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Road tolls are unpopular — but only at first, expert says

Though proponents realize they may face an uphill battle, there are growing calls to address the problem of traffic congestion in the city with road tolls.

Residents in other cities warmed up to tolls once they saw the results, proponent says

Cities including San Francisco and Stockholm have relieved traffic congestion by introducing road tolls, and there are growing calls for a similar approach in Toronto.

Though proponents realize they may face an uphill battle, there are growing calls to address Toronto's traffic congestion problem with road tolls.

City staff recently put out a request for proposals for toll systems that would go on the Gardiner Expressway and the DVP. The tolls would be used to pay for infrastructure and to reduce congestion.  

But they could be a tough sell for the public and for city councillors. 

Road tolls weren't popular when they were introduced in San Francisco, Stockholm or on Toronto's own Highway 407. But Chris Ragan, chairman of Canada's Ecofiscal Commission, says people warm up to them once they see the results.   

You need a policy that actually gets right at that problem.— Chris Ragan, Ecofiscal Commission

"They actually work," Ragan said on Wednesday's Metro Morning. "They actually reduce traffic, people get home sooner, and they end up liking it after they see how these policies work." 

The commission released a report late last year about how road tolls can help solve congestion issues.

Ragan says the traditional approach to congestion — building and expanding roadways — is only a short-term solution. 

"That extra capacity is good to have, especially in a growing city, but it doesn't really solve the problem," he said. 

"What we usually find when we build more capacity is that traffic congestion falls for a very brief period until more people are induced on to the road, and then traffic congestion gets back to its starting place." 

Tolls, on the other hand, can more directly address trouble spots during the most troublesome times. 

"The Don Valley Parkway at eight in the morning — it's a problem. It's not a problem at two in the morning," Ragan said.

"So you need a policy that actually gets right at that problem, which is to price that very, very scarce resource, which is a crowded road."

The commission's report recommended adding high-occupancy toll lanes — perhaps by converting existing HOV lanes — to the GTA's 400-series highways as a "practical option" for reducing congestion in the area. 

An earlier, separate report from the Pembina Institute recommended tolls on the Gardiner and DVP.

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