With congestion on Toronto roads growing worse by the day, this week the city manager's office is launching an 11-month public consultation that asks frustrated commuters to weigh in on solutions to our gridlock problem.
A splashy marketing campaign promoting the consultation asks residents if they're "feeling congested" and directs them to a website that will be used to solicit feedback on revenue tools to pay for public transit expansion.
The "Feeling Congested?" website goes live on Wednesday, according to staff, and ads for it will appear in print, on radio, and on outdoor signs, as well as on social media websites. Four public meetings are also scheduled, beginning February 4.
Participants in the consultation will be asked to pick their top five revenue tools from a list of 14 options, which include a parking tax, vehicle registration tax, road tolls, and downtown congestion charges.
Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat says that she doesn't favour one revenue tool over another, but she believes it's vital for residents to come to grips with the fact that they will need to foot the bill for a better transit system.
"No one wants to pay more," Keesmaat told reporters at City Hall on Monday, "but I think there's a dawning realization on all of us that we're going to have to in fact pony up if we want to see investments in transportation and particularly transit infrastructure."
"This is, I would argue, the most important conversation we need to have in this city," she added.
While road tolls and other new levies have long been considered politically toxic at City Hall, Keesmaat thinks the city has reached a tipping point. The idea of revenue tools dedicated to transit has more traction than ever among residents for whom traffic jams and crowded TTC journeys have become daily aggravations, she believes.
"The congestion that we see in this city is so significant that we're all ready to say, ‘Enough already,'" she said.
Keesmaat, a former private-sector planner who came to City Hall last summer with a progressive reputation, has taken a leading role in shaping the city consultation, and it could put the her on a collision course with the mayor.
Hours after she told reporters that Torontonians must embrace revenue tools, Rob Ford threw cold water on the idea, telling reporters at a Toronto Board of Trade event that he wouldn't support "new taxes" for transit.
Ford believes that public private partnerships, or P3s, should be used to expand the system, and under his direction in October his executive committee added them to the list of revenue tools for the consultation. But city staff insist P3s are a delivery model, not a funding source, and they are not listed as one of the 14 options.
Despite his opposition to road tolls and other revenue generators, Ford voted to let the consultation go ahead last fall.
The consultation will run until November, but will be intensive in the first months of the year in order for the city to give input to Metrolinx before the provincial agency delivers a final report on regional transit funding this summer.
In April, the city manager's office will report to the executive committee on the consultation results, and council is expected to vote in May on which revenue tools, if any, to recommend to Metrolinx. The provincial agency is conducting its own regional consultation on how to fund the Big Move - its $50-billion, 25-year GTHA transit plan - and will release its report in June.
Proposed sources of revenue for transit expansion:
- personal income tax
- sales tax
- property tax
- payroll tax
- highway tolls
- fuel tax
- vehicle tax
- parking levy
- land transfer tax
- development charges
- high occupancy tolls lanes or express lanes of GTHA freeways
- portion of increased property tax assessment
- utility bill levy
- downtown congestion levy from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm