Calgary traffic congestion could be solved with tolls: Ecofiscal Commission

Carpool and pay-for-use fast lanes are the best way to reduce congestion in the city, says a report by Canada's Ecofiscal Commission.

Canada's Ecofiscal Commission says pay-for-use fast lanes best way to get traffic moving

A toll lane for solo drivers could ease rush-hour traffic on Crowchild Trail, says the new report. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Calgary has significantly increased its funding for roads and public transportation over the last decade, but a new report by Canada's Ecofiscal Commission says expanding the city's transportation capacity won't fix its traffic woes.

"More roads, more bridges, more public transit — all that stuff is good," said Chris Ragan, an economics professor at McGill University and chair of the commission.

"But it doesn't solve the problem of congestion. And we need policies that are actually going to solve the problem," he said.

Pay-for-use fast lanes

Ragan says congestion pricing could be the answer for Calgary. He says it has already been tested in Minnesota and Oregon, reducing driving time up to 22 per cent during peak hours.

The report recommends high occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes, which are dedicated fast lanes that are free for carpooling vehicles — but not for solo drivers.

Non-carpoolers who want to speed up their commute would have to pay a toll to use the HOT lanes. Drivers who don't want to pay a fee would have to stay in the free, general-purpose lanes.

"What we've seen from other cities around the world that have tried HOT lanes, is it actually speeds up the traffic in the HOT lane,... but the people in the regular lanes also get to work or their destination faster," said Ragan, who has also worked for former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney.

Along with making Calgary's transportation network more efficient, Ragan says HOT lanes would generate a modest revenue.

A similar report by the Manning Foundation identifies five major roadways as suitable for HOT lanes: Crowchild Trail, Glenmore Trail, Deerfoot Trail, 14th Street S.W. and Stoney Trail.

Would Calgarians pay?

Ragan says the only way drivers would stomach a toll is by showing them it works.

He cites a case study from Stockholm, Sweden, where a HOT lane pilot project was brought in, despite an initial lack of public support. 

"It worked pretty well. Then they checked out public opinion after the pilot project and public support had increased dramatically — precisely because people saw how well it worked, how much more quickly they were getting home to their families or to work," said Ragan.

Economist Chris Ragan says the only way drivers would stomach a toll is by showing them it works. (CBC)

Currently, Alberta legislation prohibits the use of tolls. So, to implement HOT lanes in Calgary, the provincial government would need to work with the city to change the laws, says Ragan.

Canada's Ecofiscal Commission is made up of a dozen prominent economists from across Canada and 18 advisors from political and business backgrounds, including former premier Jean Charest.

The commission gets funding from a mix of corporations and foundations, and it aims to address issues like air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and road congestion.

  • Would you pay to use an express lane when you're not carpooling? Leave your comments below.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly said Chris Ragan was a research fellow with the Manning Centre.
    Nov 02, 2015 11:58 AM MT

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