Ontario's premier says she won't approve Toronto's toll plan for the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway until suburban drivers have better transit alternatives to get to and from the downtown area.
Kathleen Wynne told a news conference Friday at a bus depot in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, that a highway tolls plan for Canada's largest city won't be approved until expanded transit options are in place.
The plan is spearheaded by Mayor John Tory and was endorsed by city council in December as a way to raise money for new transit projects. But tolls on any road in Ontario require approval from cabinet.
Wynne said Friday that, for her to give the green light to tolls, "certain conditions must be in place" that give commuters options on how to get around. Those conditions are not in place, she said.
"The compelling voices that I'm hearing in the province right now — yes of course are my caucus and my cabinet — but they are, even more importantly, people who are struggling to pay their bills," Wynne said.
In addition to having more public transit options, drivers should be able to choose between a toll route and a non-toll route, she said. Currently, drivers who don't want to pay to travel on Highway 407 and can take the 401, and drivers can choose whether to use high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways such as the Queen Elizabeth Way, she said.
"So the conditions are not right, and that's why we've made the decision," she said.
Gas tax share doubling
The government is instead doubling the share of the provincial gasoline tax that goes to municipalities with transit systems. By 2021-22, that will mean an extra $307 million for cities, according to the government's projections. The amount of the gas tax is not increasing.
"The price that you pay at the pumps will not go up," Wynne said Friday.
Toronto's share of the tax would be about $170 million a year.
Although Toronto city council had not decided on the amount of the tolls, a 2016 staff report estimates Toronto could earn roughly $200 million each year from a $2 per-trip toll.
Tory thanked the premier for the gas-tax boost, noting that it represents "stable, predictable funding that Toronto did not have yesterday."
But he lashed out at the provincial government for denying the city a long-term option for funding transit.
"It's interesting to note that this is the same government that introduced toll lanes on one of its own highways in the GTA, and has plans for more," Tory said during a news conference at city hall.
Wynne first indicated some reluctance on the tolls last month in a year-end interview with CBC News.
She said her government's support would depend on timing, the cost of the tolls and what alternatives commuters might have.