New revenue tools = safer and healthier Toronto

A tax on alcohol and levy on commercial parking lots are among the potential new revenue tools outlined in a report to be presented at today's executive committee meeting by City Manager Peter Wallace

There’s a good deal of talk at City Hall these days about improving the safety of Torontonians. But rarely does this discussion include the range of risks associated with poverty, pollution from car use and alcohol consumption.

If we take this wider perspective we may find revenue tools, such as a tax on alcohol and commercial parking levy, very helpful in providing not only financial incentives for healthier behaviour but hundreds of millions of dollars for improving social housing and public transit.  

A tax on alcohol and levy on commercial parking lots are among the potential new revenue tools outlined in a report to be presented at today’s (Tuesday, June 28) executive committee meeting by City Manager Peter Wallace. Detractors will attack these tools as cash-grabs, but these new measures could further a goal all of us support: making Toronto safer and healthier. 

A five per cent tax on alcohol sold at outlets such as the LCBO and the Beer Store could generate about $77 million annually. A levy paid by the owners of commercial parking spaces would add at least $175 million a year to city coffers. Combined, these initiatives would provide Toronto with more than a quarter-billion dollars each budget cycle to fix community housing and help finance TTC operations.  

Lower-income residents rely more on urban public transportation than all the other income groups. So when we put money into public transit — especially for things such as discounted low-income transit passes — we’re actually fighting poverty by helping low-income people search for employment, get to job interviews and eventually commute to their workplaces. Low-income citizens often fail to gain work simply because they don’t have bus fare to look for it.  A city with affordable transit has less poverty.

As well, money from the revenue tools could help fund the city’s new 10-year cycling-infrastructure plan, which will cost about $16 million annually. The plan includes a network of protected bicycle lanes that clearly set out a portion of the road for bikes and a portion for cars — making our streets more predictable, safer and healthier for all road users. 

According to a recent report from the Wellesley Institute, a five per cent tax on alcohol could lead to a 2.5 per cent reduction in the amount of alcohol Torontonians consume. That’s not an enormous drop but because youth and heavy drinkers are especially sensitive to cost increases, the tax could be beneficial to those who need to curb their drinking most.  

A new parking levy will encourage drivers to use their car less and walk, cycle or take transit more often. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment says that, “each additional hour spent in a car per day is associated with a 6 per cent increase in the likelihood of obesity.” Emissions from cars and trucks are the city’s biggest source of local air pollution, contributing to 280 early deaths and more than 1,000 extra hospitalizations a year.  Reducing automobile use boosts air quality.

If we take this wider perspective we may find new revenue tools very helpful. 

Gideon Forman is a transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation. | @nowtoronto 

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