Step Right Up for the Miracle Cure! (Updated)

For those readers here who do not follow the Torontoist website, I have an article there commenting on the City of Toronto’s outreach program for the new Official Plan.

Toronto seeks the opinion of its residents on the purpose and priorities of a transportation network, and on how we might pay for this in coming years.  The City’s heart is in the right place, but the planned consultation has its problems.

Updated February 3, 2013 at 8:00 am:

Toronto City Planning’s website seeking feedback on priorities and revenue tools has been live for a few days now.  It operates in a somewhat different fashion than I had assumed from the presentation by Jennifer Keesmaat at a recent Planning & Growth Management Committee meeting.

The site allows participants to select among a set of priorities, choose their favourite revenue tools and build a budget showing how each tool would contribute to a $2b/year target.

The priorities are a bit wooly and don’t necessarily reflect the linkage between the options and the type of spending that might occur.  For example, the “affordable” priority is described as relating to the cost of using transit, not to the cost of building it.

On the budgetary side, the potential revenue from various sources is given (this was missing from the PGM presentation), but there is no discussion of the ease with which any of the tools could be implemented nor of issues such as fairness in who would pay the new revenue.  A few examples:

  • Congestion charges are aimed at downtown where, ironically, the level of road traffic relative to total travel is very small.
  • A payroll tax charges businesses based on the size and cost of their labour force, not on the level of economic activity they represent.
  • Charges assigned per unit (e.g. utility levies) fall disproportionately on those with the smallest units and low usage (typically poorer family units).
  • Charges related to property value are keyed to notional value (CVA) rather than ability to pay.  Value capture schemes, like CVA, would tax an asset that the owner could not monetize unless the property were sold.  The effect is completely different for residential and commercial uses.

I will examine the various revenue tools in a separate article consolidating the discussion with the recent proposals from the RCCAO (Residential & Commercial Construction Association of Ontario).

Finally, there is no discussion of how the money would be used.  From the Metrolinx “Next Wave” proposal, we know that 25% ($500m/yr) would come to the municipal sector, roads and active transportation options.  This is actually small change beside the ongoing needs for local transportation funding and the backlog of infrastructure repairs.

The consultation does not include any discussion of what, at a local level, the new revenue might fund although this could affect the selection of tools.  Responses do include the selection of where broadly speaking money should go (transit, roads, etc) but with no examples of the implications or needs for each sector.

As I write this, the ranking of responses so far places highway tolls, congestion levies and development charges at the top of the list although even the first ranked gets a score of only 2.46 suggesting that many respondents ranked it in 3rd place or lower.  Some scores are tightly clustered indicating that responses are picking a variety of options.  It is unclear whether the ranking system assigns a value to “not selected” and is assigning scores only to the five items which each participant selected.  No value of “n”, the number of people selecting an item, is given.

How useful this survey will prove in the next stage of the consultation remains to be seen.