboratively build the city we want rather than how do we make the “bad people” (drivers) pay.
Overall, Graham agreed with that approach, although he still sees room for tolls or levies that help change behaviour.
“You use a big carrot and a few little sticks,” he said.
Graham, who moved to Toronto four months ago and lives in the area of Sheppard Avenue and Yonge Street, and De Gaetano, a resident of the Jane Street-Finch Avenue neighbourhood, were among five dozen residents who took part in a session of Feeling Congested? at the North York Civic Centre Monday.
The forum was one of eight being held by the city to get people talking about future transportation priorities and how to fund them.
Normally, the idea of implementing tax hikes, tolls and levies would meet with fierce resistance.
And while potential transportation options have been batted around endlessly for years, we seem to be at a “tipping point” where people recognize the pressing need for solutions and acknowledge we are going to have to foot the bill, said Jennifer Keesmaat, the city’s chief planner.
The average Toronto resident already spends 260 hours a year caught in traffic congestion and the GTA will add another three million people by 2036. Social and economic costs of congestion in the GTA have been estimated at $6 billion a year, according to the city.
Feeling Congested? participants are asked to select their top transportation priorities.
For example, should transportation decisions concentrate on providing commuters with a wide range of travel options in an integrated network or should affordability rule any improvements?
And once those priorities are set, how do we pay for them? Options include income, property and sales taxes, toll roads, vehicle registration fees, development charges and fees on utility bills.
Rachel Harper, who lives in the area of Yonge and Eglinton Avenue, and Janice Keil, who lives in the Yonge and Sheppard neighbourhood, sat at the same table as Graham and De Gaetano.
They want to see an emphasis on travel experience, meaning improving capacity in the transportation system to ease congestion, reducing travel times and making travel more reliable, safe and enjoyable.
Leaders must be more creative in looking for solutions, they said.
For example, ferries could be used in Lake Ontario to get people around from Scarborough to Etobicoke, De Gaetano said.
Catharine Mills, from the area of Avenue Road and Wilson Avenue, said taxes and tolls are inevitable to solve the region’s transportation woes.
“I think we have to get more cars off the roads,” she said. “I know everyone wants the other guy to pay. There are no easy answers.”
Harry Ort, who lives in the area of Bayview and Finch Avenues, said the fastest way to raise taxes is through the HST sales tax because it’s already in place, as opposed to toll roads, for example.
Most importantly, it’s time to finally stop burying our heads in the sand by really addressing our transportation challenges and funding options, he said.
Peter Barton, who lives in the Yonge and Lawrence area, is primarily concerned with getting cars off the roads. He wants to see a congestion tax for motorists for entering the downtown core.