Charging a fee to get into carpool lane could help Ottawa congestion, prof says
uOttawa's Stewart Elgie helped with new report asking Canadian cities to try 'congestion pricing'
A University of Ottawa professor who helped create a national report on lessening congestion says a new kind of lane on Highway 417 would help save drivers time and money.
Stewart Elgie is part of Canada's Ecofiscal Commission, a non-partisan think tank made up of economists who work to find solutions to problems that are both economic and environmental.
In their report "We Can't Get There From Here: Why Pricing Traffic Congestion is Critical to Beating It" released Monday, the commission says asking people to pay for driving in traffic "hot spots" at peak times is a "missing piece" to solving congestion and more Canadian cities should try it as a pilot project.
Elgie, a law and economics professor at the University of Ottawa, said locally that could mean putting a new "high occupancy toll (HOT)" lane on Highway 417 through downtown Ottawa that people could use for free if they carpooled or pay a few dollars per trip to get into if they were driving solo.
"You have to create other options… new roads and transit or other options, but you also have to create a disincentive to drive during peak congestion periods on the most crowded roads," he said in an interview on Monday.
"You have to have the carrot and the stick basically... in many places we're doing OK with the carrot, what we haven't done is create a disincentive to create driving behaviours."
HOT lanes cut commute times
Elgie said Ottawa drivers spend an average of 22 extra minutes a day commuting because of congestion, which makes it the third worst city in Canada using those criteria and costs "hundreds of millions of dollars" in lost time, increased shipping costs and healthcare due to pollution.
He said cities across the United States such as Minneapolis, Miami and Denver have tried HOT lanes out and they've cut commute times anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent.
"That's the challenge with road pricing [in Canada], it's new, we're not used to it... but if you move more traffic into those HOT lanes and you encourage more carpooling it benefits everybody," he said.
"It gets more people out of the regular lanes, then if you take some of the revenues from that and you reinvest it in better transit services then people have options."
Elgie said today's technology makes it easy to pay tolls and allows different pricing at different times of the day.
He also said these lanes could work on some of the interprovincial bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau such as the Champlain Bridge, which already has a carpool lane.
On mobile? Tap here to vote in our poll about the idea.