New fees are like dental work — nobody is having fun, but most of us can grudgingly accept it when it needs to be done.
Road tolls are an unsexy concept but the potential for the city’s infrastructure and transit is quite enticing indeed. Toronto aims to join ranks with New York, Stockholm, London and San Francisco — major cities that have implemented tolls or congestion fees — in Mayor John Tory’s bold proposal to add tolls to the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. The issue is certain to define his time in office and, if approved and enacted, his legacy for decades to come.
In the polls Toronto residents are largely split between those who embrace tolls and those who are against them. City council is set to vote on the issue at its the next meeting Dec. 13.
Here’s your roundup of anticipated effects of the proposed Toronto road tolls:
1. Housing: What effect do these proposed tolls have on real estate?
It seems everybody is trying to rescue Toronto lately from its overheated market. New mortgage regulations from the federal government this fall, followed by a first-time homebuyers rebate from the provincial government, are hoping to cool prices and help renters reach homeownership. Are tolls another nudge to abandon the suburban lifestyle and keep families in the city with the requisite daily commute?
Daniel Deiana, sales representative with Keller Williams Referred Urban Realty and TorontoHomesFinder.ca, doesn’t think the tolls will have a significant impact on the market. He says families are already trying to stay in the city and tolls support that trend.
“In the last 12 months we have seen first-time homebuyers being priced out of the Toronto detached, semi-detached and soon the townhomes market as well,” he says. “This leads to ‘the rise of the condo’ as a popular choice for young families. Two-bedroom condos in desirable locations have been selling above asking price in a matter of days.”
This growth in families choosing condos means that public and Catholic school boards have been struggling to keep up with new schools in some of these highrise communities downtown.
“This is a trend that will continue,” he adds, “as more and more people choose to live in the city rather than commute. The introduction of highway tolls may heat up the condo sector of the market a bit more than the freehold sector but, again, I don’t think that it will have a significant effect overall.”
Frank Crisafi, sales representative with RE/MAX Hallmark Realty Ltd. and GetFrank.ca, agrees that road tolls are not a game-changer. “In the grand scheme of things to consider when buying or selling a home, I don’t see this as being a major factor,” he says.
Crisafi says suburbanites and urbanites likely already have their priorities and values established — space and cost despite a long commute, livability and lifestyle instead of a fenced backyard.
“We are looking at two distinct demographics, which I don’t see being swayed into the other’s camp, one way or another,” he says, “based strictly on the new tolls that are currently being proposed.”
2. Congestion down, transit up
Experts say that a well-designed toll system will take some drivers off the road and put them on transit. Since toll revenue would be directed towards transit projects, this should be a smoother conversion for car commuters. For those who want to stay on the road, travel times and gridlock should drop.
But some of these experts are recommending a dynamic toll system — i.e. higher tolls during peak hours — to avoid the risk of drivers simply flooding local roads to avoid the added fees.
According to Gideon Forman, transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, the tolls will reduce congestion and pollution, and help us meet climate targets. He points out that, after the province closed coal-powered plants, our single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is transportation.
No one is going to be happy about paying Toronto road tolls. But every couple of years, happiness surveys and studies surface in news cycles and show that long commutes are linked to life dissatisfaction. Some researchers go so far as to say you would need a 40 per cent salary increase to compensate for a one-hour commute.
If road tolls reward individuals and families for choosing to live closer to work, rather than commuting daily on the major Toronto highways, it seems they would promote a healthier, happier lifestyle overall.
The tantalizing prospect for current and future Toronto residents is the improved infrastructure — both roads and transit — promised by the toll revenue. Ultimately, in the years and decades to come, Toronto would become a more livable city with lower congestion and, hopefully, a world-class transit system.
But even before that utopian future arrives, Crisafi points out that The Six still isn’t as expensive as it seems.
“Let’s remember that Toronto’s property taxes are still the lowest by far, compared to our 905 neighbours in Durham, York and Peel Regions,” he says. “It’s obviously still a desirable and worthwhile place to live, or we wouldn’t have this type of demand for real estate, if it wasn’t the case.”