As Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne rejected Mayor John Tory's request for tolls on the DVP and Gardiner Expressway today, U of T cities expert Matti Siemiatycki says the move does little to solve Toronto's traffic woes.
“I think this may be good provincial politics, but it's bad policy,” says Siemiatycki, an associate professor of geography and planning at the Faculty of Arts & Science. “Tolls have been approved by City Council. Tolls are a way to raise revenue, but they're much more than that. They have the potential to reduce congestion on one of the busiest and most unpredictable stretches of highway in the region so traffic mitigation as well as the environmental implications are quite significant.”
He says Wynne was likely motivated by the upcoming election.
“Tory's electorate is very local but the premier has an election coming up where there are many seats in the 905 belt around the city of Toronto. If those constituencies that are likely to be more impacted by this and by extension more heavily opposed. It's a move by a premier who's facing criticism about the rising cost of living in this province making a move to try to head that off.”
Siemiatycki said he agrees with the premier that with tolling other options need to be provided, but so far traffic mitigation options have only been conceived in one way – SmartTrack and Regional Express Rail.
“At the moment, the way they're envisioning transit in that corridor is through a mega-project – a major capital investment that's going to cost billions of dollars and take six years to complete. What hasn't been explored is if you had road tolls and less traffic on that facility, could you be running an appropriate express bus service that can't be run at the moment because the facility is too gridlocked and too unpredictable and unreliable?
“Might you be able to provide some of that immediate transit service using buses that you can get up and running relatively quickly – and use that as the transit option that is necessary?”
Last year, Enid Slack, director of the Municipal Finance & Governance (IMFG), which is part of U of T's Munk School of Global Affairs, wrote in support of Tory’s toll proposal and alternative revenue sources.
“Other cities are doing this, and other cities have tolls on their major roads,” she said. “The obvious benefit is to reduce congestion so that fewer people will get in their cars – maybe they'll carpool or maybe they'll take transit. It has a lot of time benefits for people and environmental benefits – less pollution, fewer health care costs as a result, fewer accidents, less policing costs. There are a whole lot of benefits over and above just the revenue.
“The point with tolls is that the users of the road are paying for it – whether they live in Toronto or somewhere else. And if the money is put into improving the roads or into transit, everybody benefits as well.”