Stuck in Traffic: What Atlanta and L.A. can teach Toronto

The message from Toronto City Hall and Queen's Park couldn't be more different when it comes to ways to fund transit expansion.

Ontario premier and Toronto mayor split on how to fund transit

How do other cities pay for transit? 3:53

The message from Toronto City Hall and Queen's Park couldn't be more different when it comes to ways to fund transit expansion.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford tells anyone who will listen that he doesn't support new taxes. In voting with his executive committee

Tuesday to delay a report on city funding tools Ford was unequivocal:

"Guaranteed, hell will freeze over before I support any of these new taxes," Ford said.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is sounding the opposite tone, saying new funding tools are coming in whether cities want them or not.

"The solution is not as simple as rooting out unnecessary costs," she told an audience of 300 business and community leaders at a Civic Action Forum last week.

"We can't do it through property taxes... the investment has to come from somewhere else," she said."We need dedicated funding that is tied directly to specific transit projects in a transparent manner."

It's a mantra Denny Zane knows well. In 2008, the former mayor of Santa Monica, Calif., led a broad-based coalition that helped Los Angeles County pass a sales tax increase to pay for transit projects.

"The community knew we had just about gone as far as we could with automobile investments and it was time for something different," he said from Los Angeles.

Voted for tax increase

Even as the economic crisis started to take hold in the U.S., more than 67 per cent still voted for the tax increase.

It's expected to raise $36 to 40 billion US over 10 years.

This week CBC Toronto focuses on traffic and looks for solutions to our increasing gridlock. Listen to Metro Morning, and watch CBC News Toronto for stories from Mary Wiens and Steve D'Souza.

Zane said the key was showing people the money would go to specific projects.

 "It wasn't just put the money in a pot and we promise you we'll do a good thing," said Zane who notes 20 per cent of the money will go towards highway capital projects

The transit programs it's funding are a dream for commuters in the region:

  • expansion of light rail to the coast in Santa Monica
  • extention of the Crenshaw line to Los Angeles International Airport
  • 115 kilometres of new carpool lanes

Zane estimates there up to 145 kilometres of new transit lines that would not have happened without the measure.

"I would say there's palpable excitement in the community. Our culture is legendary for being dominated by the automobile, so having this scale of transit investment is really unheard of in North America"

Atlanta's experience

But not all cities have succeeded in bringing in revenue tools. Last summer, residents in Atlanta and the surrounding region voted on a new 1 per cent sales tax.

It had widespread support from the mayor, governor and other prominent leaders.

In the end, it was soundly defeated, with 63 per cent across the region voting no.

During a recent trip to Toronto, Tom Weyandt, a special advisor on transportation to Atlanta's mayor, said there was divide between downtown and suburban voters on the issue.

"I think although there was a common perception of the need, I think there were different perceptions in different parts of the region what the solutions were," he said. "The core of the region was very much oriented towards transit, the fringe of the region much less so."

He said even though people could see where the money was being invested, there was a distrust of public officials which is the key to winning over voters.

"There has to be leadership across the board, it has to be very candid, it has to be very transparent, it has to be very thoughtful, and it has to be very persistent in articulating both the needs and the potential solutions," Weyandt said.