Toronto council approves road tolls for Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway

Toronto council has endorsed a plan to put tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, with all the revenue going toward a $33 billion slate of unfunded transit and infrastructure projects.

Municipal politicians also endorse hotel and short-term rental taxes

Vehicles make their way into and out of downtown Toronto along the Gardiner Expressway last month. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Toronto council has endorsed a plan to put tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, with all the revenue going toward a $33 billion slate of unfunded transit and infrastructure projects. 

The Ontario government will have to approve the decision, however, before the city can take any steps to implement the revenue tool. 

After nearly 12 hours of debate that was often polarized and sometimes even loud, the measure was approved by a vote of 32-9.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway will bring in badly needed revenue for transit and other infrastructure projects. (CBC)

Mayor John Tory, who bore the brunt of the criticism from some of his colleagues on council, spearheaded the idea — despite the fact that during his mayoral campaign he said tolls were "not a preferred option" to boost the city's revenues. 

But he said Tuesday that he chose to move forward with the most palatable of three options suggested by staff. Those recommendations would have seen the city either raise property taxes by 10 per cent or sell off Toronto Hydro and other municipal assets.   

After the vote, Tory told reporters he was proud of council's decisions. And he said he's looking forward to the province making the legislative changes to allow it. 

Approval from Queen's Park

Several times throughout the day it was clear that the mayor chafed at the final decision falling outside of Toronto's jurisdiction. 

Tory said Toronto "shouldn't have to go running up the street to beg" for approval from Queen's Park on how the city manages its operations. 

 "I believe traffic is at a crisis — and we have to fix traffic by building transit," he said. 

While pricing is far from being set, a $2 per-trip toll on those two highways would bring in about $200 million to city coffers each year, according to a staff report. That projection factors in estimated one-time start-up costs of $100 million to $150 million — and estimated annual operating costs of up to $70 million.

Toronto Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti demonstrates his opposition to proposed road tolls by unfurling a banner on the Dufferin Street Bridge over the Gardiner Expressway on Monday. (Supplied)

Although Mayor John Tory called the plan for road tolls "bold" and "honest" on Monday, he was forced on the defensive on the council floor.

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, who has been outspoken in his disdain for the proposed tolls, slammed the mayor during the debate.

The Ward 7, York West councillor said that if the mayor felt this strongly about tolls, Tory should have campaigned on the idea. But since he did not, Mammoliti argued that city council should let the province make a decision about tolls.

Mammoliti's proposal to refer the issue to the province, however, was voted down 29-5.

NDP leader criticizes toll plan in letter

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath opposes the plan for tolls.

Ahead of council's debate, Horwath wrote a letter to Tory saying she is "concerned" about imposing more fees on residents to raise revenue.

"The City's need for revenue is real, and I respect the right of municipal governments to determine the most appropriate way to raise revenues," Horwath wrote in the later, dated Tuesday. "However, I am concerned that an increasing dependence on flat and regressive fees — such as road tolls and transit fares — can have a disproportionate and unfair impact on struggling residents and marginalized communities."

Horwath called on the provincial government to restore funding for operating costs for municipal transit.

Ontario Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she opposes the city's call for tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

Premier Kathleen Wynne, speaking to reporters after a speech on Tuesday morning, said she hadn't received a formal request from the city for permission to impose tolls. But, she said, "I'm very much looking forward to having that conversation with the mayor once he's had it at council."

Even with the province's approval tolls couldn't be collected until at least 2019, according to municipal transportation staff Tuesday. The report on tolls, however, suggests it likely couldn't happen until 2024.

More revenue tools

​On Monday, Tory said that councillors who disagree with the idea of tolls should suggest other options for raising revenue.

"I say to those who have expressed opposition, I respect your right to take a position against road tolls. But leadership also requires you to spell out in detail where the funds would come from to build transit and fix the traffic."

That sparked many suggestions throughout Tuesday, including one from Mammoliti to request that the province, through Metrolinx, take responsibility for the TTC's funding and operations. He estimated that would save the city $600 million a year.

Mammoliti also called for the city to abandon its plan for $1 billion Rail Deck Park, a motion that was ruled out of order. 

Toronto city council also endorsed a four per cent hotel tax Tuesday. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

And Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam pushed for the idea of reintroducing the personal vehicle tax that council abolished in December 2010, after former Mayor Rob Ford campaigned on the issue. But her proposal for a $120 version of the tax was defeated in a 11-31 vote. 

Council did, however, approve a four per cent hotel tax, which would put about $40 million per year into city coffers — and a short-term rental tax geared toward the AirBnb market. Both of those need to be approved by the province. 

And there could be more coming. 

Council voted to have the city manager look at the costs and benefits of adopting an alcohol tax and a sales tax.

With files from CBC's Andrea Janus