A new report suggests Toronto has lost billions of dollars in productivity because of the traffic congestion clogging the city, and that road tolls might be the best way to recuperate some of those funds.

A consistently underfunded and disjointed public transit system is to blame for the $3.3-billion loss, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Europe-based think-tank organization that compiled the report on Toronto's competitiveness.

The report found that Toronto's public transit system and road infrastructure has not kept pace with the city's booming development and subsequent population growth. It concluded that the gridlock has negatively affected the city's ability to compete by causing economic harm to sectors that depend on rapid delivery times, such as the food, retail and logistics industry.

"Across the OECD member states, infrastructure has been found to be not only a necessary condition for growth but, together with human capital and innovation, a determinant of growth," the report says. "The state of Toronto region's infrastructure could therefore significantly strain its capacity to compete with other OECD metropolitan regions."

Today, 71 per cent of commuters depend on automobiles to get them to their destination, the report says.

The OECD noted that Toronto has one of the highest rates of car use and some of the longest commute times among the organization's 30-member countries.

Aside from road tolls, the OECD is suggesting the city look into other "congestion charges" such as parking or local fuel taxes.

"Local governments in the Toronto region are highly dependent on the property tax for their funding, whereas experience of other OECD metropolitan centres indicates that a broader mix of revenue sources is needed to support adequate investment in infrastructure," says the report.

The OECD made several other observations and suggestions. Among them:

  • The federal government spent less on transportation in Canada than any other OECD country in 2005, though it has substantially loosened its purse strings since then
  • More funding should be considered to strengthen Metrolinx, a regional transportation agency created to coordinate transit systems across the Greater Toronto Area
  • Canadian governments need to invest more in collaborative research projects between universities and innovative industries so that Toronto can benefit from renewed patent ideas, citations, high-tech employment and increased entrepreneurship

Toronto Mayor David Miller commented on the OECD report, saying the city has long pushed for a better national transit strategy that would stimulate economic growth across the country.

"The OECD report makes it clear that if Ontario and Canada are to thrive, its largest urban centre (Toronto) ... must not be taken for granted," he told the Globe and Mail.