To­ron­to needs road tolls to ta­me grid­lock

Con­ges­tion costs the area’s eco­nomy bi­llions of do­llars a year, re­du­cing peo­ple’s job op­tions, de­la­ying de­li­ve­ries and in­crea­sing emis­sions

La Jornada (Canada) - - ENGLISH SECTION -

Road tolls are es­sen­tial to ea­se the grid­lock that th­rea­tens to stran­gle To­ron­to’s eco­nomy.

To­ron­to Ma­yor John Tory wants to in­tro­du­ce road tolls on the Don Va­lley Park­way and the Gar­di­ner Ex­press­way, and city coun­cil has en­dor­sed the mo­ve. The pro­vin­cial go­vern­ment must now ap­pro­ve the tolls be­fo­re they can be im­ple­men­ted.

As is of­ten the ca­se, to­lling op­po­nents por­tray the pro­po­sal as a tax grab by city. We hear the re­frain that tax­pa­yers al­ready paid for the roads, and pay to main­tain them th­rough fuel ta­xes and li­cen­sing fees.

But re­gard­less of whet­her mo­to­rists al­ready cover cons­truc­tion and main­te­nan­ce costs, the­re’s anot­her cost they aren’t pa­ying for - traf­fic con­ges­tion.

Wor­se­ning traf­fic in the

Grea­ter To­ron­to Area costs the eco­nomy bi­llions of do­llars a year. Tho­se costs in­clu­de re­du­cing peo­ple’s em­ploy­ment op­tions, de­la­ying de­li­ve­ries and in­crea­sing vehi­cle emis­sions.

In­di­vi­dually, tho­se costs are small. But in ag­gre­ga­te, they lead to grid­lock that slows the re­gion’s en­ti­re eco­nomy.

To­ron­to should get se­rious about put­ting a pri­ce on con­ges­tion. To­lling con­ges­ted high­ways is a good start, sin­ce it nud­ges peo­ple to­wards avoi­ding con­ges­ted areas du­ring rush hour.

Not all peo­ple can chan­ge their tra­vel pat­terns, but so­me can. So­me mo­to­rists will find al­ter­na­ti­ve path­ways that re­du­ce con­ges­tion on pri­mary ar­te­ries. Others might car­pool to split the cost of the toll. Em­plo­yers might ac­ce­le­ra­te the trend to­wards mo­re fle­xi­ble of­fi­ce hours and te­le­com­mu­ting. And, over ti­me, peo­ple might be mo­re li­kely to li­ve clo­ser to their pla­ces of work.

At the mar­gins, tho­se de­ci­sions would help un­clog To­ron­to’s burs­ting traf­fic ar­te­ries.

Whi­le to­lling is of­ten por­tra­yed as un­fair, in rea­lity we use tolls to ra­tion scar­ce re­sour­ces of many sorts. The sa­me prin­ci­ple ap­plies to hoc­key tic­kets or air tra­vel. No one would ar­gue that hoc­key tic­kets should be free be­cau­se tax­pa­yers al­ready hel­ped pay for the ve­nue. The tic­kets ra­tion spa­ce.

One as­pect of Tory’s pro­po­sal re­gret­tably feeds in­to the “it’s a tax” na­rra­ti­ve. The pro­po­sal ap­pears to be for a flat toll rat­her than a dy­na­mic toll that ad­justs with de­mand le­vels or ti­me of day. This will re­du­ce the toll’s ef­fec­ti­ve­ness.

Ti­me-of-day or con­ges­tion-ba­sed tolls add a strong in­cen­ti­ve for peo­ple to spread out the peak and tra­vel a bit ear­lier or a bit la­ter than usual. A flat toll of­fers no in­cen­ti­ve to do the lat­ter. This is a cri­ti­cal flaw the city should address.

The­re has al­so been so­me jus­ti­fia­ble con­cern about the im­pact on low-in­co­me mo­to­rists. The city could help them by using the in­crea­sed re­ve­nue from the tolls to re­du­ce other fees or lo­wer pro­perty ta­xes.

Ins­tead, it plans to use the re­ve­nue to fund pu­blic trans­por­ta­tion ex­pan­sions, which won’t ne­ces­sa­rily do much to help low-in­co­me dri­vers.

It’s un­ders­tan­da­ble that peo­ple are up­set that they might ha­ve to pay mo­re to dri­ve. Af­ter all, they al­ready pay for roads in many ways.

But the unfortunate rea­lity is that many peo­ple want to use the sa­me roads at the sa­me ti­me, and that’s con­tri­bu­ting to tre­men­do­us grid­lock in the city.

Put­ting a pri­ce on traf­fic con­ges­tion is a cru­cial step to im­pro­ving the flow of traf­fic and qua­lity of li­fe in To­ron­to. -TROYMEDIA

Ste­ve La­fleur and Ken Green are analysts at the Fra­ser Ins­ti­tu­te.

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