Pay The Toll!

Toronto Politics

4 minute read

December 11, 2009

I had an interesting debate in my office yesterday about whether or not Toronto should institute a “no car” rule in the downtown core like London, England.

While I agree that the traffic is out of control, and I’d personally LOVE to see less of it, I have another idea.

Bring toll booths to Toronto!


Before you ask – no, I’m not being sarcastic.

I really, truly think that we should have toll booths in Toronto.

But not actual “booths” like the one pictured above, nor any sort of set-up whereby drivers would actually stop, but rather have toll payments much like on the 407, but without dedicating the Gardiner Expressway or DVP as an actual “toll road.”

The technology is obviously present to collect fees without forcing drivers to stop and create even more traffic, so why not institute toll payments in selected parts of Toronto?

If we’ve learned anything from the past few Mayors of Toronto, it’s that the city is always in need of more tax dollars.

And one of my personal pet-peeves as a resident of this great city is that the traffic is copious, constant, and nothing has been done to minimize it in the future.

I don’t think any politician is ever going to suggest expanding the 401 to twelve lanes per side.

Nor is our Mayor ever going to expand the Gardiner Expressway.

The traffic is getting worse, and since David Miller decided to narrow Jarvis Streets from five lanes to four so that cycling enthusiasts can put chains on their bike-tires in the winter, it seems that any decisions regarding transportation have ended up causing more traffic than less.

So if the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario don’t want to spend a billion-dollars on improving the roadways, there is only one solution: FEWER CARS.

I suppose we could have some sort of random draft to see who gets their wheels taken away, kind of like the Viet Nam draft, except you won’t have to flee to Saskatchewan…

But my idea is a little more right-wing: make people pay for the use of the roads.  Those who can afford to, will, and those who can’t, wont.

Sounds somewhat capitalistic, right?

I’m sure we could get into a debate here about whether or not the rich should be allowed access to private healthcare too – since they have the money, why shouldn’t they be able to buy their way to the front of the line for MRI’s and cancer treatments?  If they’re not using the public system, then what’s the harm?

So put up a toll collection in the downtown core, and anybody that enters the core from 9AM to 5PM pays XX-cents.

And put up a toll collection outside the city limits so that those goddam out-of-towners actually have to pay to get into our city to steal our jobs!

One thing at a time…

First, I think that there are surely a lot of people that drive who could be using public transit.  Luckily I’m not one of them, since I can’t take my clients around to look at real estate while riding the streetcar or doubling on the handle-bars of my bike.  But by charging drivers $1.75 each day to enter the downtown core, there are people who would rather take public transit and voila – fewer cars!

Second, I think that the out-of-towners have been getting a free ride for long enough.

The residents of St. Catharines, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Brantford, and Milton use the Gardiner Expressway every single day, and don’t pay for it.

The residents of Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, and Oshawa use the Don Valley Parkway every single day, and don’t pay for it.

These people are coming into Toronto for jobs that could be held down by Torontonians, and they are paying property taxes in their own cities.

When a resident of Burlington pays property taxes in Burlington, none of that money goes to the City of Toronto to pay for roads and maintenance!

There should be a toll collection of $1.00 per driver who comes into the city limits on the Gardiner Expressway via QEW every single day.  It’s revenue for the City of Toronto (so maybe our property taxes don’t continue to skyrocket) and it’ll force more drivers to take the Go-Train and thus reduce congestion on our major traffic arteries.

There should also be a toll collection of $1.00 per driver for the Don Valley Parkway, south of the 401.

After the amalgamation of Toronto in 1998, our roadways became the expense of the City, and no longer did the Province of Ontario provide a single penny for our much maligned Gardiner Expressway or our crowded DVP.

Is it any coincidence that there has been little roadwork in the last decade?  How bad are the Gardiner and the Lakeshore?

The only way to improve the roadways, it seems is with found money.  I think that’s where tolls would come into play.  Start charging for usage, and not only will you find the money to improve the roads, but everything else will gently fall into place as traffic dies down and emissions are reduced.

As Globe & Mail columnist Marcus Gee reported in his article last month:

“When Stockholm brought in congestion tolls, traffic fell by 25%, automobile emissions dropped 14%, and transit use jumped – partly because with fewer traffic jams, buses could get through their routes quicker.”

What’s better than empirical evidence to support the Toronto tolls?

Another option is “High Occupancy Toll Lanes,” whereby only one lane on the roadway would be considered a toll lane.  This would enable drivers to have a choice: pay the toll to use the “HOT” lane, or continue driving for free but use one of the more crowded lanes.  I think this might appease those who aren’t in favor of any toll system.

As a taxpayer in the City of Toronto, I have no problem paying for better roads and fewer cars on them.  In fact, I would have no problem paying a personal luxury tax to reduce the traffic congestion that I endure each day.  Therefore, I have no problem paying a toll.

Unfortunately, I think that this idea would be met with so much opposition from the public that no politician would ever go near it.

When David Miller suggested in 2003 that perhaps Toronto should look at imposing tolls, he was lambasted by his opponent – John Tory.

Is it too much to hope for that maybe John Tory will have a change of heart as he runs for Mayor in 2010?

I sure hope the salt-trucks are out tonight.  Those roads are gonna be some-kinda slippery tomorrow!

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. anonymouscoward

    at 12:30 pm

    This is a complicated issue. But I’d be happy to collect $1.00 every time a Torontonian visits my town.

  2. DREW

    at 12:54 pm

    Im willing to be that you’ve never ridden a bike a day in your life

  3. David Fleming

    at 4:13 pm

    @ DREW

    I’ll have you know that I rode my bike to campus every single day for FOUR YEARS while attending McMaster.

    Every day, every season.

    I remember biking through 30-inches of snow where I had to actually carry my bike a few hundred feet.

    I didn’t miss a single day in four years, and there were plenty of days in the winter when my bike was the only one on campus.

    So put that in your pipe and smoke it!

  4. Geoff

    at 5:24 pm

    David – totally agree. But put the tolls outside the tax boundaries of the city toronto at least (I don’t think it would be fair to live at yonge/finch and pay toronto taxes and a toll).

    I totally agree, let those who want to live in Oshawa and not pay for the damage they do to our roads, choose to stay home or pay up. I’m disappointed that John Tory voted down Miller’s (perhaps one) good idea.

  5. WEB

    at 8:17 pm

    Makes perfect sense….so it probably won’t happen!

  6. LC

    at 11:22 am

    If you live in the city of Toronto, you shouldn’t have to pay to drive on your own roads that you already pay for through property taxes. Want to reduce traffic congestion? Improve public transit and increase parking fees. We don’t have the population to justify toll roads and with the 905 slowly stealing away corporate offices, we can’t afford to put up yet another barrier to do business in TO.

    And for the record, when I worked downtown, I used to ride my bike to work everyday. But then I got a better job 30km away and needed a car.

  7. Tara_Lou

    at 10:21 am

    A toll for people who don’t live with in the boundaries of Toronto sounds like a truly a beautiful idea; in theory…

    Hmmmm… I’m not to sure if Stockholm is a comparable statistic for Toronto…

    I read an article recently about London, England adding a congestion tax to their hot zone areas, and with in 3 years, something like 30% of their small business owners were ready to close up shop… ouch

    T.Dot needs a leader to step up to the plate, and spell out a comprehensive game plan that will balance the environmental interests, quality of life and the small business sector.

  8. Krupo

    at 7:33 pm

    And John Tory is out of the running – yay?

    About the anonymous London statistic – I’d like to see who published that survey/stat before believing it.

  9. Sherman

    at 2:43 pm

    Tolls should only be built on new highways. May be time for a double decker highway to be built in T.O.

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