The Toronto Board of Trade is urging provincial and civic politicians to come up with a way to pay for a $50-billion transit plan for the GTA.

The board is urging Ontario’s three political parties to get involved in this debate ahead of an October provincial election, saying that Toronto’s transportation problem is quickly becoming the biggest threat to the region’s continued growth and economic prosperity.

Carol Wilding, the board's CEO, told a news conference that Toronto's average 80-minute daily commute is destined to reach two hours if nothing is done.

The region's congestion problem cost its economy $6 billion per year, it said, with that figure projected to rise to $15 billion annually by 2031, when the population is expected to be double that of today’s.

Toronto has other strengths, the board said, but places poorly on transportation infrastructure when compared to 24 other global cities.

Toronto’s rankings are:

  • last place for commute time
  • 15th (out of 24) for public transit ridership (but third in North America)
  • 15th (out of 21) on per capita investment in public transit
  • 16th (out of 22) for kilometres travelled by rail vehicles

The GTA’s regional transportation plan -- The Big Move – is a 25-year plan administered by Metrolinx, a provincial agency. But the Big Move seems to be going nowhere fast.

The board said only about $10 billion of the estimated $50 billion has been funded so far, with no plan yet for the remaining $40 billion, it said.

"The longer we wait to fund, finance, and build our needed infrastructure, the bigger the challenge will become," the board wrote. "And the more we change projects partway through completion, the less certain and expensive these plans become."

Given the realities of public finances, "public dollars will not be able to meet this need," it said.

Political barriers to road tolls

The Board of Trade report recommends exploring public-private partnerships (P3s) as one tool for raising the needed revenue.

The board also pitched politically volatile concepts such as "managing demand" for roadway space. It points to London, England, which charges drivers a fee to enter the downtown core.

The GTA’s Highway 407, a privatized highway that charges a toll fee, is another example of demand management.

Gord Miller, Ontario's environment commissioner, called recently for a "serious discussion" on road tolls as an environmental measure.

In response, all three political parties said road tolls were not part of their plans for reducing congestion and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford has also ruled out road tolls to help pay for the promised $4.2-billion expansion of the Sheppard subway line.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Dana Levenson