We all are aware of the annual Spring and Summer road closures that overwhelm sections Toronto due to upgrading or repairing arterial streets. Thankfully, many of these restrictions affect the local businesses for a week or two resulting in minor inconveniences to the retail/commercial sector.
However, there are some major streetscape changes that create a significant effect on these trades by restricting traffic and commerce; causing substantial losses to the affected businesses. Although road closures cannot be avoided, City Council remains oblivious to such business losses, justifying the harm by claiming that these projects will ‘improve’ and ‘enhance’ the business environment and make all things better for everyone.
Although legitimate, the excuse does little to address the economic harm sustained by the merchants. They are victimized through no fault of their own… and a few who are hanging on by hard work, sacrifice and minimum profit find themselves in straits dire enough to close. Sadly, some at City Council view this as ‘the cost of doing business’ and such closures are seen as unfortunate side-effects.
This attitude must change. Businesses create revenue which pays for the City’s taxes. They also create jobs, producing employee income, which also is taxed. In other words, businesses are the machine which sustain our economy and must be given better consideration and protection – not sympathy. You can’t take sympathy to the bank.
Another side effect of these projects is the resultant traffic re-routing, creating even more congestion in neighbouring throughways. Toronto’s traffic needs corrective measures introduced to reduce congestion. The governing powers seem oblivious to the fact that more and more licences are issued to drivers. The new drivers purchase vehicles, burdening roads even more; adding to traffic congestion simply because there are no more new roads being built.
It should come as no surprise if City Council hires consultants who will report that ‘taxation’ is the answer. This will ‘justify’ more taxation as the reasonable solution since the “experts’ have recommended it. (The same ‘experts’ who, every so often get hired to recommend politicians should be paid higher salaries).
A traffic “Decongestion Tax” is not beyond imagination – this in the face of Council’s reduction of traffic lanes on many arterial roads in order to create bike lanes – lanes which could easily be created on streets that are not major arteries. After all, why do bikers need arterial roads…? So they can go faster?
However, I digress. Let’s return to the main theme of businesses suffering economic hardship by losing clients due to road restrictions. City Council should consider some options which, if implemented, will improve matters and mitigate hardship.
One option is to introduce time limits for road projects – thereby pressuring contractors to finish work on time or face penalties. Generally speaking, contractors are not in a hurry to finish expeditiously – for the obvious reason that the longer a project takes, the higher the cost overrun.
Another option would be to insist that contractors employ extended shifts on projects (up to 16 hours per day, where feasible). Daylight hours enable two shifts during summers, when these projects usually occur. There is no reason (except in residential neighbourhoods) why contractors cannot employ a second shift. Once a roadway is closed, sensitivity to rush-hour traffic becomes moot – the road is closed; therefore why not continue the work where possible?
Neither of the two options will increase project costs in any meaningful manner.
There is a third option – it will generate costs but it’s completely reasonable and justified. That option is to reimburse the businesses incurring hardship from streetscape projects that are extensive and far exceed their allocated time-line. One example that comes to mind is the subway line being built across Eglinton Avenue west. The traffic restrictions (Eglinton and Bathurst being the most egregious) have caused immeasurable damage to hundreds of businesses along Eglinton. This choke-point is found within the York-Eglinton BIA.
City Council should consider both options, a reduction of business taxes in the injured business neighbourhood and/or an outright grant to affected businesses in the manner introduced by Montreal’s municipal government.
Last year, Montreal passed legislation providing relief for businesses which incur economic harm due to road closures. There is a limit of 30 K to such imbursements; and the businesses which apply need to prove what losses are sustained by comparison to previous years’ accounting records – however, the relief is there and has been judged a fair and reasonable solution to business hardships generated by Montreal’s road work programmes.
Toronto City Council must give this matter due consideration.
As an aside, it should be noted that TABIA, which purportedly ‘represents 40,000 Toronto businesses’ (if you believe such nonsense) will soon be having its AGM. For the past 2-3 years, the TABIA Board of Management has been chaired by Darryl Kaplan, a mediocrity who barely surpasses previous Board ineptitude because he stays awake at meetings – a remarkable improvement over his predecessors. The rumour is that Kaplan is departing due to family concerns and will likely be replaced with a new Chair.
If so, there is hope that some of those attending the AGM will insist that TABIA advocate such measures at City Council. This is what TABIA is uniquely placed to perform, instead of simply ‘taxing’ the BIA’s and staging self-promotions at City Hall.
This article is being distributed to Toronto City Council and all BIA Boards.