Message To Metrolinx – Durham Needs Fairness And Value In Revenue Tools

On March 13, the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) hosted the first of 9 roundtables across the GTA with John Howe, Vice President of Investment Strategy and Project Investment for Metrolinx. Business and community leaders sat down to tackle various funding options for what’s being called by Metrolinx as the “the Big Move”, a $50 billion transit project over the next 25 years to improve transit throughout the Greater Toronto area.

The intent of the OCC roundtable was to have a frank, honest conversation around how to pay for transit improvements to existing service and new transit construction across Durham and the GTA.

“These conversations will help us develop the best possible advice to provide to the Province on these funding challenges,” stated Josh Hjartarson, Vice-President of Policy for the OCC.

The funding options put forward by Metrolinx for discussion were partly derived from public input gathered at a series of community meetings on the Big Move that were held across the GTA in 2012. The initial Metrolinx list included over thirty funding options.  The OCC pared the list to a top ten which included Commercial Parking Levy, Regional Sales Tax, Vehicle Registration Fee, Central Congestion Levy, Income Tax, Employer Payroll Tax, Dedicated Fuel Tax, Property Tax, Highway Tolls, and Land Transfer Tax. 

The principles employed to guide the new funding discussion were; the funding must be dedicated revenue;  fairness in costs and benefits;  equality in the Region; transparency and accountability; and that the funding would be dedicated specifically to transit and transportation outcomes.

“The participants, including business leaders, academia and the Mayors of Oshawa and Clarington, could not reach a conclusion on the best funding options. What was clear during the discussion was that revenue tools that targeted property taxes, development charges and payroll taxes would not be acceptable,” stated Bob Malcolmson, CEO of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce.

It was agreed that service on the lakeshore needed to be increased to less than an hourly service to show benefit and value. John Howe suggested Metrolinx was targeting a 15 minute service in the future. The attendees agreed in principal that the tools to be employed needed to focus around choice such as road tolls, congestion charges, parking levies and fuel charges and need not be employed GTA wide but could be targeted. For example there are over 3 million non-residential parking spaces in the 905 area and to propose business pay $1.00 per day per spot is unrealistic. What could be proposed is an additional Parking Levy in the downtown core of Toronto which, combined with tolls on the Don Valley or Gardner Expressway, would mean travelers pay and it would be a matter of choice to drive or take public transit.

However, what came across loud and clear from attendees was Durham Region needed to see a stronger commitment from Metrolinx on moving future expansion of GO service to Oshawa and Clarington and that if a Dedicated Fuel Tax was to be considered it would need to ensure that those dedicated funds remain in the community for local transit service. 

The main message was that whatever is proposed to the provincial government in June for funding tools and projects, people in Durham need to see the value and the Provincial and Federal governments need to be part of the process.

“The issue of fairness and concerns about who benefits were stated repeatedly.  The biggest take away from the meeting was “fairness” and it was stated loud and clear by participants,” stated Chamber CEO Bob Malcolmson. Click here for a detailed list of “Possible GTA Funding Proposals for the Big Move”.