Tory calls for tolls, trucking groups balk
TORONTO, ON — Toronto Mayor John Tory called road tolls “highway robbery” in the midst of a failed 2003 election campaign, but times and positions appear to change.
Tory has called on users of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway – two major corridors into the heart of the city – to pay $2 per trip on the routes. There was no mention of what commercial vehicles will be charged, but he hopes the overall plan will annually collect $200 million for public transit and road repairs.
Depending on the time of day, trucks account for 9% of the total traffic on the routes into the downtown core, according to the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).
The plan was officially proposed during a speech at a November 24 meeting of the Toronto Board of Trade, but Tory had not even reached the stage when the OTA voiced its opposition to plans for tolls or fees to repair existing and essential roadways.
“We estimate the Ontario trucking industry pays over $1.2 billion a year in combined provincial diesel fuel taxes and driver/vehicle registration fees to the provincial government’s coffers,” said Stephen Laskowski, OTA president. “Additionally, the industry adds about a billion dollars a year nationally to the federal governments’ general revenues through the federal excise tax on diesel, with a significant share of that generated by Ontario’s carriers.”
“Governments at all levels need to understand that the road users’ capacity to keep paying more in taxes and fees is reaching a critical point,” he added.
The Private Motor Council of Canada (PMTC) echoed the concerns. “Road tolls, if they are to be used, should only be used to fund new infrastructure. Today’s announcement flies in the face of that,” said president Mike Millian. Vehicle registration fees in Ontario can be more than $4,000 per vehicle if licensed to the maximum allowable weights, and have increased more than 70% in recent years, the group notes. To compound matters, the province’s new carbon tax is expected to add about five cents to the cost of a liter of diesel beginning January 1.
“Tolls are paid in cities around the world, in places many of us have visited,” Tory said when announcing his plan. “On the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway, these tolls would be paid by those who drive in and out of our city as well as local 416 residents – sharing the burden among everyone who uses these City of Toronto-owned and financed roads.” The latter number reflects the area code exclusive to the Toronto core. Tolls have been known to reduce congestion and encourage use of public transit, he said.
Toronto had asked for $820 million from P3 Canada and the New Building Canada Fund, but the OTA reports the city was informed that the Gardiner Expressway Strategic Rehabilitation Plan Business Case would not be reviewed in time for funding in 2016. The association also said that the province has not indicated any readiness to fund the project, citing 2014 and 2015 priorities to invest $15 billion over 10 years into regional transit.
“The Gardiner Expressway would seem to be a ‘poster child’ project for public-private partnerships,” Laskowski added, calling for a review of the Gardiner plan in 2017, with the hope that P3 Canada financing and provincial support could avoid tolls.
In a recent survey, OTA members also opposed paying tolls or fees to reconstruct the Gardiner or DVP. They were more inclined to see the province’s High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes extended on provincial expressways.
“While we are not thrilled with tolls in HOT [High Occupancy Toll] lanes, our membership can live with them if newly built infrastructure. That way, we’d still have the option of using existing infrastructure at no extra charge,” Millian said.
“OTA has long recognized that for new road infrastructure projects to materialize, the industry may have to examine and be willing to accept alternative financing mechanisms to achieve the benefits of new bridges and roadways,” Laskowski added. “The Gardiner and DVP are not new. Their current state of disrepair and the lack of public funds to finance them is symbolic of how we as a nation have failed to implement and budget for future infrastructure requirements, which support every aspect of our economy.”