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Toronto picks HOT lanes over TransLink's road pricing

CEOs of Canada
CEOs of Canada's three largest regional transportation authorities met Friday to talk transit: Montreal's Nicolos Girard, TransLink's Ian Jarvis and Toronto's Bruce McCuaig.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

TransLink isn't alone in looking at road pricing as a source of new revenue.

Toronto's regional transportation authority is among the Canadian jurisdictions that have studied the possibility and it has just proposed a slate of new funding tools.

None of them is comprehensive road pricing of the sort that has been bandied about by Metro Vancouver mayors, where motorists would pay a fee – at least at peak times and possibly varying based on congestion levels – to travel any significant distance.

Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of the Metrolinx authority in Greater Toronto, said his planners do support the road pricing concept but decided against it for now.

"While we have very good rapid transit service into downtown Toronto, we don't have the choices available in other parts of the region," he said in a TransLink-organized panel discussion Friday with counterparts from Vancouver and Montreal.

"We felt that we needed to invest more in building those rapid transit choices in some of the more suburban areas before we could move towards a comprehensive road pricing program."

Toronto has proposed to raise $2 billion a year for transit through an increase in the HST in the region, along with higher fuel taxes, a levy on non-residential parking stalls and increased development charges.

The one variant of road pricing Toronto intends to pursue is converting HOV lanes to 'HOT' (High Occupancy/Tolled) lanes where those who opt to pay a toll can use the lanes along with HOV users to bypass congestion.

"That's intended to help expand the system," McCuaig said in an interview.

He said Metrolinx will use the HOT lane toll revenue to increase the network of HOV lanes from 69 kilometres now to about 450 kilometres over the medium to long term in the Greater Toronto/Hamilton area.

"We see that as a significant way to introduce a choice to the traveling public, that they can get a higher level of service if they pay a premium."

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said HOT lanes aren't seen as a significant part of the solution to the long-term transit financing conundrum in Metro Vancouver.

"There may be some applications, but not to the degree of the system-wide application in the Toronto area," Jarvis said.

Metro Vancouver mayors have so far suggested a vehicle levy, a small regional sales tax, or a share of carbon tax fund future transit expansion, including new rapid transit lines to UBC and through Surrey to Langley and White Rock.

Road pricing is seen as the ultimate and most powerful tool – not just raising money, but also shaping travellers' behaviour and including time-of-day price signals – but it's assumed it would take several years to flesh out.

TransLink has said it also intends to take the time-of-day pricing concept to transit fares as well, charging riders less at off-peak times compared to rush hour.

The Metro Vancouver mayors' council heard last week of another approach that has already been tested on a pilot basis in Oregon.

Mayors' council chair Richard Walton said that state is moving ahead with a further test of up to 5,000 vehicles that will voluntarily pay 1.5 cents per mile travelled and have all their gasoline taxes reimbursed.

He said the intent is to eventually replace the state's gas tax with a per mile road usage charge.

TransLink's gas tax has lately proven to be an inconsistent source of funding, prompting regional officials to look to other options.

Fuel taxes are expected to wane as a viable source, given trends of residents to take transit or other non-car travel options, fuel up outside the region where lower taxes apply, make shorter trips as more people live closer to where they work, or, over time, buy electric cars.

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