Should Toronto pay people to cycle with money from drivers?

Item date: 
December 28, 2015
Item context: 

The article below was written, in part, based on a 45 minute interview with Transport Futures founder Martin Collier.  A few clarifications that were mentioned by Martin but not included in the article:
1) The Stockholm Congestion Tax will increase by 75% as of January 1.  This will open up some tax room allowing for the possibility that a percentage of revenues could be allocated to cyclists. However, the implementation of the charge in 2006 resulted in a 20% congestion decrease as it incented Stockholm citizens (in conjunction with their need for healthy living, simplicity and quick travel) to use transit and bicycles in massive numbers (bicycle use has increased 100%). The combination of the Congestion Tax with the construction of new transit, road and cycling infrastructure has led to traffic level being maintained despite an increasing population.  

2) The City of Toronto Act does not give the city the power to unilaterally implement tolls on city-owned roads.  The province must provide a regulation first -- and we're fairly certain they would if requested by city council. 
3) If Toronto decides to implement a tolling system at some point in the future (not necessarily a Stockholm style congestion tax), a portion of the toll revenue could be earmarked to cycling. However, cycling infrastructure should be first in line.  If cyclists are to receive direct financial assistance, only lower income cyclists should be targetted (e.g. those making under $30K/year).
4) General taxes pay for the lion's share of Ontario's road infrastructure (income tax, sales tax, property tax).  User fees such as gas (excise) taxes and parking fees generate a much smaller amount -- and are not earmarked to transportation. General taxes also fund the Ministries of Environment and Health that subsidize auto impacts related to environment (emissions, noise, spills), hospital care and emergency services. According to the Auditor General, 2009, provincial license and vehicle fees are earmarked directly to providing that service – though they don’t cover all the costs of the service.

Correction:  As of 2013, Stockholmers' support for Congestion Tax was 70%.


A Swedish plan to pad the pockets of cyclists – using money taken from drivers – could be imported to Toronto, says a local transportation expert.

Officials in Stockholm, Sweden, are considering taking a portion of the revenue earned by its congestion zone program – which charges drivers a fee to access the city’s core – and giving it to cyclists in the form of credits for things like winter tires and tune-ups.

Teo Enlund, who authored a report on the issue for Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, said the plan would encourage more people to take two wheels to work instead of four.

“Those who make the jump to start cycling rather than traveling by car should get a pat on the back, not a kick in the face,” Enlund told a local newspaper.

Martin Collier, a Guelph-based expert on congestion pricing, agrees.

“Anything that can help people make the shift from driving to transit or cycling is a good thing,” he said.

The City of Toronto already has the authority to levy road tolls and could implement a similar cycling compensation plan “fairly easily,” Collier said. However, finding the political will for such a change is another matter, he said.

“It’s a different world in Stockholm,” he said, noting approval for the road congestion plan hovers around 80 per cent there. “In Toronto, there would be a lot more pushback.”


While drivers shell out for things like gas taxes, parking and registration fees, their mode of transportation is far more heavily subsidized than cycling or walking, Collier said.

For every dollar a vehicle owner puts into the system through things like taxes and levies, everyone else pays $9.20, according to a report from Moving Forward in Vancouver. In contrast, the public pays only eight cents for every dollar contributed by cyclists. 

What do Toronto drivers pay?

There are a number of user fees for drivers in Ontario, including gas taxes and annual permit fees. There used to be a $60 vehicle registration tax in Toronto, but it was cancelled in 2010.

Licence plate sticker: $108/year

Driver’s licence renewal : $81.50

Gas tax: 14.7 cents/litre (provincial), 10 cents/litre (federal)