Why a $5 road toll makes good sense
Congratulations to Sarah Thomson, candidate for Mayor of Toronto, for introducing us to her bold vision to support transit expansion in the city. Thomson seems to understand that Toronto needs more than a "cap in hand" funding strategy to support transit expansion since senior levels of government are growing weary of bankrolling our transit vision. And we can’t forget that once the subway and LRT systems are built, money is needed to operate, maintain and ultimately replace them.
The challenge is that such a powerful economic measure must be considered in broader terms than simply collecting $5 from each motorist using the DVP and the Gardiner Expressway to fund subways instead of light rail transit.
As a candidate in a municipal election, it takes courage to introduce unpopular ideas, and it would be unfortunate if we devolve the important discussion that Thomson has started down to the simple "war on cars" or 416 versus 905 struggles. We deserve an informed civil debate to better understand how we might apply a tried-and-true economic strategy to improve traffic congestion, air quality, and fund our transit and cycling dreams.
Road pricing or tolls were used in Roman times, places like Singapore continue to evolve road pricing schemes first introduced there in 1975 as a way to manage ever-growing traffic congestion, and charging a fee for a good or service is the very foundation of our revered market economy.
The "law of supply and demand" is applied effectively to virtually every aspect of our consumer society, save for transportation. Tolls or road pricing implemented strategically across the GTA and Hamilton (not only on the DVP and Gardiner Expressway) and combined with improved transportation services (transit, bike lanes, rapid transit, vanpools, carpool lanes and parking lots, community shuttles) and better land use planning that puts people and the places they need to go to closer together, would transform the way we choose to travel around our city.
Along with rising fuel costs, road tolls would give motorists an economic incentive to seriously consider travel choices other than the private automobile. Overnight we would see increases in carpool activity, and transit use, more employers would allow their employees to work from home, and some people might decide to work closer to where they live or live closer to where they work so that they could cycle or even walk to work.
The interesting thing is that the future is here with respect to road pricing since we have a world class example right in our own backyard. According to www.tollroadnews.com in 2009 the 407 ETR (Express Toll Road) had revenues of $560 million and average weekday trips of 380,000.
The challenge with the 407 ETR is that "we the people" no longer own the highway so we don’t share the revenue, and although that’s a matter that I won’t address through this blog, we are collectively benefiting from having a alternate parallel route to the 401 and Highway 7 that is used daily by transport companies delivering our goods and services and commuters, the majority of which likely have a 905 area code.
Experience world wide has demonstrated that travel demand can be better managed with road pricing than without. As our population grows and our municipal budgets shrink due to competing spending priorities, road tolls will become a vital ingredient in our transportation future as we strive to maintain the quality of life of everyone in our city and surrounding regions.