January 17, 2024

A Road Safety Take on Toronto’s 2024 Budget

Last year’s budget tabled by Mayor John Tory was irresponsible with his refusal to raise property taxes beyond inflation, relied on provincial and federal government funding (which didn’t materialize), and recklessly increased the police budget despite a $1.4 billion shortfall at the time. The budget shortfall situation has worsened for 2024 with the number now pegged at $1.8 billion. However, Mayor Olivia Chow and her budget chief Shelley Carroll have finally shown they are willing to take the challenge seriously.

2024 Budget Shortfall Breakdown (via City of Toronto)

As proof of this matter, the City of Toronto has proposed a 10.5% property tax hike: consisting of a 9% base plus 1.5% for the city building fund. Since the federal government still refused to commit $250 million annually for refugee supports – which is their responsibility – Councillor Carroll has warned an additional 6% hike could happen and be labelled as a “federal impact levy”; thus bringing the total hike to 16.5%. With Mayor Chow and Ontario Premier Doug Ford having negotiated a new deal last fall to help alleviate the situation, the federal government needs to stop whining and start funding since the housing accelerator fund – which is also badly needed for Toronto – is not enough.

History of property tax increases (via Matt Elliott's City Hall Watcher)

While there has been no shortage of criticism towards the property tax hike – including some badly ratioed posts from Councillor Brad Bradford and Jay Goldberg of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation – the Mayor should be applauded for taking this bold step given 13 years of Ford & Tory keeping tax hikes below inflation crippled this city. The budget has also included a fare freeze for TTC riders (along with service improvements) and an end to wasteful programs such as $16 million annually to clear windrows created from snow left from when plows clear the roads. The conducting of pre-consultations last fall is a welcome change in approach which showed housing as the #1 priority for increasing funding (37%) and police as the #1 for decreasing (43%). However, no budget is perfect and even Mayor Chow needs the occasional calling out. 😉

A breakdown of priorities during the pre-budget consultations (via City of Toronto)

During the 2022 Municipal Election and the 2023 Mayoral By-Election, Community Bikeways issued three road safety calls to action. One of these calls is to increase the annual Vision Zero Road Safety Plan capital funding from $24 million in 2022 to $75 million. Unfortunately, the capital plan calls for $29 million in 2024 and $22 million in each of 2025 and 2026. Matt Elliott mentioned in his City Hall Watcher that the 10-year total for Vision Zero actually decreased from $130 million in 2023-32 to $119 million for 2024-33. While the City has made progress with overall traffic deaths declining since 2016, pedestrian deaths last year numbered 29 which was the highest since 2019. Given the stubbornly high number of pedestrians getting killed, advocates need to ask how much does the City of Toronto need to increase Vision Zero capital funding to fulfill its mandate of eliminating pedestrian deaths?

Toronto traffic deaths (via Toronto's Vision Zero Dashboard)

As for the Cycling Network Plan, one peculiarity I noted is the $289 million total cited in the Transportation Services budget notes consists of $141 million for the bike plan itself plus $148 million for the West Toronto Railpath Extension which sounds kind of sneaky. There are other projects counted separately which include cycling infrastructure such as $297 million for the St. Clair – Keele TMP, $140 million for Broadview Extension Phase 1, and $75 million for Liberty Village New Street to name a few. The bike plan itself calls for $31 million in 2024 and $30 million in 2025 before falling to $10 million annually from 2026 onwards. Given work on the 2025-27 bike plan is under way, it remains unknown how much this new plan will cost and/or how many new kilometres of bike lanes will be built. Especially considering 34 kilometres were built in 2022 and 2023 combined (or only 25 kilometres if you don’t count Finch). Given the current installation rates, the cycling community needs to call for an inquiry into the barriers regarding bike lane installation as more funding alone is not enough despite over 80% of the overall transportation capital budget being spent over the past few years.

2024 transportation capital funding changes (via City Hall Watcher)

Bike Share Toronto is handled separately under the Toronto Parking Authority budget. One drawback I noticed on Page 12 of the budget notes is $9.3 million for bike share expansion has been deferred. The good news – however – is Bike Share Toronto has continued to set record ridership with 5.5 million rides in 2023 and significant boosted the number of e-bikes from 500 in 2022 to 1,815 in 2023. Per the bike share website, there are now over 9,000 bikes and 700 stations; meaning any expansion in 2024 and 2025 will probably focus less on adding bikes and more on new stations to ensure coverage in all 25 wards. Capital funding will be roughly $6 million in each of 2024 and 2025 before falling to roughly $3 million annually afterwards. Operating costs are expected to increase from $14.7 million in 2023 (projected) to $20.2 million in 2024 given the increased costs associated with re-balancing efforts with e-bikes. One thing to demand with Bike Share Toronto is for them to keep following through with their expansion plan, expanding their low-cost offerings for equity deserving communities, and ensure all existing and future transit lines have access to bike share.

Aside from the road safety matters I brought up; several organizations have made their own budget asks. TTC Riders wants the Scarborough busway to be fully funded (which was promised by Mayor Chow but not included in the budget), Toronto Environmental Alliance wants the federal government to fund climate action, and Progress Toronto wants the federal government to fund refugee supports. All of these – with their form letter campaigns – are certainly worth signing if you haven’t already done so. One last thing that’s worth calling for is additional revenue tools such as a commercial parking levy and reinstating the vehicle registration tax.

The City is hosting budget telephone town halls this week, while the public can depute on January 22 or 23 or send a submission to buc@toronto.ca. (details here) It’s important for us to make our opinions heard for this budget as it dictates what the City’s true priorities are.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this analysis. I just wanted to comment on the "wasteful program of clearing windrows". As a former homeowner, I would dutifully shovel my drive in the morning before heading out to work only to arrive in the evening with the driveway being completely blocked by a wall of snow left by the snow plow when it when by. Since the snow had been melting in the sun/salt, it would be frozen solid by the time I arrived home after dark. Sometimes I would have to use a pick axe to break it up enough to clear the drive. This was fine for me, I was a young(ish) woman, but hell on some of my senior citizen neighbours. Yes, I would try and help them out, but I'd be tired and hungry from a full day of work and having just cleared my own driveway. All I'm trying to say is that what might be wasteful for one person might be a godsend for someone else.