Toronto·Metro Morning

Unlock Toronto gridlock with 'congestion pricing,' report says

A new report written by a group of prominent Canadian economists calls for cities to move toward "congestion pricing" — adding highway toll lanes — as the best way to ease congestion in the country's largest cities, including Toronto.

Report suggests various forms of 'road pricing' will bust gridlock in our cities

A report written by a group of prominent economist argues that congestion pricing is the best way to fix the city's traffic problems. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

A new report calls for cities to move toward "congestion pricing" — adding highway toll lanes — as the best way to ease traffic congestion in the country's largest cities, including Toronto.

The report, published by a group of prominent economists who make up Canada's Ecofiscal Commission, says charging drivers more to use high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes delivers the biggest payoff in efforts to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Stewart Elgie, a member of the commission and a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa, appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday to discuss the report.

He said the best research into traffic congestion shows that any move to add more highways or widen existing ones doesn't work. 

"Within a year, you're right back to the same traffic level, it just fills in," he said. "You need to create a disincentive for people to drive during busy periods … and that's where pricing comes in."

The report recommends that big cities like Toronto bring in toll lanes on commuter highways on a trial basis, with the trials managed by the province and paid for in part by the federal government. The lanes would be available to vehicles with multiple occupants but single-occupancy vehicles could also use them if the driver is willing to pay a premium. 

Elgie said research shows moving to this model benefits all drivers. 

"When people move into those lanes, it benefits all traffic ... it speeds up the regular lanes."

Success in other large cities

The report points to other large cities, including San Diego, Denver and Houston, that have had success with HOT lanes.

The trick, of course, is getting politicians to ask drivers to pay more.

Elgie said this isn't impossible because the trial approach offers a chance to show people that HOT lanes can work. 

For example he said that in Stockholm, tolls on highways were supported in a referendum after a one-year trial. He said before the trial period, Stockholmers were "dead-set against" toll lanes. After toll lanes were introduced, the number of vehicles entering downtown Stockholm dropped by 20 to 30 per cent, according to the Ecofiscal Commission report.

"If people are getting value for money, then these things work," said Elgie. 

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