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GREENINGS (JULY 2017): Taking tolls to the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway

August 1st, 2017 · No Comments

Toronto shouldn’t have to pay for roads used by non-Torontonians

I love a good history lesson.

The Green Party of Ontario is floating a wonderful petition to implement road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and Gardiner Expressway. I haven’t been shy about being a fan for congestion control purposes. It likely won’t be a revenue windfall as most of these schemes are lucky to generate enough revenue to pay for the capital financing in full, but it will go a long way to reducing emissions and getting people where they need to be.

“Knowing this bit of history made the government’s decision to block tolls seem like a downright asinine one.”

Having had to sit on the DVP for an hour to get to a family event in Markham recently, I would have gladly paid $5 to reduce the suffering.

While chatting with Tim Grant, chair of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association and the Green candidate for University-Rosedale, I learned a little bit of city history. The costs for the DVP and Gardiner used to be paid for by the province. That cost got downloaded during the Harris days of austerity (as if changing which pocket money comes from makes us richer, but, hey, they balanced their books at the provincial level).

This left the City of Toronto with no choice but to use property taxes to pay for an expensive road used routinely by non-Torontonians.

I had no idea that it wasn’t always paid for by the city. It seems an extreme act of cowardice and a major case of having your cake and eating it too when one level of government says to another “it’s your responsibility to pay for it, but we will prevent you from tolling it in order to do so”.

Knowing this bit of history made the provincial government’s decision to block tolls seem like a downright asinine one. This isn’t about “us” vs. “them”. This is about fairly paying for an asset that’s expensive to maintain and the demand for using it far outstrips the supply.

It’s almost like being forced to take over a fledging business and being told by the former owners “but part of the deal is that you can’t charge for coffee”. If you’ve sold the business, frankly, butt out of the operations.

Beyond the environmental benefits of reducing congestion, there are obvious economic ones too. Consultants trying to get across town to see clients can’t bill for all the time they are sitting on the road. They also can’t work while they are driving. Until we have self-driving cars take over, this is a lot of lost productivity.

Mayor John Tory should seriously consider other options to get congestion under control. He might do well to think about a congestion charge.

Stockholm experimented with such a scheme about a decade ago. If one entered the city between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. through one of 18 control points, there was a charge depending on the exact time of day. (Since these were all electronic, there was no slowdown of traffic flow.)

Traffic declined by 22 per cent during the day and emissions inside the city were estimated to have dropped by 14 per cent.

Traffic injuries declined by an estimated 5 to 10 per cent due to the congestion charge.

After a six-month pilot, they held a referendum in which citizens elected to keep the tolls. After it was implemented and both private citizens and businesses saw the benefits to their bottom lines, it became a “no brainer”.

It will not be an easy sell, but we can learn a lot from the experience of other countries. This is what leadership is about.

Tory moved us in the right direction with tolling the Gardiner and DVP, but failing “permission” to do that, we need to start seriously considering other schemes.

As for us environmentalists, we need to recognize people’s concerns. It generally isn’t about a risk they can’t see.

Let’s start emphasizing the very real economic benefits of faster travel times first and use that to win converts. Starting with an environmental argument will get us the exact same thing the last forty years has gotten us. Nowhere.

If you want to support the petition to toll our roads, go to

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths.



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