Canadians willing to pay road tolls, poll suggests

Half of Canadians surveyed in an online poll conducted exclusively for CBC News said they would be willing to pay road tolls if it would improve their commute.
Commuters in Toronto, like those in many of Canada's largest cities, often get caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic. (Kevin Fayer/Canadian Press)

Danny Potente, a daily user of Canada's newest toll bridge, says he's more than happy to pay for his shortened commute between Laval and Montreal.

"It's literally changed my life," says Potente. "It has cut 40 to 60 minutes off my commute. It's 40 to 60 extra minutes at home."

According to a new poll, Potente is not alone.

Half of Canadians surveyed in an online poll conducted exclusively for CBC News by Leger Marketing said they would be willing to pay road tolls if it would ease gridlock and shorten their commute.

Road tolls have long been a taboo topic for many politicians, but it appears Canadians are not as averse to the idea.

By taking the toll bridge from his home in Laval into Montreal, Potente only drives 1.2 kilometres to work and pays up to $2.40 each way. The cost adds up to about $1,200 a year, but Potente says it's well worth it. 

"My time is extremely valuable," says Potente. "If there was an option to pay more to save me even more time, absolutely no doubt about it [I would pay more]."

On average, city commuters appear willing to pay up to $3 a day for road tolls, according to the poll.

Tolls favoured on new roads

Using tolls on new bridges or roads, such as the new Laval-Montreal bridge, was seen in a far more favourable light than those placed on already aging infrastructure.
Half of Canadians are willing to pay a road toll if it improves their commute, an online poll found. (CBC)

Seventy-six per cent of those surveyed in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver said tolls would be acceptable on new bridges or roads to pay for the cost of building them.

By comparison, only 56 per cent of the city dwellers deemed it acceptable to add a toll to an existing bridge or road to pay for needed repairs.

Using tolls to pay for transit upgrades garnered even less support, at 47 per cent.

Whereas road and bridge tolls are more commonplace in Europe and the United States, only 18 tolls exist across Canada — the majority of which are for bridges and tunnels straddling the Canada-U.S. border.

With cash-strapped governments struggling to pay for growing and crumbling infrastructure, that could soon change.

And the Leger poll suggests that many Canadians living in congested cities would be open to the idea. Most of those surveyed agreed that the use of tolls would place the "financial burden where it belongs."

Pessimism about future

Few Canadians expect smoother commutes on the horizon.

More than a third of those living in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver suspect it will worsen. A mere one in 10 believe it will become more pleasant.

Adding new lanes, overpasses and ramps is no longer an option to improve road congestion, warns Ottavio Galella, a traffic expert and engineer who touts tolls as a way to help change motorist behaviour.

"We need a completely different approach to get rid of gridlock in our cities," says Galella.

Galella says Canada is trailing behind other countries in the push for toll roads, which could help reduce strain on roads and increase overall efficiency. 

Most commuters in Canada's largest cities agree that road tolls would encourage drivers to take public transit, according to the poll.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of city drivers were willing to switch to public transit, if it saved them time.

Mixed opinions on transit

The question remains whether public transit could handle such a shift.

Nearly half of commuters in Canada's biggest cities felt like their public transit system is running at maximum capacity and can't handle more riders.

When asked about the state of their respective transit systems, Torontonians and Montrealers were split in their opinions.

Six out of 10 Montrealers surveyed think their public transit is in good shape, whereas only half that number of Torontonians felt the same, according to the poll.

But most city commuters believe that a portion of road tolls should go toward public transit.

"I really don't see any bad in tolls," says Potente. "It will get people off the roads. And this green initiative is obviously not going away."

Two separate Leger Marketing online polls were conducted for CBC News. Figures referring to residents of Canada's three largest cities — Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal — are based on a survey of 500 residents in each city conducted Nov. 11-15.

Data referring to Canadians is based on a survey conducted Nov. 14-16 of 1,500 residents across the country.