Photo by Jonathan Goldsbie.
It was always a good bet that Rob Ford would shoot down the latest proposal to pay for public transit.
But few could have predicted the mayor's reaction to Metrolinx's shortlist of 11 revenue tools - which was released Tuesday and included a fuel tax, payroll tax, highway tolls, and a parking space levy - would be quite so visceral.
When asked about the list at the kick-off of the Clean Toronto Together program at City Hall, Ford pretended to vomit.
After he had finished pretending to retch, he told reporters: "People aren't ready for new taxes, yet. They just aren't. So I can't support any of these new taxes, and that's it."
The mayor also reiterated his belief that a downtown gaming complex could help fund transit in the increasingly gridlocked Toronto region.
"If you want to pay for transit, I've got a good idea. It's called a casino. You can get a lot of money to pay for a good amount of the transit. You can get the private sector involved," he said.
Asked about Ford's reaction, Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig said he couldn't comment. But he said the agency is waiting for city council to make its recommendations on the list of funding tools at its meeting in May.
"We'll be looking forward to the feedback to the city of Toronto," McCuaig said at agency headquarters for a press conference to announce the shortlist.
The full shortlist includes: a parking space levy; a payroll tax; a property tax; high occupancy toll lanes; highway tolls; a sales tax; development charges; transit fare increases; a fuel tax; a levy on increased property value resulting from new transit; and a novel plan to track and charge motorists for each kilometer they drive, using GPS.
Previously toyed-with ideas like the controversial vehicle registration tax or an income tax hike were left out.
The agency will now seek input on the shortlist from the public and municipalities in the region, and then whittle it down to make final recommendations to the province on June 1. McCuaig said he couldn't predict how many tools the agency will ultimately recommend.
Proponents of the Metrolinx plan say the revenue tools are desperately needed to tackle transportation problems that are starting to choke the region. The goal is to raise $2 billion annually over 25 years for the agency's $50-billion Big Move project, which aims to improve gridlock across the GTA by building new transit lines and other transportation infrastructure.
While Ford's reaction Tuesday was the most theatrical, other municipal leaders are also opposed to some of the revenue tools, which would be applied in cities throughout the region.
Asked whether taxes and tolls will be imposed on municipalities that object to them, McCuaig said that that isn't up to Metrolinx.
"What we're providing is advice to the province and the municipalities. In the end we're not the final decision-maker at Metrolinx, we're providing our best possible advice to the decision-makers," he said.
The provincial government will have the final say on which measures are implemented.
TTC chair Karen Stintz supports new revenue streams to build transit infrastructure, but she expressed reservation about one item on Metrolinx's shortlist Tuesday. She said she was "surprised" to see that the agency was suggesting TTC fares could be increased by 15 cents to generate money for capital projects.
The commission currently uses proceeds from the fare box to operate the transit system, and is struggling to maintain service levels as ridership continues to rise.
"At the commission we've made a policy position that we raise fares at the rate of inflation to cover operational costs. We don't raise fares for capital investment," she said.
Others are worried that, even at a hefty $50-billion projected cost to taxpayers, Metrolinx is low-balling the amount of money it will take to improve the region's transit.
"My suspicion is it's not enough," said transit blogger Steve Munro.
"When they started with ‘$2 billion a year' it was five years ago, [and] there's this little thing called inflation... I have a real concern that they're aiming low, but I understand the political imperative that the well is only so deep."
Metrolinx shortlist and projected projected yearly revenues:
- parking space levy of $1/space ($1.4 billion in annual revenue)
- payroll tax of 0.5 per cent ($700 million)
- one-time property tax increase of 5 per cent ($670 million)
- a $0.30/km toll on single drivers who use lanes reserved for cars carrying two or more people ($25 million)
- a vehicle kilometers travelled fee of $0.03/km ($1.6 billion)
- $0.10/km highway toll ($1.4 billion)
- 1 per cent sales tax increase ($1.4 billion)
- 15 per cent increase on existing development charges ($100 million)
- 15-cent increase on transit fares across the GTA ($50 million)
- $0.05/L fuel tax ($330 million)
- proceeds from the property value increases that result from transit investment
With files from Jonathan Goldsbie.