Could Toronto make 905ers pay more to park?

(January 4, 2012) City councillors warm to the idea of a two-tier parking system to offset the burden of infrastructure maintenance carried by downtown residents. Lawrence Solomon recommends charging all drivers more — free-riders would still pay and city residents could benefit through lowered taxes.

By Alyshah Hasham, published by the Toronto Star

A controversial idea being tossed around in Saint John, N.B., might be a solution to the transit funding woes of Toronto.

Supported by mayor Ivan Court, the Saint John city council is discussing charging motorists from low-tax suburbs and out-of-towners higher parking fees downtown than city residents.

Altaf Chaudhari has commuted from Mississauga to Toronto for 10 years. He understands why a two-tier system might be fair, but doesn't relish the idea of more costs to his commute.

The argument for the two-tier parking system is that the city infrastructure is being worn down by commuters who don’t contribute to its upkeep.

The idea — which is still in its infancy — came out of a scramble to generate revenue for the city budget, a situation Toronto is only too familiar with. But what would happen if such an idea were brought up here?

First off, any two-tier parking plan can’t discriminate between residents of Toronto, from downtown to the inner suburbs, said Ward 24 Councillor David Shiner, also vice-chair of the public works and infrastructure committee.

But charging the “free-riders” coming in from Mississauga, Brampton and Markham … that’s an idea he’s thought over and likes.

It would get people off the roads and onto public transit, freeing up the dreaded commute, an 81-minute round-trip on average, according to Statistics Canada.

Altaf Chaudhari is one of these free-riders. In a city parking lot before heading out on his hour-long drive home to Mississauga, he said he understands why Toronto residents would want him to pay for the infrastructure he uses. He has been commuting to downtown Toronto for 10 years.

“But the parking fee increase would have to be reasonable,” he said, suggesting perhaps an extra 50 cents an hour.

Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailão, who sits on the board of the Toronto Parking Authority, agrees there is potential in the idea, which she thinks could be lucrative in the face of underfunding for transit and other infrastructure.

Her concern is that charging out-of-town motorists extra could drive jobs into the arms of the suburban regions.

“We have to be careful of how we are doing in terms of competitiveness … but I think it’s important that as a city we start having these conversations,” she said.

Ward 19 Councillor Mike Layton says he does support the parking initiative which he sees as “an attempt to curb consumption, so use your car less, take public transit more, which is an interesting and novel approach.”

The councillor, who sits on the public works and infrastructure committee, says he doesn’t think parking fee increases would stop people from coming downtown for work or play.

“I don’t think [the parking initiative] would deter people. It’s the other things that we put our resources towards that make it such a great place and make it so vibrant.”

Implementation is the sticking point for Shiner: “How would you determine the origin of vehicle for parking purposes?”

He would modify the two-tier parking plan to charge out-of-town drivers with a toll like that on Highway 407, except on the major commuter arteries into the city such as the Don Valley Parkway or the 401. Toronto drivers could get a transponder for free.

Ideas like those are still “out-of-the-box” for the city at the moment though, said Shiner. In the past, he says, the discussions have centred more on downtown-versus-suburbs, and that won’t fly in city council.

An ideal system would still be one that affects all drivers, said Lawrence Solomon, executive director of the Urban Renaissance Institute and proponent of toll roads. The extra revenue a “user-pay” toll generates could be used to lower Toronto taxes — so city residents still benefit and the free-riders pay.

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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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