A massive plan to expand Toronto transit is meeting as much praise as criticism, but two experts say that raising property taxes to cover the cost of the plan is a solid idea whose time has come.
The recently introduced OneCity transit plan for the City of Toronto is being advocated for by TTC chair Karen Stintz and vice chair Glenn De Baeremaeker, who appealed to a large majority of Toronto residents with their plan, but were rejected by the province and the mayor.
Jim Mars, an urban transportation expert and professor at Ryerson University, says he firmly supports the idea of taxing property owners.
I’m disappointed that the province wasn’t more supportive of the plan.
— Jim Mars
“Property taxes for residential owners in the city of Toronto are too low,” he says.
Mars says a transit plan is of benefit to transit users and drivers alike, so a general increase in taxes for a successful transit system is a reasonable price to pay.
Professor David Amborski, a municipal finance and land use specialist at Ryerson, agrees with Mars.
“I think there’s room for property tax increases … particularly when you’re going to use it for something that has such broad benefits such as improved transit,” he says.
Toronto residents also think that property taxes are a possible option for revenue. An Angus Reid poll done for the Star showed that 80 percent of the 800 Torontonians surveyed agree with the OneCity plan.
There’s room for property tax increases.
— David Amborski
Another 67 percent said they’re OK with a $45 increase in property taxes per year over the next four years if all profits went to develop OneCity. Currently, the TTC is only asking 40 percent of the uplift.
A current value assessment (CVA) uplift is an increase of the property tax rate that corresponds to property value increases each year. The rate has been locked for years, making Toronto’s property tax rate the lowest among the province’s cities.
OneCity suggests a 1.9 percent increase in property taxes over the next four years. For the average household this means an additional $45 per year.
The OneCity plan extends over 30 years and costs some $30 billion. The project includes six subway/train lines, 10 LRT lines, and five bus and streetcar lines.
Every good plan though, comes with a good funding strategy. Stintz and De Baeremaker said that one possible way to fund a part of the project is to increase property tax through the uplift.
Other Funding Needed
With the CVA uplift alone, however, the city would only cover two of its big projects, the Scarborough Subway and the Waterfront East “Pan-Am” Streetcar line. The rest of the funding for OneCity depends on the city, the province, and the federal government.
“I would actually prefer that the two senior levels of government either do the loan guaranteeing or do more of the funding,” Mars says.
“I’m disappointed that the province wasn’t more supportive of the plan but I can understand it, because Toronto keeps changing its mind.”
The province did, however, allot $8.4 billion for the extension of light rail transit on June 29. This includes the Eglinton Crosstown LTR, Scarborough rail replacement and extension, Finch West LTR, and Sheppard East LTR.
“Our focus is on getting shovels in the ground and delivering much-needed public transit projects for the residents of Toronto,” Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said in a release.
Prof. Amborski says that any transit improvement would be beneficial at this point. “If we argue too long, we don’t get anything accomplished.”
Mars says that because the city hasn’t done anything with the Toronto transit system for decades, residents shouldn’t expect things to be solved in time for the Pan-Am Games in 2015.
He does, however, think that the OneCity plan is a solid, long-term project.
“The best part of the plan is putting the subway all the way out to Scarborough Town Centre; it should have been done originally,” he says. He doesn’t agree with the train that runs there now, calling it less than smart.
Another development that needs improvement, Mars notes, is the link between Union Station and the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.