How should we pay for Jennifer Keesmaat’s ‘motherlode’ transit plan?

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Toronto Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat is once again out in the press talking about her big motherlode transit plan. Tuesday, she stood in front of an audience at the Toronto Region Board of Trade and called the city’s 15-year transit plan ambitious. And isn’t that the truth!

The motherlode plan focuses on a complete network of transit initiatives — this means that instead of developing a single project at a time, the city is working on everything to ensure compatibility. Continuous building, construction, and funding is necessary to make something like this work.

Funding is the biggest issue on everyone’s mind. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of $840 million for transit updates in Toronto, there is still room for concern. Toronto needs dedicated funding for the larger projects in the city — the yonge relief line for example — that are the only solution to condense gridlock on major highways. Without dedicated funding, projects like these can see big delays. With a transit network as big as the one proposed by the city, it’s an important question to keep asking.

At the same time, should we really be depending on the federal government to help us pay for our new transit network? Don’t get me wrong, the Transit Alliance is incredibly happy that Trudeau is helping fund such important and necessary transit initiatives in the city, but there is a way for Toronto to do its part. “We are going to have to open our pocketbooks,” Keesmaat said in her presentation.

One of the easiest ways for Toronto to do this is to put up tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The money collected from those polls can go directly into a transit fund meant to support the relief line. This will do two things: relieve congestion on those expressways and raise money for more public transportation. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

The city may be experimenting with tolling, but they haven’t committed to it yet. A Request for Proposal (RFP) has been adopted to look into the mechanics of tolling and Ontario is also launching its own pilot project this summer that will allow single-occupancy vehicles to use the High-Occupancy Vehicle lane meant for carpooling. Vehicle owners will be able to purchase a permit and pay a toll for its usage.

It appears as if the City of Toronto and the Ontario government is actively considering the use of tolls, but isn’t quite moving fast enough to keep up with the infrastructure plans being proposed and built this year. The motherlode transit network needs funding as soon as possible, and it won’t help us if tolls are introduced 10 years from now.

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