National Post
November 10, 2009

Natalie Alcoba

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says the greater Toronto area could tackle gridlock by creating incentives to get people out of cars, such as congestion tolls, parking and fuel taxes and high occupancy toll lanes.

In a report commissioned by the City of Toronto, the OECD says local and higher levels of government need to hammer out long-term transit infrastructure funding to improve the area’s competitiveness and consider other revenue sources for Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority. Other metropolitan transit agencies use money from advertisements, rents, taxi licence and parking, a transport tax on employers and fuel taxes to help provide transit, it noted.

“A congestion charge in the Toronto region could cover the major highways (the 400 series) and other major arterial roads, and HOT [High Occupancy Toll] lanes could also be introduced,” the report states.

The city could also levy a tax on parking spaces, “based on a fixed charge per square meter or adjusted according to area or zone.”

Mayor David Miller said the city commissioned the OECD Territorial Review (it was co-funded by the provincial and federal governments) because it “wanted outside impartial advice about whether we’re on the right path.” He believes the report says that, even though it is clear there is work to be done by all levels of government and the business community, he said.

Tolls are controversial – he supports them provided they are applied regionally – but he said once people see the difference rapid transit can make in their lives, he believes they “would be prepared to be more supportive.”

John Howe, vice president of investment strategy at Metrolinx, said tolls and taxes need to be considered because it’s unrealistic to expect the taxpayer to foot the entire transit-building bill.

He said “the cost of doing nothing” is about $6-billion a year. That reflects “the value of the amount of time all of us waste stuck in traffic,” said Mr. Howe, who hoped the report would serve as a rallying cry for more transit investment.

While in some respects Toronto and municipalities in York, Halton and Peel excel – the region is home to 40% of Canada’s business headquarters, produces almost one fifth of the country’s GDP and has a knack for attracting skilled immigrants – its productivity growth lags behind other centres, said Mario Pezzini, deputy director of the governance directorate for the OECD.

The region ranks below the Canadian average in GDP growth and its annual labour and economic growth also fall behind most other metropolitan regions in the OECD, including Warsaw, Dublin, New York and Vancouver.

Report lead Olaf Merk said a lot of the economic and development issues are regional problems, not city problems. “People cross boundaries when they go to work, when they shop … so in terms of policy it also makes sense that some of them be regionally based, especially transportation that takes into account how people move.”

Other major issues that need to be addressed is faltering innovation, not enough green economic growth and an untapped skilled immigrant workforce, the report said.

The OECD also said the region is wasting a valuable resource it has in the numbers of skilled immigrants that choose to make it their home. Reviewing the credentials of prospective immigrants before they arrive in Canada would help; so would increasing the number of bridging and internship programs, like those offered by Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council that give newcomers that critical Canadian experience. TRIEC’s mentorship program has matched 4,000 people with Canadian professionals that can share their contacts, help build immigrants’ social capital and steer them through the job application process, said executive director Elizabeth McIsaac. A survey complete two years ago showed that about 80% were finding work within three months, and about 80% of those in their field, she said.


Reference: National Post