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Report urges city council to support parking levy for transit funding

Joe Pennachetti, Toronto City Manager during a public meeting with Toronto Library Board at the Toronto Reference Library on Sept. 13, 2011.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

City of Toronto staff have thrown their support behind charging motorists more to drive and park as ways of funding new transit expansion.

In a report released Tuesday, City Manager Joe Pennachetti urged council to recommend four revenue tools to Metrolinx, the regional transit agency given the task of coming up with a funding strategy for the next generation of transportation expansion.

The preferred tools are a parking levy, increased sales and fuel taxes and new charges on development. Road tolls or a reviving of the vehicle registration tax are future options but would not be considered for years, until "substantial completion" of projects now under way.

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Mayor Rob Ford has consistently ruled out new sources of revenue and was quick to dismiss the recommendations.

"People can't afford these taxes," he told reporters. "That's all it is. Tax, tax, tax. The city is expensive enough to live in. We don't need new taxes."

Mr. Ford has suggested that the money to fund transit could be found through efficiencies, instead of new revenue tools. Asked if that was an option, though, Mr. Pennachetti suggested it was not.

"The mayor and many councillors feel strongly that there is still potential to reduce expenditures elsewhere at the province, that's their opinion" he said Tuesday. "It's very difficult to fund $2-billion a year without some further revenue."

Metrolinx is in the midst of drafting an investment strategy designed to raise the $2-billion a year to fund new transit. Toronto's report is one of many being submitted by communities and stakeholders and, in spite of the city's scale and traffic problems, will not be given additional weight.

"We really recognize and appreciate the urgency of Toronto's issues of gridlock and congestion, but we really look at the region as a whole," said Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Maire Aikins. "All of the input is important."

Mr. Pennachetti said he has met four times with his counterparts from other municipalities to discuss options and one thing they all agree on is that an increase in property taxes – one of the options put on the table by Metrolinx in its recent shortlist of options – should not be used.

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According to the new report, only upon the "substantial completion" of a series of major transit projects just getting under way should the city accept two types of road pricing, the industry's preferred term for tolls, or a vehicle registration tax.

Councillor and TTC Chair Karen Stintz applauded the staggered approach to funding transit.

"Before we move towards tolling, we want to be able to demonstrate we've invested in transit infrastructure, so we can give people options," she told reporters.

Ms. Stintz said she didn't agree with all the recommendations – pointing to the parking levy as a tool whose impact on malls and small business is not fully understood – but said it was necessary for the city to give advice to Metrolinx. And she brushed off Mr. Ford's dismissal of the report's suggestions.

"Council will make a decision … it's not Rob Ford's decision," she said. Metrolinx has proposed the so-called "Big Move," a $50-billion series of transportation projects across the region. Only $16-billion of the projects are funded and the remainder will be paid for by a suite of revenue tools. Those tools will be decided by the provincial government, with advice from Metrolinx.

The Toronto report notes polling data that show huge majorities of Toronto residents backing new and dedicated funding for transit. It argues that money raised within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area must be spent within that area. It also stipulates that 25 per cent of the money be earmarked for municipal projects, a demand that is in line with Metrolinx's current planning.

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The report is to go to the mayor's executive committee on April 23.

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