Ontario transit proposal could cost each household $477 a year

Ontario's transportation agency, Metrolinx, recommends new fees to raise $2 billion annually for public transit in the GTA and Hamilton area, and if adopted, they could amount to each household paying about $477 more in annual taxes.

Fees proposed by Metrolinx for GTA, Hamilton areas include HST increase, parking levy

Ontario's transportation agency, Metrolinx, has recommended new fees to raise $2-billion annually for public transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. (Metrolinx)

A final report released today by Ontario's transportation agency, Metrolinx, recommends new fees to raise $2 billion annually for public transit in the Greater Toronto Area and the Hamilton area.

If adopted, the proposed fees could amount to each household paying about $477 more in annual taxes, Metrolinx says. The estimate is based on a 2.66 person household, driving an average distance of 12,670 kilometres per year.

"We're very aware that $477 for a family is a substantial amount of money, but we believe it's more than offset by the benefits," Metrolinx chairman Robert Prichard said.

The benefits would be relieving congestion while building a regional system to support an integrated regional economy, Metrolinx says.

Progressive Conservative transportation critic Frank Klees said the cost for residents is simply too high.

"They are not going to get our support to go after the consumer for more taxes because you can dress this up as a revenue tool as much as you want. Put lipstick on the pig, it's still a pig," he said.

Among the final set of revenue tools recommended to the provincial government are a new parking levy, development charges and a gas tax of five cents per litre.

The agency has also proposed a one per cent increase to the HST that would equal approximately 65 per cent of the billions being raised by the province.

A Metrolinx document explained that "due to the nature of the administration and collection of HST at the federal and provincial levels, the province may find it administratively necessary to introduce a percentage point HST increase provincewide, rather than just in the GTHA."

A family with two cars driving roughly 20,000 kilometres a year would pay $977 under the recommended tax hikes and fees.

Opposition parties wary of new taxes

The revenue tools will be reviewed by the Liberal government over the next few months, and put into legislation for a vote sometime in the future.

The CBC's Mike Crawley said government sources told him the proposals could be included in the 2014 budget. The minority Liberal government will need the support of either the Progressive Conservatives or the New Democrats in order to make that happen.

But on Monday, it appeared that neither opposition party was thrilled with what Metrolinx was recommending.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters that "New Democrats won't support new household taxes, new household fees. We think it's the wrong way to go."

Klees predicted that voters would punish the Liberals if they bring in new taxes.

"We look forward to the people out there, the voters of this province, the taxpayers giving their decision, not at roundtable discussions — in the ballot box," he said.

"And I believe they'll speak very clearly about this."

Metrolinx says all the revenues would be dedicated to public transit projects, with 25 per cent carved out for municipalities in the region to spend on local transit and transportation projects.

Some taxes 'fairer' than others, TTC chair says

Mitzie Hunter, CEO of the non-partisan lobby group Civic Action, said the public should be ready to pay for public transit.

"We feel that it's time for this generation to step up and pay for the transportation system that they need, and that they want," she said. 

Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz said that while nobody wants to talk about implementing new taxes, "there are some that are fairer or more equitable than others."

Metrolinx's regional transit expansion plan, also known as The Big Move, is projected to cost $50 billion over 25 years.

With files from the CBC's Mike Crawley and Marivel Taruc and The Canadian Press