Tory set to defend road tolls against all critics, including Doug Ford

Although he once called road tolls "highway robbery," Toronto Mayor John Tory said he's now in favour of tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway because both the congestion on Toronto roads and the need to build new transit has reached a "crisis" point.

Mayor will seek re-election in 2018, says Ford seems 'obsessed with running for public office'

Metro Morning host Matt Galloway asks John Tory about running for re-election and opposing Doug Ford once again 1:08

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he will put to voters his plan to add tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway and debate it with all critics, including his 2014 mayoralty opponent Doug Ford.

Tory appeared on Metro Morning Friday, one day after laying out a plan to bring in the controversial road tolls to fight traffic congestion and raise money to upgrade Toronto's overburdened transit system. 

Critics, including Ford yesterday, have said tolls unfairly target people who live outside the city. Tory told host Matt Galloway that anyone who wants to criticize road tolls should also put forward an alternative revenue tool. 

"Mr. Ford seems obsessed with running for public office somewhere," said Tory. "He should be his name on a ballot."

"He's also going to have to spell out what he's going to do," Tory continued. "Is he not going to build transit at all? Is he saying that people in the 905 shouldn't have to make a contribution to the cost of some of the roads that we have been paying as Toronto taxpayers? Is he saying that he has some other way he's going to pay for the transit?"

Tory says a $2 toll on the two major highways would raise about $200 million. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Tory is himself a former critic of road tolls, once calling them "highway robbery.' Tory said Friday he's changed his mind, mainly because from the mayor's chair he's come to see they're the best tool to raise money the city needs. Also, road congestion is much worse and the city's transit system has fallen further behind in meeting the needs of a fast-growing city.

"We had problems 13 years ago; now we have a crisis on our hands," said Tory. "We simply have to build this transit and there are a limited number of ways of paying for it."

Tory said that before deciding to back road tolls, he looked at all the options and considered staff reports that examined various revenue tools for raising the millions needed to fix roads and add transit infrastructure.

He said tolls are a fair way to raise money because those drivers who use the roads carry the cost. Also, the tolls generate money from drivers who live and pay property taxes outside Toronto. 

"Road tolls are the best way to go about this in terms of producing enough money in a fair and effective way," Tory said. "And [it] says to people who are using our transportation, especially those two roads but who don't pay taxes in our city, that we need you to make a small contribution to the cost of those roads."

John Tory confirmed that he's running for re-election in two years and said he's happy to defend his plan to bring in road tolls. 'If we want to build a great, liveable big city we’ve got to address this traffic, we’ve got to build transit.' (CBC)

Tory was asked about comments from critics who say the tolls will encourage employers based in Toronto to move elsewhere. Tory said the tolls won't set off a flight from the city. 

"The trend is the other way," he said. "Young people are saying that they want to live in downtown Toronto. That they want to be employed here and they want to be able to walk to work."

He said the tolls will encourage commuters to get out of their cars and take transit, in particular the improved transit services that will be paid for in part by the new tolls. 

Will drivers avoid the DVP and Gardiner to evade the tolls? Again, Tory doesn't think it will be a problem. 

"Some people will avoid the roads and drive their cars on other roads but a lot of other people will use transit," said Tory.

Tory has said the tolls will raise about $200 million annually, a total that will still fall short of addressing all the city's transit needs. 

When Galloway pressed Tory on this, the mayor said he's hoping federal governments will help make up the difference. 

"I think there's going to be significant monies coming from there," said Tory. "The province I'm not as sure about because they have bigger financial problems."

What about the vehicle registration tax?

Tory was also asked about the vehicle registration tax, a much-reviled $60 fee on all cars that was scrapped by former Mayor Rob Ford in 2010. Tory said debate about that tax became so divisive that it wouldn't be worth re-introducing it.

"I think it is unwise at this stage to consider bringing that back given that it became so polarized," said Tory. He said he prefers road tolls because they follow a "user-pay principle that target not every driver, but the ones who use the major highways. 

The proposed tolls will have to go through city council and the provincial government before being put into place. Tory said the earliest the tolls could feasibly be introduced is 2019.

With files from The Canadian Press

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