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City-planning experts praise Mayor John Tory's 'bold step' towards road tolls

John Tory's pitch to toll both the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway called a "defining moment" for both the mayor and the city.

Mayor John Tory made a pitch for tolls on both the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway in a speech titled

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Mayor John Tory made a pitch for tolls on both the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway in a speech titled "Time to Build."

John Tory’s plan for road tolls on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway is exactly the kind of fresh, forward-thinking vision Toronto needs, city-building experts say.

Tory outlined his pitch to the Toronto Board of Trade on Thursday as part of a larger strategy to bring in urgently needed revenue and pay for $33 billion worth of projects, such as transit extensions, over the next 20 years.

“This is a defining moment for the mayor and this is a defining moment for the city,” said Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto geography and planning professor.

It’s a “bold step” that matches “general consensus in the region that we have to invest and we have to invest big,” he added.

But the devil will be in the details, and, of course, not everyone’s happy. Early opposition to the plan sprung largely from politicians and commuters in the suburbs.

Durham Region Chair Roger Anderson called the tolls “short-sighted.”

“They’re literally taxing the 905 to pay for Toronto’s problems,” he said.

Scarborough Coun. Jim Karygiannis said the tolls would create “the biggest gridlock there is” by encouraging people to drive through the city instead of using expressways.

Tory’s plan is, at this point, short on specifics. He’s basing his pitch around the idea that a toll of $2 on both roads would bring in a combined $200 million every year. The money would go into an infrastructure fund that, kept separate from the city’s budget, would be used to fund transit and fix roads.

The mayor didn’t specify if the toll would be a flat rate or based on distance. But, he did say it would be charged to people both leaving and entering the city. It would be in place by 2019 at the “earliest,” if council supports the idea, Tory said.

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Cherise Burda, executive director of Ryerson University's City Building Institute, said similar tolls have worked well in cities such as Stockholm and London, reducing both pollution and congestion, but pricing will be key to the plan’s success.

She advocates for “dynamic pricing,” with different prices for different times of day.

“The tricky part is going to be getting the price right and making sure that it encourages people to drive at non-peak hours and forego trips that aren’t necessary,” she said.

Just the idea is somewhat of an unexpected step for Tory, who, when running unsuccessfully for mayor in 2003, called tolls “highway robbery.”

Asked what had changed since then, Tory said: “I wasn’t mayor, and I didn’t have this responsibility.”

 Tolls on the Gardiner and DVP are just one plank of John Tory’s approach to bringing in new revenue. Here’s what else is in — and out.

— A hotel tax that would also apply to short-term rentals like Airbnb. He said this would bring in at least $20 million each year but he didn’t specify how much the tax would be.

— The mayor wants to kill a tax rebate for vacant commercial and industrial property, which he said “subsidizes property owners” for empty or boarded up spaces.

— Tory won’t support a parking levy, charging property owners for parking spots, or a vehicle registration tax.

— He shot down the “much discussed” idea of selling all or part of Toronto Hydro.

— And, he rejected “dramatically” increasing property taxes, saying doing so would “punish our residents and make home ownership even harder.”

With files from Torstar News Service

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