Stuck in traffic

Our rush hours rank with the world’s worst. Andrew Coyne has the solution.

Stuck in traffic

For one in four Canadians, the two-way commute takes more than 90 minutes | Janusz Wrobel/Alamy/Getstock, Fuse/Getty Images, Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star

Day breaks over Canada, and across the country, the morning commuter rises, dresses, hops into his car and is transformed into . . . traffic. Immobilizing, enervating, infuriating traffic, glaciers of metal improbably forcing their way down the nation’s roads each morning, only to have to force their way back up the same roads later in the day.

In Halifax, drivers seethe as they inch through the Armdale Rotary. In Montreal, it’s the seemingly hours-long grind along the infamous Autoroute Décarie. Toronto commuters visibly age waiting for something to move on the “Don Valley Parking Lot.” Calgarians have ample time each day to regret taking Deerfoot Trail, while in the Lower Mainland of B.C., drivers debate which is worse: the bottleneck on the Port Mann bridge or the eternal stretches of Highway 1 on either side of it.

We’re not imagining things: traffic really is getting worse. Statistics Canada reports the average time spent commuting to and from work nationwide increased from 54 minutes in 1992 to 63 minutes in 2005. In a year, that adds up to about 32 working days spent sitting in traffic (five more than in 1992). And that’s the average. In Calgary, it’s 66 minutes; in Vancouver, 67; in Toronto and Montreal, it’s now up to nearly 80 minutes a day. For one in four Canadians, the two-way commute takes more than 90 minutes.

In part that’s because people are travelling further to work: commute distances have increased 10 per cent in a decade. But it’s also because everyone’s moving slower: average rush-hour traffic speeds in Toronto, for example, declined by 24 per cent between 1986 and 2006. The result is to make these trips much longer than they need to be: as much as 37 minutes—nearly half—of the average Torontonian’s daily commute is due to traffic delays. In a year, that’s an extra 18 days in the car.

Indeed, for sheer mind-numbing, soul-destroying aggravation, traffic in our largest cities can compete with any in the developed world. A Toronto Board of Trade report earlier this year looked at commuting times in 19 major European and North American cities. Toronto’s ranking? Dead last: worse than New York or London, worse than Los Angeles. But other Canadian cities were scarcely better. Montreal was 18th, Vancouver 14th, Calgary 13th, Halifax 10th.

It’s not just the commute. There is nearly as much traffic at lunchtime today as there was at rush hour a generation ago. Not only are there more cars and trucks on the road—21.4 million registered vehicles, up from 16.6 million in 1992—but we’re using them for more things: driving the kids to sports, where once they would have walked. Total daily trips in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area rose by 56 per cent between 1986 and 2006.

Traffic is slowly strangling our cities. It’s the time wasted in traffic that could have been put to more productive use. It’s the late deliveries, the missed appointments, and the margin of error needed to cover the risks of either. It’s the extra repair costs from all those additional fender-benders. It’s the higher fuel consumption and consequent higher emissions to which stop-and-go traffic gives rise, to say nothing of the added wear and tear on roads, and tires, and engines—and heart muscles: being in heavy traffic triples your risk of a heart attack within an hour, according to German researchers. It’s the measurable drop in property values in areas overtaken by the traffic blight. It’s the noise, and smell, and general unsightliness. And much more besides.

Add it up and the costs are massive, and growing. A 2006 Transport Canada study put the cost of congestion nationwide, taking everyday and “non-recurring” congestion (accidents, road work and so on) together, at as much as $6.7 billion. (Interestingly, measured in congestion costs per vehicle-kilometre, Vancouver can lay claim to having the worst traffic in the country: see chart.) Yet even this is almost certainly an underestimate. The figures are in 2000 dollars, for starters, and traffic has appreciably worsened since the early years of the decade, when the study was conducted. Costs were estimated only in the nine largest urban areas, only at rush hour, only for cars (not trucks or buses), and only included the drivers’ wasted time and excess fuel consumption (and related greenhouse gas emissions).

A more comprehensive estimate, conducted in 2008 for Metrolinx, the agency responsible for transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, put the annual cost of the congested state of the region’s roads at $6 billion, when knock-on costs to the surrounding economy are included. That suggests annual congestion costs for the country as a whole would today approach $15 billion, nearly one per cent of GDP. Now factor in the rapid growth in population that Canada’s major cities are expected to undergo in coming decades. Something’s got to give.

And yet, nothing ever does. Though the nation’s roads and highways get more congested with each passing year, municipal and provincial governments persist in the same approaches that got us where we are today, which is to say, stuck in traffic. A City of Toronto newsletter, after happily running through some of the city’s many “traffic demand management” programs, ends by cautioning residents not to expect them to work. “We can’t solve the issue of congestion,” it says, “but we are trying to manage it better.” (Instead, readers are urged to see the “positive side” of congestion, as “the sign of a vibrant city.”)

But we can solve it. That our cities have failed to do so is not for lack of proven alternatives, but in wilful defiance of one in particular, a solution that not only has an impressive expert consensus in support of it but is already having notable success in other cities around the world. There’s even a working model of it in place right outside Toronto.

We do not have to suffer this daily indignity, in other words. It is not natural or inevitable that urban traffic should move with the speed of industrial sludge. It’s not often true of other social problems, but when it comes to traffic, there really is an Answer.

LET’S DEAL first of all with some of the more popular non-answers. Over the years a lot of utopian hopes have been invested variously in telecommuting, or staggered work hours, or car-pooling as the way to lessen the crush at rush hour. But it turns out, as the research shows, people like working downtown, almost as much as they like living in the suburbs, and they like doing so at the same time as other people. Moreover, the vast majority of them like the convenience and independence of driving there themselves: measures to encourage car-pooling such as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes have had limited impact.

So even in the face of commute times of an hour or more, people vote with their steering wheels. Today’s utopians dream of solving the traffic problem by mass defections from the car to public transit, or even bicycles. But it would have to be massive indeed. Nationwide, more than 85 per cent of Canadians continue to get to work by car, a figure that has not changed in two decades.

The reason is simple: it’s quicker by car. As bad as the commute is for drivers, it’s much worse for public transit users: 106 minutes, versus 63 minutes by car. Granted, part of the reason it takes so long to get anywhere by transit is because of all the cars blocking the way. But you’d have to persuade an awful lot of those drivers to give up the comfort and convenience of their cars to put much of a dent in that. And they’d still take longer to get to work even then.

Other commonly proposed solutions would be of similarly marginal benefit. You can better synchronize traffic lights. But whatever savings in time that confers on traffic going north-south is only time added to traffic going east-west. European-style roundabouts, besides being more romantic than static four-way intersections, also make for better traffic flow. But we’re not about to tear out every street corner. And in any case, the problem is more fundamental than that: Europe’s traffic is as bad or worse as North America’s.

More and more cars trying to get through the same narrow passages is an obvious recipe for congestion. Of course, one way or another, road space will be allocated; at present, it’s rationed by time. Which is perverse, when you think about it. The people who are prepared to “pay” the most to use the roads under this system are the ones who need them least: those who place so little value on their time that they are willing to spend years of their lives, literally, sitting in traffic. Alas that leaves just-in-time delivery trucks and other, more time-sensitive travellers—ambulances, fire trucks, mothers with kids in daycare—stuck in the same jams they are.

It also means that the other favourite political remedy—build more roads—is no more the answer than public transit. Countless empirical studies have shown: add more road space, and traffic simply expands to fill it. True, at first the extra lanes or new highway do reduce congestion and shorten travel times. But reducing the “price” of driving in this way only stimulates the demand. Very soon you find more cars on the road, taking more trips. The same “induced traffic” phenomenon, by the way, can be seen in reverse: knock out a road, and traffic doesn’t drop by nearly as much as the reduction in capacity would imply.

That does, however, point us in the direction of the real answer. Because it suggests that traffic levels are not, as commonly believed, a given, as if people simply had no alternative but to drive a fixed distance every day. If they have to, they can and do cut back in any number of ways in the short term, and even more in the longer term. These include some of the ways listed above: taking transit, catching a ride with a friend, walking, or simply cutting out needless trips. They can travel, part of the time at least, at off hours, or on less-congested roads. Given enough time, they can even alter living arrangements, living closer to their place of work, shopping closer to home. But they won’t do any of these until they have an incentive to do so: until we find a more rational means of allocating road space than time, one that actually encourages people to economize their use of the roads rather than simply scramble to be at the front of the line.

As it happens, we have such a mechanism. It’s the one we use to allocate resources everywhere else in the economy: prices. Or if you prefer, tolls.

THE IDEA is hardly new. Modern thinking on tolls, or “road pricing,” dates back to the early 20th century economist Alfred Pigou. As long ago as 1964, the Smeed Report in the U.K. was making practical proposals for its implementation. Closer to home, there have been any number of reports, studies, and expert panels taking up the issue of late, all making the same recommendation: charge people to use the roads. A short list from the last couple of years would include the C. D. Howe Institute, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Ontario environment commissioner, the Toronto Board of Trade, the Toronto City Summit Alliance, British Columbia’s TransLink (the Lower Mainland equivalent of Metrolinx), the City of Montreal and the City of Toronto.

Nor is the analysis terribly complicated. In essence, roads are an example of the “tragedy of the commons.” The failure to charge for them leads to their overuse, the same way an open pasture will soon be nibbled bare, as every farmer races to be the first to bring his sheep to graze for fear of being crowded out by the rest. It should not be surprising, then, to see the consequences: not only congestion, but its close cousin, sprawl. It seems odd that the more area a city covers, the more congested it becomes. But the reason for each is the same. We have made travelling by car artificially cheap in terms of money, and artificially costly in terms of time.

But wait a minute, you say: I paid for those roads already, via the gas tax. Isn’t that a kind of user fee? Not so fast. You may have paid for the roads. What you haven’t paid for is you. Every time you use the road, you take up space that might be occupied by another car. And so far as you do, you impede the driver of that car from getting where he wants to go, and doing what he would rather be doing there. Since time is money, you impose a cost on him—as does he on you.

Of course, any one driver only slows up the mass to a small extent, but add up the “external” costs of every driver on the road—and it comes to a great deal, as we’ve seen. The obstruction need not be overt, as in a stalled car or accident. Just the presence of other drivers is enough to cause drivers to slow slightly, or to miscalculate, get too close, and have to slam on the brakes. The ripple effect of any one car doing so is then transmitted back through the line, exponentially worsening the initial disturbance. That’s how we get traffic jams.

The task, then, is to make those “external” costs apparent to each driver. Raise the price of using the roads, and people will reduce their demand for it, just as they do for most other things. That makes driving more expensive, at least at first. But with less congestion, other costs fall. Not only are travel times reduced, but so are all those other ills of congestion, from accidents to pollution.

So: jack up the gas tax, then? No, because congestion is a phenomenon, not so much of roads in general, but of particular roads, at particular times. Fuel taxes may be a good rough proxy for distance travelled, but they take no account of which roads you travel on, or at what time of day. For that you need a more precisely targeted “congestion price.”

Does that mean zero congestion should be the goal? No. While there’s an inverse relationship between traffic density—how closely packed the cars are—and speed, what matters is the product of the two, traffic volume: how many cars pass through a given stretch of road in a given time interval. So a certain amount more density is worth a certain amount less speed. How to judge the trade-off? How about leaving it to drivers themselves? Up to a point, they’ll be willing to pay to reduce congestion. But past that point, the additional savings in time and other costs won’t be worth it to them. It’s the excess congestion we want to eliminate—the part motorists would be willing to pay to avoid.

THAT SOUNDS THEORECTICAL. But in fact there are plenty of real-world examples. Anyone who has driven the toll-funded autoroutes in France will know what wonders they are: fast, glass-smooth, with pleasant rest stops every few kilometres. You enter at certain restricted access points, and pay as you leave, depending on your distance travelled. They’re not cheap: about $65 to drive from Paris to Marseille. But there’s another point. It turns out drivers are willing to pay for good roads: more, perhaps, than they might be allocated around the cabinet table, where they must compete against health care and—well, against health care. And the toll does its job of rationing demand. You find yourself weighing the options, calculating: am I in that much of a hurry today? Or can I afford to take the smaller, slower, “free” road?

On some U.S. highways, you get both options in one. Drivers on Los Angeles’s notoriously congested Riverside Freeway can take the Express Lanes, a privately built freeway-inside-a-freeway. The price varies by the hour, depending on volume, with a view to keeping traffic flowing at the speed limit: from $1.30 late at night to as much as $10.25 during “super peak hours.” (That’s not just a targeted speed, by the way: you get your money back if it’s any slower.) It puts through twice as many cars per hour as the free lanes, at four times the speed. On Interstate 394 near Minneapolis, drivers can likewise pay to join the carpoolers in the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane, a variant of the HOV concept. Again, the price fluctuates with demand; roadside signs advise drivers of the going rate. Since opening in 2005, it has increased average speeds by 15 per cent.

But why cite foreign examples? Just north of Toronto, running roughly parallel to Highway 401, is the privately owned Highway 407 Express Toll Route. Built in 1997, it is among the busiest toll roads in the world, with more than 360,000 trips taken along its 108-km route on a typical workday. There are no toll-booths: drivers can enter or exit where they like, their presence recorded by overhead “gantries,” or sensors. Rather, tolls are collected and administered electronically, via on-board transponders (for regular customers) or by snapping a photo of the driver’s licence plate and billing them by mail: between 18 and 42 cents a kilometre, depending on the type of vehicle and the time of day.

Because it depends on repeat business for the bulk of its revenues, the 407’s owners have a strong incentive to keep the traffic flowing as smoothly as they can. Tolls are only part of that. The company offers free 24-hour roadside assistance, for example, including boost, tire change, gasoline, and a tow truck if needed. The highway is noticeably well-maintained and pothole-free, especially by comparison to its often impassable neighbour.

Of course, who knows what the 401 would look like had the government simply put a toll on it? Maybe if it had, it would not have been necessary to build the 407 at all. While cash-constrained governments would be well advised to make any new road construction toll-funded—as a test of demand—they should first test whether better use could be made of existing roads.

Still, just tolling the surrounding highways won’t be enough to clear Canada’s major cities of congestion. Rather, we need to learn from those cities around the world who are applying tolls within city limits. Probably the most famous of these is London’s congestion charge. Introduced in 2003, it is an example of a “cordon” toll, collected at a number of entry points ringing the city centre. The price is steep: $15.50 on weekdays (up from $7), charged to drivers using licence plate recognition. The plan has not been without controversy, notably over an abortive attempt to expand the toll zone, but there is no doubt it has succeeded in its stated aims: a 20-30 per cent reduction in traffic flows across the cordon in the first year. So immediate and striking was its success, the mayor who introduced the charge, Ken Livingstone, was re-elected the year after.

A similar story has unfolded in Stockholm. Beginning in January 2006 as a seven-month trial run, weekday visitors were charged a fee, varying according to traffic volumes: from $1.50 in off-peak hours, to twice that much at peak. As in London, traffic flow into the city centre was reduced by more than 20 per cent. Transit use soared; there were fewer accidents; vehicle emissions declined. Small wonder that in a referendum some months after the trial ended, Stockholm residents voted to make the arrangement permanent.

To be sure, tolls have aroused much public opposition elsewhere—referendums in Edinburgh, Manchester, and several Swedish cities failed—but always in advance of their introduction. Where tolls have actually been implemented (Milan, Oslo, and Melbourne are other examples), they have never been withdrawn.

Still, there’s a flaw in these schemes. After initial sharp reductions in congestion, both Stockholm and London saw some erosion of these gains in later years: though many fewer vehicles were entering the city centre, as before, the reduction in traffic within the cordon was much less. Why? Much as if the city had added capacity, drivers responded to the easier traffic conditions by . . . driving more. So perhaps we need something still more ambitious—something like Singapore’s “electronic road pricing” scheme.

With Singapore’s long experience of London-style cordon tolls—their own scheme, implemented in 1975, was the world’s first—the city state took things a step further in 1998. Not only are tolls collected at entry points, but also along major arterial roads. Every vehicle on these roads must carry a card on its dashboard, much like a prepaid phone card, capable of being read by Highway 407-style sensors: the value of the toll is deducted from the card automatically, with higher rates applying as traffic volumes increase. Drivers therefore have an incentive to choose less heavily travelled roads, but without a backfill of traffic flooding in to take their place: prices see to that.

Indeed, the system works so well, the question arises: why not toll . . . every road? Obviously this couldn’t be done with toll booths, or even gantries. But with satellite tracking technology, familiar to anyone who uses a GPS, it should be possible to apply the Singapore model comprehensively. Tolls would no longer be discreet events, but more like your phone bill: the price you paid to use the road system, much as you pay to use the telephone network. The tolls would vary dynamically, according to the time of day, the distance travelled, the type of vehicle and so on. Satellites, moreover, could be used to update drivers on the prices of different roads as they came up; route-planning software could be used to predict the costs of alternative routes.

If that sounds far-fetched, you should know that the British government under Tony Blair came within a hair’s breadth of implementing just such a scheme. In a white paper published in July 2004, it proposed a rate schedule ranging from a few pence, for weekend drives in the country, to more than $1.50 a mile, for rush-hour traffic on the ring road around London. It was calculated the plan could reduce the amount of time lost in traffic jams by nearly 50 per cent. The aim, Blair declared in 2006, was to introduce “a national road-user charging scheme . . . within the next decade.”

Alas, the plan was later abandoned by Gordon Brown in the face of popular opposition. But the idea is far from dead. The Netherlands was all set to introduce a similar scheme this year, before a member party in its governing coalition got cold feet. Oregon has experimented with it. Trucks in Austria and Germany already pay tolls this way. Indeed, some of its strongest proponents are to be found here in Canada. Toronto-based Skymeter Corp. is actively marketing the technology, while policy gadfly Lawrence Solomon, founder of the free-market environmental group Energy Probe (disclosure: I am an unpaid director of Energy Probe), holds several international patents on it. The Toronto City Summit Alliance treated the idea seriously in its recent report. A demonstration project in a major Canadian city might be just the thing to launch the technology worldwide.

There are obvious practical obstacles to implementing such a plan, though none that seem insurmountable. Privacy is a common objection, but similar concerns do not seem to have prevented millions of people from entrusting the records of their most intimate conversations to the phone company: it is surely possible to be as discreet with the usage of their car. There are simple technological fixes, for example, converting data on a car’s location to the corresponding price before it ever leaves the transponder. Those for whom it remained an issue could prepay, again on the cellphone model.

The problem of enforcement, likewise, is more apparent than real. You would be required to install a transponder as a condition of licence, just as you are obliged to have a working odometer, tail lights etc. Spot checks would be easy enough to conduct.

WHAT ABOUT the more fundamental objections to road pricing? Two in particular come to mind. The first, that tolls would be unfair to the poor, is perhaps the more easily discarded. The very poor, of course, would not pay the tolls, as they do not typically have cars to drive. The rest could be compensated in cash, similar to the GST tax credits, rather than giving everyone, rich or poor, a free ride. And of course, the poor benefit as much as anyone from clearer streets and faster travel times, not least as transit users.

To the second, that tolls would become a cash cow for governments, the simple answer is that any revenues from tolls can and should be used to lower taxes: perhaps even the gas tax. To be persuasive, the offset would have to be guaranteed, immediate, and 100 per cent: voters are rightly skeptical of any such promised trade-offs.

Indeed, it may even be necessary to go so far as a plan put forward recently by the Social Market Foundation, a British think tank. It proposed putting ownership of the road system in a public trust, at arm’s length from the government. At the end of the year, all toll revenues would be distributed to every member of the public—the trust’s shareholders. Depending on how much you drove, you might even make a profit on the deal.

Which means discarding one of the most common arguments made for tolls: that the revenues could be used to finance public transit. For starters, this is unnecessary: the very act of tolling roads would, by itself, make public transit more competitive, since the per-person cost of the toll would be much less for buses than for cars (and none at all for subways and surface rail). Moreover, as the economist Robin Lindsey explains in a study for the C. D. Howe Institute, “transit vehicles speed up when tolls are imposed, because there are fewer cars on the road. This attracts more travellers to transit. In response, transit operators improve service by adding routes and increasing frequency. Due to economies of scale in transit operations, the cost per passenger falls, perhaps allowing the operator to lower fares. Ridership increases further, and so on.”

If getting more people to use transit is your aim, moreover, subsidies are the last thing you should want. The biggest factor in people’s decision whether to use transit is not the fares, but rather the speed, comfort and convenience relative to other options: that is, the passenger experience. And the surest means of forcing transit operators to pay more attention to the passenger experience is if their livelihoods depend on it. The greater the share of revenues paid for by passengers themselves, the more operators are likely to be lying awake at night thinking up ways to put bums in the seats; subsidies simply insulate them from that concern.

The nub of the argument, whether we are talking about cars, or buses, or tennis rackets, is this: people make better decisions when they know what things cost. Right now the true cost of using the roads is hidden, leading people to drive more and in different ways than they would if they were better informed.

Even a modest road-pricing scheme would be a start: traffic jams wouldn’t be entirely a thing of the past, but they would be a lot less common. And the more comprehensive the plan, the greater the payoff: shorter travel times. Lower fuel costs. Fewer accidents. Less noise and pollution. Higher productivity. Road pricing would make us richer, healthier, saner. If London, Stockholm and other cities can do it, why can’t we? Why, other than because it would be new, and because we would be paying for something we were used to getting for free.

Only it isn’t free now. It’s hideously expensive. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and as any commuter can tell you, there sure ain’t no such thing as a free road.


Stuck in traffic

  1. My commute: a 20-minute walk, each way. Haven't owned a car in years.

    If you choose to live some ridiculous distance from where you work, you choose to deal with the traffic. If you want less traffic, I agree with Andrew: let the market handle it, pay congestion tolls and such. Or live nearer to where you work — in all of Canada's major cities, there are affordable, livable parts of those cities — and check out of the whole thing. It's healthier, too.

    • Could not agree with you more. My 'commute' is 7-1/2 minutes power walking. Can't put a dollar figure on what it is worth to me!!

      Stockholm also had graduated licences (1988 anyway) where the further you drove you car into the city, the higher the cost – your vehicle plate reflected that. Made sense to me.

    • Your commute is the ideal, and not available or affordable to most.

      I transit in from the inner suburbs. An hour each way, every day, because there's nowhere I can even afford a condo within a 20 minute walk. I have a car, but frankly, it's more stress than it's worth.

      As to moving closer to work? maybe 20 years ago, when a full-time job was the norm. Now, with contracts, who knows where you'll be from year to year/?

    • In addition to points made by everyone else, simple logic says the majority of people cannot live within a 20 minute walk from their jobs – the space is simply not available.

      • When demand increases, supply will go up.

        • true story. it happens like magic. as soon as peak transit ridership through a city's core reaches the requisite levels, poof!, a subway appears; just look at Ottawa.

      • Think vertical.

    • "Or live nearer to where you work…"

      We live where we do because it's close to my wife's work. Short of changing careers, I'm stuck with a 42 km commute one way – which takes between 45 minutes and an hour in rush hour. Off-peak hours, it's half an hour (one way).

      I'd love a shorter commute – but I work for a great company, in a specialized field. It would be very difficult to find equivalent work closer to home. So, short of a divorce or a layoff…

      • if you can do a 42KM commute in 45-60 minutes in rush hour and 30 mins off peak, you are one of the luckiest commuters in the world. Average speeds for car commuters are usually in the mid-20s kph… all I can say if you can double those rates is: congratulations!

        • Primarily highway driving (and I'm admittedly a bit of a leadfoot when traffic allows me to be).

    • According to David Hulchanski's research. Most area's with jobs are too expensive for families so they are forced to move to areas undeserved by transit

    • When choosing to buy our home, we chose the closest to our places of work, that was 15 years ago now, however, since both of us work in the warehousing industry homes are not built that close to light industrial area. Our problem now is the amount of people who have decided to move to our side of town, but farther out in the burbs, where lake living and wide open spaces appeal. Now, these people also must drive to where we work…making the morning/evening communte even more populous with cars (bus service is terrible if you can even get it to go near where you work or live in the new communities) so.what can you do?

    • One of our neighbours rides his 10 speed to same place my husband works, nice in the summer, not so much in
      -30…and what happens when he gets to work all sweaty? Well, they also have showers & lockers for their employees….hmmm…this is for a warehouse where maily men work….wonder if they might do that for us women, as I can't imagine going into a meeting looking/smelling like I've just rode my bike for 30 minutes….likely I'd be asked to leave. Without proper places for us women to do our hair/makeup and change into nylons and a dress for meetings, likely employers will just have to increase their parking lot sizes, so we can continue to drive to work. While I agree that walking would be a nice change, the roads (some with sidewalks) are pretty close to the diesel truck carrying items in/out of the industrial area, so breathing in these fumes may also not be good for you. While the thought seems plausable, at almost 50 years old I think I'll pass on walking or riding my bike thanks!

    • You must move around a lot and have lots of money. Good for you. I've worked at the same place for 22 years, but the office has relocated all over the city several times. Should I move at great expense just because my office relocates? What about my spouse – should we live apart if we don't work in the same area? Not to mention that the local housing close to some of the places I've worked is either super expensive or shall I say in less than desirable areas to live?

      It's nice that some can walk or bike to work. But don't be arrogant and assume you came up with a practical solution the rest of the world never thought of. It's complicated. And the toll road solution the author is advocating is likely because he has the means to pay for it, or has the time to take transit, or because he's lucky enough to walk to work like you. In some areas the population density is too great to have an easy solution. In other areas like Calgary the solution is political. Congested areas are often easy to identify and have obvious reasons – but the city council either doesn't have the will or the money to bring the road up to a proper standard.

    • Wow congratulations “king of everything Criacow”. Guess what, living near my work is impossible on a 50K/year salary. “Average” condos downtown or townhomes along the river in Calgary run you 600K to 1.5 mil. Forgive me for “choosing” to live in the suburbs/outside the city centre. Why don’t I just rent one you ask? Because the rental prices are minimum $2,000 a month. I live as close as I possibly can and take public transit. I walk 20 minutes and the train takes 20 minutes to get me to work, thus every day I waste 80 minutes commuting. If you can find me somewhere affordable to live in downtown Calgary, I’ll move there in a heartbeat.

  2. To make a point I will repeat in a tweet, as a non-driver, I have no problem with this as a blue sky principle – if applied to personal driving.

    But to do this on a citywide basis will have economic impacts on the economy and pricing which far outweigh the impacts of choices on individual commuters. Thoughts on that? I've always said I'd want to see more data on that question before exploring further.

  3. At the moment, my commute is on secondary arteries through the city, parallel to the 100KM 4-6 lane highway that goes through it. If it were to be tolled, my secondary arteries woudl be flooded and stalled in the same way it is when the hockey team plays or there is an accident or there's snow.

    I wouldn't have a problem with toll options being added to our situation, but I don't think our infrastructure could handle a downloading of traffic from th eone thoroughfare to the rest. Are you proposing tolls on them as well? One feature I see slwoing traffic that can extend out to the thoroughfares is the ridiculous use of ultra-slow speed limits and ubiquitous stop signs in suburbia. I have colleagues whose time commute is the same as mine at half the distance because of these issues.

  4. I'm pretty sure HOV lanes create congestion. I don't have facts on this but I'd be grateful if an enterprising journalist could help. Here's why: (1) they usually replace 1 or 2 existing lanes (2) they are not widely used by commuters because it's really inconvenient and (3) it creates additional transitions as the lanes begin and end.

    I think we've spend millions of dollars on HOV lanes to help retired couples get around more quickly.

    • Thanks for all the thumbs down. Now, anybody want to bother arguing with me? I TRULY hope I'm wrong on this one!

    • The idea of the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes is to encourage people to share vehicles, to reduce the "driver only" number of cars. HOV lanes are not widely used because more people chose to or have to travel alone. But they do speed up travel for cars with two or more people in them. They do increase congestion for those cars with only the driver.

    • I agree, HOV lanes are something greenies like to force on people but they really don't work. You need lots of lanes & large freeways – and of course lots of people going from/to the same place. Unless there is no other choice a reasonable number of lanes need to be built. In Calgary there are major roadways with choke points of just 1 or 2 lanes. Often there is opposition to expansion by a local restaurant or a few homeowners so the city just waits them out – for 30-40 years.
      This article seems to think toll roads are the answer. Force people to pay – allowing those with plenty of money to have good roads and those without the money will be forced to take slow inconvenient transit. So in other words – not a solution.

    • Traffic has an interesting phenomenon where the amount of cars that can flow through a point increases until a slight amount of traffic (somewhere around 60 km/h average speed on a 100 km/h highway) and then breaks down and just drops off very quickly.

      This means that a lane that looks basically empty going 100 km/h may actually be moving more cars per minute than a lane that is bogged down in traffic. It's hard to comprehend as then you think "Well, then why don't all the cars move faster?" I can't get my head fully around it either, but it is true.

      On top of that, HOV lanes have at least 2 people in each car, thus the time savings per passenger is effectively doubled. This means that as long as the HOV lane is moving half as many cars as the regular lanes, overall people are saving time.

      Most importantly, according to MTO, travel time on the OTHER lanes improved as a result of the HOV lanes. "Motorists in general traffic lanes on Highway 403 and 404 have seen eight to 11 minutes shaved from their commute times". This isn't that surprising given the ability of the lane to move more traffic.

      The only thing that would make this more efficient is if they're converted into HOT lanes, allowing single-occupancy drivers to use them for a toll. By doing this they can make sure all available capacity is used while keeping the lane running at peak efficiency, and speed all the other lanes up more in the process.

      Does that answer your question, YYZ?

    • Nope – the new one on the qew has a brand new, built specific, lane in each direction. I've used it and it's brilliant. And as long as 99.9% of commuters continue to refuse to use it, it will mean a sweet drive for the other 1/10 %.

      • Oh, and don't forget although you see few cars in the HOV lanes you need to multiply that number by a factor equal to the average number of occupants in those vehicles (a number which must be available from some research facility)

  5. Andrew! YES! BRILLIANT! THANK YOU! This is an actual serious debate worth having; and frankly righty/libertarians should support the proposal because it very much has a free market/pay-for-use component and lefty/enviro types should support it because road pricing will result in getting cars off the roads.

    I would propose a slight amendment – I agree with your point about transit subsidziation – this will not encourage more people to get on the TTC. But our biggest issue around transit development is funding for infrastructure.

    I would be a strong advocate of a proposal that saw road pricing used for transit INFRASTRUCTURE funding.

    • I am so with you right there. Dump that toll cash into some light-rail, and start solving the problem.

    • Really should not the true libertarians argue for a complete absence of roads and a license to drive their 4 wheel drive vehicles where-ever they choose?

      • In my experience there is almost no such thing as a true libertarian.

        But yes I believe you are right!

      • The truest libertarians would likely contest the requirement of the license.

    • You say "BRiLLIANT", but then you want too use road tolls to subsidize public transit which totally misses Andrew's point.

      As Andrew points out in the article, cross-funding schemes would doom the endeavour because both the roads and public transit would continue to be mispriced.

      Road tolls should be devoted to the funding of roads, not anything else, period. When roads are properly priced, then public transit will/can be properly priced, and when public transit is properly price, it will attract the capital (public and/or private) necessary transit infrastructure.

      • There is a threshold though for the capital necessary for transit infrastructure. If the tolls were not high enough to induce enough people to switch over to make it viable to invest, then we would not have the transit infrastructure created. However, if some of the toll is used for making only the infrastructure, we get around the problem for waiting for ridership to provide capital over the threshold necessary to build a viable system.

        Another thing, make underground transit where possible. It has a lot more benefits than street-level. Avoids all the congestion, reduces noise, actually could increase property prices. Since it avoids the congestion it can be as quick as using a car, if not faster.

        • It's not just transit, but all transportation infrastructure. As AC notes, Canada has essentially been foregoing the necessary investments in transportation for nearly two generations, and our governments do not have the funds required, or even the time to make the investments and build the assets to provide the transportation networks (roads, highways and rapid transit) that are required by current demand, or to maintain these adequately. That's why I don't understand AC demanding that 100% of toll revenues go back to users in tax brakes, we need significant amounts of funding currently unavailable (competing with health care around the cabinet table, as AC notes) to fund capital improvements, deferred maintenance and network expansion, and isn't it most equitable to fund these with monies raised based on transportation uses, rather than from the income and property tax bases as we currently do?

          • To respond to both you and Wheat, I took Andrew's point to mean he doesn't think tolls should be used for general funds or to lower ticket prices for transit – I agree with that completely.

            My argument back was that all the principles of argument still make sense, even if the funds were ringfenced into an infrastructure fund. This would be relatively easy to do – I'll use Toronto as an example (centre of the universe etc. etc.): Tolls should be administered and collected by Metrolinx. Legislation should be written to ensure that Metrolinx only uses toll money to build stuff.


          • I agree. First you look after the maintenance of the toll road, to keep it in good condition, create a reserve fund for future rehabilitation, and use any surplus for transit. Or if the toll road is operated privately, use the tax on the toll corporation for transit. Don't let the revenues become general revenue, but make sure they are dedicated to infrastructure.

  6. "To the second, that tolls would become a cash cow for governments, the simple answer is that any revenues from tolls can and should be used to lower taxes: perhaps even the gas tax."

    Oh please….

    Reminds me of the theory behind the gas tax going only to road improvements…or EI premiums going towards the EI system…how'd those work out?

    Toll revenues would quite simply go into general revenues just like cash-hungry politicians and governments suck up lottery revenues, cigarette taxes, liquor taxes and a host of other taxes all implemented for specific end uses which are quickly abandoned after their implementation.

    I suppose though…now that the "carbon tax" bubble has burst politicians will be eying this as another potential cash cow.

    • Good try on the "carbon tax" redirect…

      But anyway, all revenue goes into the big pool. The trick is to convince those in power to live up to their promises.

      But charging ongoing road tolls would almost daily remind people of what they were paying for. might keep the pressure on, no?

    • Did you read the whole article? He proposed a solution to that…

    • "Reminds me of the theory behind the gas tax going only to road improvements…or EI premiums going towards the EI system…how'd those work out?" Interesting comparison. We could just privatize many of our highways, hello Indiana.

    • they could, maybe they would, but they don't have to. I you have a dedicated metropolitain transportation agency (like Translink that does regional roads and transit, say) and revenues go only, and directly to that agency, then it will use those funds only to pay for its operations and investments according to its mandate. Similarly, you could have a P3 arrangement where the funds went to some kind of private consortium, and it would have incentives to use the revenues to maintain, improve and expand its assets in order to attract more users and increase revenues (kinda like how the streetcars were built by property developers, who then built streetcar suburbs to increase demand for their streetcars, these are now the most valuable, liveable and sought after neighbourhoods in every city of the country, 50 years after the streetcars were ripped up everywhere but Toronto).

      • Ferrovial Agroman is an example of the kind of private company that owns and operates transportation infrastructure, from airports (incl BAA), to subways, to highways like the 407. They use the revenues from the tolls/fees to maintain and improve their infrastructure

      • I was slow replying to your comment above and made the exact same argument. We are aligned sir or ma'am.

        • then it's settled; problem solved.
          <dusts off hands>

  7. As long as people choose to live insane distances from their place of work, and choose to burn fossil fuels hauling four-to-seven empty seats with them in their personal vehicle, and choose to do that twice a day at nearly exactly the same time as everyone else, we have absolutely not priced that choice effectively. And all taxpayers (and gasoline burners outside of rush-hour commuting) are subsidizing this ridiculous lifestyle choice. And that voluntary twice daily gridlock is an even more dangerous barrier to public safety / emergency services than it is a drain on our productivity.

    Bravo, Andrew. Realistically, though, what chances do you give any Canadian metropolitan region having the sense and the courage to implement?

    • I wish they would. I chose my home based on nearness to bus/subway lines, but every day my epic transit journey takes t hours of my day, sometimes more. And that's 26k, 13 in and 13 out. One subway, one quick bus ride.

      But the city has to build capacity BEFORE the rush comes, because the second or third day in a month where your bus doesn't show up (at all) makes you rethink your dedication to transit.

      • In my city, the downtown core has exceeded its capacity to handle the main bus runs. Living on a commuter route means either trundling along in a sardine can stuffed with muggy, fusty commuters spreading their H1N1 mucus all over, or putting up with milk run mind numbing rides in 3/4 empty frigid/sweltering cavernous dreary cattle cars. And yes, having a bus pass you by while you wave your arms madly in the air doesn't happen nearly often enough to satisfy my masochistic sense of low self esteem.

      • Valid point. Public transit can only be an option if it's reliable. They've tried buses and passenger vans where I live but it doesn't work for anyone employed nor the university that have schedules to keep.

    • As long as people choose to live insane distances from their place of work

      You must either live in a small town or have a stable job. People often have limited job options, and – in large cities – may be left with no choice but to take a job that is not close to their home. Many Toronto-area high-tech jobs, for example, are located in the suburbs or the exurbs.

      Or are you advocating that people should move closer to their employer every time they get a new job?

      • I am advocating they think ahead about where they set up residence. I am advocating they consider commuting as part of their decision-making on their choice of employment. I am advocating that they consider car pooling and public transit and bicycles and in-line skates as alternatives to hauling four to seven empty seats with them in bumper-to-bumper insanity.

        And if they live in Burlington and work in Pickering, then, yes, move already, or suck it up and pay for the 407.

        • Choice of employment? Yeah, okay, I guess some people have what you'd call a choice of plum jobs. But I'd wager those people are few and far between.

          Also, some people are married or live with someone else. Actually, quite a lot of people live that way. And while I suppose those of the first paragraph could choose the job closest to their partner, closest is a relative thing. They may not have THAT exact area as a choice of the numerous choices they have to choose from. And even then the partner could get laid off and have to get a different job in a different area.

          • And this is an argument in favour of free access to continued tragedy-of-commons traffic gridlock… how?

            Andrew Coyne is advocating rational choices when these choices are valued (i.e. priced) properly, as an excellent suggestion for dealing with a very big problem in our cities.

            And yes, there is ALWAYS choice in employment. You live in Come By Chance, and there's an attractive position in, say, Fort McMurray. NO WAY do you just sign on without figuring the impact of that employment on you, your family, and all the assorted benefits and drawbacks to that "choice of employment." And if people don't apply that same sort of thinking to lesser commutes, then they are not thinking.

            And if the thinking goes "Yeah, it's far, but I need that job," then, yes, they have made that "choice in employment."

        • In response to your response to me, which isn't here, my comment was not saying anything one way or another on the subject of this blog post. I was just commenting on what I took to be a rather cavalier attitude on the employment opportunities for the bulk of Canadians. i.e., it ain't so easy to find a good job. You give a silly example in the response that isn't here. A better one would be if you live in Burlington and your husband works in Burlington and you have a job opportunity in Pickering.

          Yes, you could move to Pickering and hope your husband finds a job there. But maybe he can't, or owns a successful business in Burlington and you are a nuclear specialist or something.

    • What about people who have a long term career with an employer (yes, I knew they are fewer these days) and that employer decides to relocate to an area outside of regular transit? Especially when there is no real reason to do so except for maybe a tax break. Do we walk away from our career or our family, friends and community? Some of this onus has to go on employers who do not make decisions with congestion and pollution as part of the decision making matrix

      • Agreed.

    • It's not all that complicated guys.

      People live outside of urban centres and commute because living inside the urban centres is too expensive or too dangerous.

      • Which brings us back to Andrew's point. We have not made "rush-hour insanity" expensive enough for people to reconsider the relative costs.

        • Hmm, a 20 % reduction in transport costs but a 57% increase in housing costs.
          Justs numbers but housing in high demand is still more expensive under current urban models than cars, gas and taxes. If the costs rise, the jobs may have to relocate.

    • Moron. If the house prices were not so insane in the city of course I would live there.

      • What you refuse to pay in $ for preferred real estate, you are happily paying in productive time lost in the commute. You are happily paying $ feeding and watering a vehicle. You are happily paying in worse health outcomes for getting stressed while breathing exhaust fumes in the rush hour insanity. You are happily making every one else pay for your decision by breathing your stop-start exhaust fumes. But you are not prepared to pay fair price for the privilege of avoiding that gridlock.

        And you call me a moron.

  8. This only addresses one side of the problem. Our transit systems would also benefit from some competition. How about relaxing the grip that the municipal bus companies and GO have on the bus system? No-one travels on these systems unless they have to, and some better and more responsive service would help change that.

    • Agreed. It's the corollary of my don't-subsidize-it argument, but I can't make every point in every article.

      • The competition factor would be great for the high-volume areas. So, everyone now well-served by transit would likely be better-served. For the rest of us on the marginal routes, in that in-between zone where service is such crap that people shrug and choose to drive, we'd be no better off, and maybe worse. Those productive lines subsidize the operations for the rest of us.

        And drop in service to my area just puts more cars on the road.

        • Furthermore, it only works for buses. Nobody can build a light rail or subway system on a competitive model with others trying to build the same system.

          • Correct. But competing ventures can bid for operating contracts.

          • can and do, even in Canada (aptly enough, see Line, Canada)

          • But don't they do that now?

          • Only when we are smart enough to build the system that way.

        • If the routes are marginal, the car traffic won't be as bad anyways. If the traffic density sucks because of all the commuters, the public transit options don't have to be marginal.

          • But that's the whole problem, right there. The routes are marginal because they're geared to current demand. Once an hour doesn't cut it for getting to work, so people don't use it and buy a car. Thus, the route stays marginal. They need to suck up the extra expense for a few years, show that the service is reliable and frequent at rush hors, at least, thus becoming a reasonable alternative to cars coomuting. What private contractor will run at a loss for 5 years to build a ridership?

          • I would happily defer to the urban planners out there, but I would hazard a guess that routes are planned as much (or more) on the basis of population density and travel patterns, than on (obviously non-existent) demand (until the route gets put in place). We'll put the neighbourhood bus route through these streets, it'll stop at this school and that strip mall and meet up with the express downtown bus / subway / commuter train at that station there. Done: Bring on the riders.

          • that may be what the transportation planners recommend, but at least in my city, such recommendations go to a committee of city council, and there, a bunch of parochial ward councillors tinker around and foul the whole thing up (democracy!). We also have explicit targets, such as meeting 50% of operating costs from fairbox revenues, which makes it much harder to offer such "lost leader" services (or, such "lost leader" services can only be offered at the expense of squeezing every penny out of the overcrowded profitable routes).

          • And nothing stops commuters from driving ever-so-briefly to the nearby park-and-ride where they board a bus or train to zip into town on reserved lanes or tracks. Well, no, scratch that. Inappropriately low-priced rush-hour access to gridlocked roads permits them to choose to stink up the air and fight for expensive parking downtown, using a monthly parking pass that's probably more expensive than the bus pass.

            And I have no desire to have the private contractor make its money totally off the users: the fares would be excessive (and I'm just too much of a pinko commie egalitarian public transit lover for that). I want them to bid for the contract to operate the transit agency's routes (buses, subways, trams, commuter trains, LRTs, whatever), likely at less than the public-service-union bloated costs currently in place.

          • I want them to bid for the contract to operate the transit agency's routes…

            An similar system would be a great way to operate a provincial electricity utility.

          • Those pinkos in Stockholm switched to this model, in the late 90s I think, and it works great there!

          • I was not aware that any jurisdiction had actually done it…good for those Stockholmians (Stockholmites?).

            A former senior executive/planner involved with Alberta's electricity system has suggested that this is the system that Alberta should have moved to about a decade ago…

          • it's Stockholmers (Stock-Homers? ;-)
            Basically SL (their county transit authority) decided that they were in the business of planning transit services (where do we need what level of service now? where ought we provide what level of service in the future?), not delivering transit services, so they contracted it all out. From their website (limited English content):
            "It is SL's responsibility to develop and find new solutions for the public transport system. It is also SL that procures the services and ensures that the contractors running these services keep to their agreements. SL is currently a relatively small organisation with just over 500 employees. But the SL service provides 10,000 people with jobs." http://sl.se/en/Visitor/About-SL/

          • Ohhhh, when you mentioned "this model" you were referring to transit, while I thought you were referring to electricity utilities, which was my tag-on comment to myl.

            Still, good on those Stockholmers for finding a nice blend of public and private.

          • And here I just conjured up a totally different image of a Swedish model…

          • My understanding is that much greater public funding goes into all European cities' transit, and they all have much greater population desnity than Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal.

          • Probably better – expansion of the system and accountability are less likely in private hands (in fact, they have every reason to argue against it). And neither is likely to provide any cost innovation beyond "pay the workers less"

          • "and fight for expensive parking downtown, using a monthly parking pass that's probably more expensive than the bus pass" Downtown parking for my partner and I would actually be cheaper than two monthly bus passes (over$180/mo!), the stress/hassle of driving in rush-hour traffic is really the only thing that keeps us out of our car for commuting.

          • Where do you live? My downtown parking is $450/month.

          • thankfully, not int he Centre Of The Universe ™! Parking in the Central Business District isn't competitive with a pair transit passes, but just outside the core here you can park for as little as 6$ a day!

          • That seems like quite a bit – do you park on John Tory's lawn?

          • I strongly suspect that if we ever get competing private health care in Canada, it will compete with the public delivery in just such a manner.

  9. "people like working downtown, almost as much as they like living in the suburbs, and they like doing so at the same time as other people. Moreover, the vast majority of them like the convenience and independence of driving there themselves"

    It's unfortunate that our cities are populated by so many idiots, but I'll happily choose to not join them. By living in a central neighbourhood, I can ride my bike to work downtown in ~22 minutes from March to November, depending on the weather, and get up a bit earlier to walk in the winter in just under an hour. Saves me hundreds of dollars a year, saves my city all the costs associated with the sprawly neighbourhoods, and helps prevent the also all-too-common obesity seen in your average car commuter. 'Utopia' is a personal choice apparently, but if tolls will make that choice more popular, then I'd rather the revenues from those tolls go into revitalizing our cities' more sensibly-located neighbourhoods than being thrown away in tax cuts.

    • Ah, nice to see that geographic snobbery still exists for those who are either willing to live in squalor or spend most of their income on rent/mortgage. Before you get all indignant about the superiority of your eco-friendly lifestyle, know this: I was once one of you…before I found the real value of personal space.

      Most recently, I was a commuter with a 75kim trip, each way. Before that, I lived and worked downtown. Yes, the downtown lifestyle has its advantages, but I can't see myself giving up my big backyard, safe cul-de-sac and predictably sound school district anytime soon. Nor would I want to return to panhandlers at my doorstep or the body-odor du jour on the TTC.

      Fortunately, I now work for myself, from home and limit my driving to mid-day meetings and errands.

      • Somewhere between the two extremes is where most of us live, folks. Small house, tiny yard, a little too far to bike and way too far to walk. I bus/subway by choice, and sometimes drive to get groceries. I put maybe 6000k a year on the car.

        Kuri, calling us all idiots makes you look like a smug downtowner, and Mr. Oakville, you'd be amazed at how "safe" your little cul-de-sac really is. Way to live up to the stereotypes. And if a little TTC smell bugs you, it's amazing you survived living downtown at all.

        Most of us can't afford to own property either downtown OR in oakville. Some of us have health issues that preclude biking and walking. So here we are, in the middle, trying to figure out a way to solve the problem. You guys have anything productive to offer?

        • I'll cop to being smug but not downtown – just central! I don't know why anyone would turn their nose up at living in an established neighbourhood (like my beloved Bonnie Doon in Edmonton) with older (but good) homes only to spend 2 hours of every day driving through traffic, paying higher car insurance, higher gas spending, being stressed out and sedentary instead of active and enjoying the city. They are idiots because they are investing a huge amount of time and money for a result that is less healthy, less safe (if you factor in the statistical risk of automobile accident) and ultimately draining on the community as well as the individual.

          Yes, a house in Namao (or Oakville, I guess) appears "safe", and likely the streets have fewer potholes. But it costs us *all* way more to provide services to those sprawling neighbourhoods than it does to provide the same services to where I live. And there'd be less pressure on our cities if we invested in our established central neighbours instead of turning good farmland in the outskirts of a city into neighbourhoods with giant yards and peak hour buses containing only 4 or 5 passengers.

        • You guys have anything productive to offer?

          Yup. Read Coyne again. Price vehicular commuting into the equation properly to avoid insane gridlock.

          • I'm 13k from downtown. In a house currently valued at about 250k. And I take transit. His equation off.

            Get the other million of me in Toronto out of their cars with better transit and road tolls, NOT privatization.

          • Get the other million of me in Toronto out of their cars with better transit and road tolls, NOT privatization.

            Please expand on why you are so vehemently against a private toll road but cool with a public toll road. Or, for that matter, a private company contracted to run the city bus routes instead of the public agency and union-bloated contracts.

            What did the 407 ever do to you?

          • "What did the 407 ever do to you?"

            Bill me $130 for a trip I didn't take (on a day I was in Quebec City).
            Send me the first bill 2 years after the alledged trip
            Refuse to show me the proof that i ever took the trip.
            Threaten to have my license suspended if i didn't pay.
            Temporararily trash my credit rating.
            Threaten me with legal action.
            Refuse to return phone calls or emails.

            I actually had to hire a lawyer to get it sorted out. As a private corporation, they are not answerable to anyone but their shareholders. Added bonus, the deal they signed with Mr. Harris back in the day allows them to extract payment by denying the renewal of your license.

            Sure, public servants also screw stuff up, but I can call my MP or my councillor and have them get it sorted out before it gets all legally…

          • If the government stupidly set up the rules to allow that, then the problem is with Harris. And harrassment of people like you describe could earn the buggers fines or loss of the contract. Satisfactory performance & customer service are conditions that can be built into the terms.

            Absence of any proof the trip was taken should be the only enforceable remedy you would need to tell the invoicer to shove off. Kind of like any other commercial transaction. "No, you never delivered that to me, so I shall not pay." That is easy enough to design properly.

          • The Harris gov really buggered up the 407 P3. I don't know where I saw it, but someone compared what a rotten job Ontario did with the 407 to the way Translink runs their P3s in BC (the Canada Line and Golden Ears Bridge are great examples), a startling case study contrasting a well-run government agency with a government "run like a business" (wretch)

          • Translink has it's issues too, but they are a model compared to how other Canadian cities do transportation planning

  10. Excellent article. I hate the idea, but it's probably the best there is. And it Andrew makes a good case for how and why it would work. Toronto being worse than LA hurts.

  11. 1…I work for Bell Canada and a few years ago they relocated their Toronto head office from downtown to Dixie & Eglinton in Mississauga (try getting there on transit if you are North or East or even downtown). Now they are demanding that we reduce teleworking and show up to to fill all of the empty space they have (to justify someone's poor decision and lack of insight probably). I personally have to travel 72 km each way to the office when I have everything I need here. This is now on top of visits I make to customer locations which I try to reduce with conferencing tools. It takes me anywhere from 1-3 hours EACH WAY.

  12. 2… In years past, my time was productive and I did not contribute unnecessarily to emmissions. I actually spent my personal travel time on the GO Train doing work on my computer. When I telework, I'm at my desk first thing in the morning and I often work into the evening and am productive most of those hours. I am always available just as if I was in the office. When I go to Mississauga, I just sit in traffic while my car idles away. Not only that, Bell added a huge amount of parking to this building to encourage I don't know how many thousand people to show up there. They have a huge amount of land to service and buildings that are using energy. Pretty sad for a company that can lead the way in teleworking (we sell it, but we aren't internalizing it anymore). Perhaps we should be taking this into account. Give further tax breaks to businesses who do locate in a convenient central transit location (i.e., downtown) and add a surcharge to those businesses who are contributing unneccesarily to congestion and pollution.

    • If you've ever had the colossal misfortune of being a customer of Bell's you would not be surprised that Bell is indeed a sad company.

  13. This idea is an elegant solution – unfortunately, I fear that it is politically unfeasible. Any government that attempted to impose tolls would be tossed out on its ear.

    In the Toronto area, the so-called "905 belt" of suburban ridings are very much swing ridings both provincially and federally, so no higher level of government would consider imposing tolls. And, at the municipal level: the newly elected mayor of Toronto just publicly proclaimed that "the war on the car is over", so municipal road tolls are not likely to happen any time soon.

  14. I knew where you were going from the start, and I 100% agree with you. If you want to use the roads and bridges, pay for them. But I don't think you can blame the cities. You mention tolls to most Canadians and they will fly into a fit of rage close to what you would get if you said "GST hike." No politician would dare implement tolls. People want to have their cake and eat it too.

    • And yet, all over the world there are tolls. Are Canadians that much more close minded than the citizens of virtually every other developed country?

  15. What a silly, short-sighted viewpoint. Let's combat the displeasure of congested traffic by substituting it with the displeasure of paying for the privilege of travelling on publicly funded roads. Come on. Be real.

    Why not (gasp?) consider targetting the CAUSE of our traffic problems. Reduce congestion by promoting alternative methods of travel for commuters that are Win-Win situations. Encourage car pooling (saves you lots of cash). Encourage alternate forms of transportation (e.g., walking, biking) — that gets cars off the street and has all sorts of benefits for those who ditch the car (major cash savings, health benefits, helps the environment, etc.). Or improve public transportation. All of these solutions get cars off the street and reduces traffic for everyone.

    The real problem here is that reducing congestion requires investment and requires politicians who are willing to stick out their neck to commit to investment. But do you really think that if such investments are unpalatable to the public and their elected officials, that somehow toll roads on our major commuter routes are somehow going to be viewed favourably? Dream on.

    • Uhmm… if you if you don't want to pay the tolls, then take alternate forms of transportation. Solve your own problem!

    • I believe he is. The CAUSE of our traffic problems are people simply choosing to drive to work because it's the means with the highest value when you look at the factors of comfort, control, cost, and effectiveness. Simple encouragement isn't going to change that unless you can convince enough of the people to apply social pressure to each other. That ain't easy, it's taken us years to get that to start to work with smoking, and that kills you for goodness sakes. How on earth would we get it to work for driving?

      Tolls make more sense (and cents) as a disincentive to driving. They up the "cost" factor thus reducing the value of the car. Lower the car's value and suddenly those alternatives you mention start to become better looking.

  16. As a transit-riding urbanite I have to apologize for the snootiness of my fellow non-commuters. People should have every right to live in the suburbs and drive an hour to work alone in their car if they want to – BUT they should have to pay for it and tolls are the best way to do that.

  17. This solution won't work.

    Know what would? build an incredibly effective, lavish public transportation system that fills the needs of almost everyone in the city. Then, for a period of say 18 months, shut down the car routes for everyone who doesn't have a demonstrable reason why they don't need a car on those roads. After the 18 month period, people can go back to driving, with their license fees subsidizing the transit system.

    Draconian? Yup. Unpopular? Maybe. But it's probably the best possible route.

    • That would be an effective solution without shutting down auto routes. There's a reason why lots of people with Park Avenue addresses jump on the 6 train and ride it downtown: it's the fastest way to get there. It's not because it's cheaper, more pleasant or more envrionmentally friendly, even thought 2/3 of those are nice side benefits.

      • But my way increases fare revenue during the initial period, and helps build long term ridership by getting people used to the very idea of public transit. (A large number of people don't take publci transit because….they just don't. Give them a year on an impressive system and there's bound to be an uptake in usage, for the good of all).

    • If I must choose a zero sum choice on the spot, I select one less F-35.

  18. I moved from Toronto to Los Angeles in 1991, and I can attest to the fact that, despite its reputation, L.A. traffic is better than it is in Toronto. I moved back to TO in 2000, and could only bear it for a year and a half. Going anywhere, even just a couple of k's, was extremely frustrating. So I left again, never to return. This article confirms that it's the best decision I ever made.

    • Did you move to Mellonville, Guy?

      • I don't live there any more either. I handed all my responsibilities over to Edith Prickley. No traffic problem there though.

  19. Boy am I ever glad I live close to the subway line. Get almost anywhere in the city in 20-25 minutes. Never owned a car and never will.

  20. Andrew, I am wondering if even one of these bloggers who are slapping you on the back for your brillance is a mother of young children. Yes, we drive to work. It is -30 and we have to get a toddler to the babysitter. Then we get a call to pick said toddler up due to illness and we have to leave work and take said toddler to the doctor in the middle of the day. No to mention what happens if we have an emergency call related to one of the other kids or our elderly parents. Have you ever tried to take a stroller on the C-train in Calgary during rush hour?

    • Just how often does your unfortunate family have these emergencies? Have you heard of taxis? Does your babysitter live in Lethbridge?

    • I believe this is what is referred to on the internet as "mommyjacking."

      We are not advocating that you are BANNED from doing these things. You simply would have to pay the real cost. Surely, you would prefer less congestion and a better ability to reach your destination for these seemingly daily family emergencies.

      • Yes Diego but the problem is that you are asking the people who can't afford to pay more – people with young children to pay more. As I said to the other blogger, I don't have young children but I know what it is like and if a mother with young children could afford to stay home, many would.

        • I believe GST rebates already take into account dependents. No reason why the rebate scheme Andrew proposed within the article couldn't do this as well.

    • AC actually did take your situation directly into account, including parents with kids in daycare among the class of people whose time is expensive. I suggest you re-read and notice this oparagraph: "More and more cars trying to get through the same narrow passages is an obvious recipe for congestion. Of course, one way or another, road space will be allocated; at present, it's rationed by time. Which is perverse, when you think about it. The people who are prepared to “pay” the most to use the roads under this system are the ones who need them least: those who place so little value on their time that they are willing to spend years of their lives, literally, sitting in traffic. Alas that leaves just-in-time delivery trucks and other, more time-sensitive travellers—ambulances, fire trucks, mothers with kids in daycare—stuck in the same jams they are."

  21. Mr. Coyne, your argument, while intriguing, performs an interesting dance around public transit's role in reducing congestion and all the ills associated with it. You've bookended your article in a way that maximizes the distance between the discussion of too many vehicles on our roads and the role of public transit and the motivations for why we choose either mode of travel.

    Your proposal is to increase the cost of driving based upon the level of roadway congestion, yet a natural and rational outflow of such a policy would be to also implement rewards or cost reductions for behaviours that we wish to encourage, such as transit ridership. So, why do you avoid including the idea of eliminating transit fees during rush hour? Such an action would certainly result in dramatic increases in transit ridership and a corresponding drop in congestion without any additional public expenditure. Implementing such a program would not require any of the complexity and expense that you describe with your transponder and GPS-based tracking and billing systems, and can also be almost instantly deployed in a general or highly-customized manner (system wide, zone, direction, time or route-based).

    If cash is truly king in determining the usage of our roadways in the future, then it is clear that such a fee-based system will disproportionately benefit the wealthy. Deploying a concomitant cut in public transit cost will not only extend the benefit to poorer commuters, but it will also have the perverse, yet ultimately desired result of furthering the reduction in traffic congestion.

    • why should property taxes be used to subsidize rush-hour transit use 100%? (I say this as a committed — committable? — lover of subways and user of transit, fwiw) Property taxes have no relation to ability to pay, and yet would be entirely on the hook to fund your proposal for free rush hour transit service. Furthermore, if your proposal was implemented, how on earth would you pay for all of the needed investment in buses, railcars and track to carry this increase in capacity (not to mention paying operators and maintenance workers every year) with NO SOURCE OF REVENUE for the transit services?

    • Many people would not travel on transit if you paid them! Poor service, inconvenience, scheduling etc. are bigger barriers than cost. Not to mention the other benefits of car travel (flexibility, privacy, comfort etc.).

    • I do not believe that making transit free in rush hour would dramatically increase ridership. The expense is not what keeps people in their cars.

    • But we don't want to encourage "transit ridership"! There's no external benefit to society from people riding the bus, per se. And indeed, subsidizing transit carries with it many of the same social costs as subsidized car use: sprawl, pollution, etc. It may be *less* costly in this regard than auto use, but subsidizing less wasteful waste is still subsidizing waste.

      So even if there were much evidence that subsidizing transit encourages people to abandon their cars, which there isn't, the more direct and effective remedy for too much car use is to price the unpriced costs that are encouraging that specific overuse — not to suppress the costs of other activities.

      And of course, as I say in the piece, transit — and the poor, as disproportionate users of transit — are among the big winners from pricing roads, since buses are stuck in traffic along with the cars. Far from subsidizing transit to get people out of their cars, pricing car/road use is the best way to get people to use transit. It isn't more transit that reduces congestion, but reduced congestion that leads to more transit.

      • But we don't want to encourage "transit ridership"! There's no external benefit to society from people riding the bus, per se.


        That's a mighty big "per se"…. Is this another one of those "this is not the issue" thingy that sometimes pops into your writing style?

        • Not sure what you mean, but thanks for the style note.

          I stand by the point: the social benefit from transit ridership is only an indirect one – ie, fewer people driving cars. But transit ridership *itself* has no social benefit, beyond that directly accruing to the rider (for which he pays, or should pay). And subsidizing transit ridership, to the extent it has any impact, only encourages people to overuse it.

          Far better simply to address the problem directly. If people are driving more than is socially optimal, because the costs of driving are hidden from them, then make those costs known to them, through prices.

          • Minor point: Regular transit use can create a sense of community. This could be enhanced by keeping transit vehicles confined to a single route, and adding a bulletin board that people could post notes etc. on.

            Of course, the greatest factor in this is the attitude and demeanor of the transit operator.

      • There's no external benefit to society from people riding the bus, per se.

        Time out, there, Andrew. I would submit that an efficient and popular transit system offers a huge benefit to the urban society. Less car traffic: benefit. Better air quality: benefit. Less urban space tied up for parking bulky packages of five-to-eight empty seats all friggin' day: benefit. Ease of access for society's participants to engage in economic activity, educate selves, attend city council meetings, volunteer, or just do whatever it is they please: benefit. Reduced congestion enabling easy flow of police, fire, & ambulance vehicles when we are counting on them: benefit.

        I am certainly not arguing that the service should be free. But I cannot meet you at the "no external benefit to society" argument.

        • You're missing my point. Most of the benefits you observe — less traffic, better air, less congestion, etc — are benefits not of more people riding buses, but of fewer people driving cars. And it's true that if more people switched from driving cars to riding buses, we'd be better off. But the gain is from fewer people driving cars.
          That's not a semantic disctinction: there are policy choices that flow from it. Subsidizing people to use transit is a horribly inefficient way to induce less car driving. Some of the people who benefit would have ridden the bus anyway. Many more will go on driving their cars, no matter how big the subsidy. And bus riding does not come without its own costs, in terms of road space occupied, fuel consumed, sprawl etc. Whereas charging car drivers to use the roads gives people a very direct incentive: drive less.
          How they drive less is up to them, and should be: riding the bus is just one of many ways. Which is another point: subsidizing transit only encourages one particular way of reducing congestion.
          The same might also be said of your other class of putative externality, the "helping people get around town" variety. In the main I'd argue that's a private benefit to the traveller, which it is possible to exclude him from if he does not pay. So the classic public good criteria do not hold. But in any event, even if there were an external benefit to mobility, that's not an argument for privileging transit over bikes, taxis, etc.. Indeed, by that logic, we should be subsidizing cars as well!

          • Well, ok, now I have a better sense of your "external benefit to society" point. Thanks. But:

            Subsidizing people to use transit is a horribly inefficient way to induce less car driving. Some of the people who benefit would have ridden the bus anyway.

            But a subsidized transit system is likely to be a more comprehensive network, which I will stubbornly insist is a precious asset for a city. Many who benefit would indeed have taken the bus anyways, because they are not in a position to own / drive a car in the first place (age, health, wealth). Yes, these individuals, not society as a whole, would be the biggest beneficiaries. And I realize the whole point of your arguments here pertain to gridlock of rush hour car traffic. But I would much rather live, work and play in a city of less-polluting, freely mobile people, and in which emergency vehicles can get to destination in life-saving time. And I bet I am not alone. I would call that a net benefit (in its own right) for the entire city.

          • Indeed, by that logic, we should be subsidizing cars as well!

            Well, no, because we wanted fewer cars, remember? Your logical reasoning is toying with you, here.

      • The obvious corollary to road congestion pricing is transit congestion pricing.

        That way, no more transit need ever be built. As transit fills, just increase the cost to keep it under capacity.

        I am only half serious. One problem with congestion pricing is that it can create perverse incentives for those who control it to find the road or system capacity of maximum revenue rather than maximum utility.

    • In addition to the above responses to Ron's very good question, let me try this one:

      Free rush hour public transit is an AWFUL idea. Already transit systems must inefficiently organize their allocation of rolling stock and labour to handle peak demand that bookends the typical workday, with much less use during the workday.

      Better to price it properly, just like the road tolls Andrew wants to implement. There should be a rush hour PREMIUM for public transit, the better to encourage those (who see less value in sardine-canning themselves on a bus between 7:50 and 8:30 AM) to delay their travel until after the crush of humanity.

      • Many people don't travel at rush hour because they want to experience it, it's because workplaces or logistics require it of the majority. Changing workplace culture is difficult, we can't even get siestas to be common in Canada and they are proven beneficial to a nation addicted to caffeine to stay awake at work.

    • Take it a step further – no charge public transit. Is it a benefit to all? how about the healthier air, the reduced congestion, infrastructure maintenance and insurance costs not to mention fewer injuries and deaths and the subsequent health care costs, etc, etc. Transit costs, in my opinion, therefore should be paid for out of the general tax revenues.

  22. In theory, a toll system like this would be implemented, and congestion would ease. However, I see any attempts to add tolls to major routes to go over as well as a carbon tax. Even if all the funds collected from the tolls go towards maintenance or lowering taxes elsewhere, people only see it as a new tax. No politician in Canada is going to dare propose such a system, lest they want to end up like Stephane Dion.

    Really, I think it is inevitable that the price of fuel will eventually climb to the point where people will consider parking their car. Back in 2008 when the price of gas approached $1.50 per litre in areas, there were actually people considering alternatives. A similar thing happened in the 80s too, when people parked their fuel guzzling station wagons in favour of K-cars (and people went back to fuel guzzling SUVs after the price of fuel decreased in the 90s). I guess the market will create a solution to the traffic problem, one way or another.

    • Because it's never happened, we don't know at what point suburban north amecians will actually reduce driving. But I strongly suspect that if we take our best guess and multiply it by five, we might start getting close.

    • Leave it to McGuinty, he seems to have a penchant for creating new taxes. I'm sure he'd love the opportunity to sink his hands into creating more ways to separate citizens from their money.

  23. Isn't the logical corollary to your argument that cheaper transit and more efficient routing will result in more ridership and thus less congestion? Or is there a point where transit costs become so low that people just take it for granted, and drive a lot despite having a bus pass in their wallet?

    • In Calgary they did the opposite. They started charging $3.00 per day for transit riders to park their cars at the park and ride stations. Suddenly the price of the monthly transit pass went up exponentially. We do not have a great transit system like they have in Toronto to start with.

  24. Telecommuting was dismissed without enough rigour- a big disappointment in an otherwise provocative article. It's not for everyone and not for every day but I'm sure we could reduce traffic 20% almost overnight. Once the benefits manifested themselves, it would grow more popular.

    In fact there probably is not one silver bullet. The solution will be silver buckshot; better planning and land development with mixed use communities, tolls, telecommuting, transit and so on.

    And the tolls leading to lowered taxes? Get real. We have crumbling infrastructure to fix- including said roads and yes, transit.

    • Not dismissing telecommuting. Or carpooling or transit or any ot the rest. My point is only that people won't do any of these things without an incentive. Exhortation is not enough.

      • While I am a fan of many forms of road pricing, is anyone aware of studies on its full costs?

        For instance, I wonder about the impact on labour specialization. When operators choose to increase congestion charges instead of capacity, congestion charges reduce the possibility of traveling as far to work, which decreases labour mobility and degree of potential specialization.

        I know couples who are specialized enough that they each can only work for a handful of companies in any metropolis, none of which are located near each other. Increasing road congestion charges instead of increasing system capacity with population growth means their labour is no longer available.

  25. When you start and leave in the middle of the night, you are not part of the rush-hour gridlock problem, so you do not apply to this discussion.

    My point is that some people drive because they have very good reasons. Parking in downtown Calgary costs $400.00 per month. $400 per month to park the damn car is still not enough of a good reason to not drive? The we REALLY haven't priced peak-time road access properly.

    • I was only stating that if money is a deterent than the high price for parking in downtown Calgary should work to deter people!

      I never suggested that my situation applied to the conversation. I merely wanted to point out that there are people out their – mothers with many responsibilities – that do have to drive. There are also people who must use their cars during the business day…

      • Right. And these people would place the GREATEST value on commuting in their car. So they would be the most willing to shell out for that privilege. They should be the MOST vocal about setting up tolls — to scare off those who place less value on the car-commute than they themselves do.
        Less congestion, zippier commute, for five or ten or fifteen bucks per day. Just how much is getting back 1-1.5 hours of life every working day of your productive life worth to you?

        • These people also work because they have to. They have kids to raise and I am sure many would prefer to stay home and do that if they could afford to. Toll roads just punish them. They can't afford to pay for them.

  26. Another advantage would be establishing more accurate insurance premiums. If someone owned a car but used it rarely, he or she would keep or earn more credits.

    • That technology exists already for insurance – North American companies are lobbying regulators to keep it out because they'd be at a disadvantage to the insurers who invested in the technology. Google "Pay-as-you-go" insurance UK.

  27. Let the market handle it… OK no problem, but wait a minute… there is a problem. Look at deregulation in telecom. In Canada you have to regulate deregulation because there is an imbalance of power and the monopolies are even creating lope holes to laws to keep their foot hold in the market. Who suffers? The consumer.

    In theroy every thing sounds great! But if you look at what has been implemented here, north of Toronto, it's a mess. Public, private partnerships would be great if the private part of that interest didn't abuse any unique powers they may receive as a result of that public relationship.

  28. I really hate being called an idiot because of my working circumstances. I work in the exact opposite end of the city from where I live. Is this because I am an idiot or actually due to circumstances beyond my control.
    I guess I could take the bus to work, oh wait.. no… the bus routes do not go past where I work in an office in a private home. Oh and as part of my job I am supposed to have access to a car (my own) to run errands and pick up paperwork. Changing hours is not an option as they are set by my employer to match other offices of the same type.
    Well that leaves just moving closer. My employment is in a neighbourhood where the average townhouse is over $200K and I am single and make less than $32K a year. Basic math says this is not an option. I instead live in a townhouse that cost less than $100k but in a less desirable neighbourhood. I could not even afford an apartment near where I work. Alas I am not stupid or an idiot just a poor lower middle class person who does what they can afford to do.
    I guess I could look for a job closer to home as the job market is just booming and there is a such a great call for new people (sarcasm).
    It must be so nice to have circumstances that let you look down you nose at others this way, but perhaps you should consider other people's circumstances before you start calling names.

    • Madam, you are not an idiot. But your description of all the negatives associated with your current job means that if you are not actively considering alternatives, one would have great difficulty arousing too much sympathy for you over your choice.

      And if this is the best (only) job you can find, that you are willing to contribute to pollution and traffic gridlock at rush hour for it, then you should also be prepared to pay for that "premium use" of the roadways at a period of peak demand.

      • Actually, madeyoulook, this situation is quite consistent with the experiences of many. Frankly, from what this woman has described, I'm impressed she's able to afford a car. When I was earning similar wages, I could not afford to own a car due to the cost of maintenance. In those days, I was living in an apartment that was a 15 minute drive from work but spent an hour (provided I was fortunate enough to have all my buses connect correctly, otherwise it was longer) on public transit to get to and from work. Not that that pertains to Olderladygeek's point, but my point is there are a lot of us who do not have the simple options of just taking another job. While one may always be looking, in the meantime, one must be prepared to make the most of difficult circumstances. What IS idiotic are public transit systems that do not reflect current demographics and travel patterns.

  29. But it's not just distance travelled that matters. It's when and where. The gas tax is a rough proxy for distance (very rough, alas, since mileage varies so much from car to car and year to year). But you pay the same tax whether you're driving a deserted country road at midnight or the DVP at rush hour.

    I'd still have a carbon tax, but for the specific task of capturing the cost of carbon emissions — which a road toll would be just as ill-suited for as gas taxes are for congestion. First rule of pricing externalities is to target them as precisely as possible.

    • However a carbon tax would apply across the boards so to speak so that different municipalities could administer different rates; which could apply nontheless within one municipality, or one particularly congested highway. All of which is possible given gps technology albeit a bit big brother. Thusly, it could be as precise as needed. The big advantage would be a global system that would rely less on man/machine operated toll booths, which could be more costly in the long run. A carbon tax/credit could be incorporated into the already existing tax structure. In addition, public transit and secondary routes could be managed/encouraged whereas tolls could lead to overspill on secondary routes.

    • The weakest part of your article was when you handwaved on the privacy issue. The prepaid cellular model doesn't hack it either. Studies show nearly 100% success rate in identifying cellphone owners because they regularly go home with the phone.

      I like all the road pricing schemes, except the ones which can't maintain the anonymity of those who desire it. That amount and granularity of presence information is too ripe for abuse, and I would fight any system that made it mandatory or that imposed penalties for choosing anonymity. Just look at how governments abuse driver's licenses and plates for a clue to how pervasive vehicle tracking will evolve.

  30. get real, we are overtaxed and user pay poor already, car plates,gasoline tax, hst, are all user pay taxes.

  31. Ridiculous. Reduce congestion by pricing car-drivers out of their cars? There are are suggestions worth looking at: special LRT down highways, ELs, scattered work hours, etc.

  32. What a shock !! Couldn't be because our politicians and developers are trying to shoehorn people in together under the guise of "community living" could it? Second largest country on the planet and do you see how close houses and condos are built? WTF !?

    • Second largest country on the planet and do you see how close houses and condos are built?

      You want us to be evenly distributed across this great land of ours? You take the North Pole, Mike.

  33. Doesn't traffic planning involve thinking about planning ahead for the future?

  34. Try Jakarta!

  35. I'm guessing this article was inspired by the OC Transpo strike. I'm also guessing you've never experienced it thoroughly. It is an excellent system. It is that good because Ottawa was built around it, not vice versa. It's planning and design precedes everything else. It does help though that its biggest industries were civil servants and high tech bureaus.

    Toronto, on the other hand, thought it need the roads to move the wares from the port the various industries throughout the city. Then it shoehorned its public transit on that infrastructure.

    • Yes, thank you. Further to your point about Toronto – look at where the majority of people who drive into Toronto are coming from and then examine their public transit options to get them into work. Not viable at all. For instance, the only GO train from Hamilton that would get a person to work on time would pull into Union station (i.e., downtown Toronto) at 7:45 am. Their only option to get into Toronto at a more reasonable hour (i.e., 8:15) is to drive to Burlington, which is a half hour drive away, then catch the train there, thereby paying for gas and parking in addition to the fare. This solution is totally redundant because the time spent driving to Burlington is equivalent to the time one would be trying to save by not arriving at work at 7:45 in the morning. Among the driving commuters at my office (which employs over 200 people), the only reason anyone gives for driving to work is that there are no reasonable options for them. Most come from reasonable distances but either the connections don't exist or the timing is way off and does not reflect a typical workday.

  36. Privatise roads, highways, bridges and ferries. Let the free market decide what to charge, what to build, what to offer.

    Andrew's suggestion is a good one if you assume that govt. should remain in control. That assumption is false.

    • And leave rural Canadians with no way to travel whatsoever.

  37. I think they should build the hi-Ways the same as they build housing congestion. I think that the heaviest vechicles on the bottom platform & so forth for the city & surrounding x-tra hi-ways for trucks only & all vechicles be able to buy a sticker depending on travel to & amount to where they travelled to. I think that they should only trucking area & parking lot where they could transfer to a small car those that are just driving through than they should pay a toll so are roads take the lest amount of abuse.

  38. The amount of trucking could be to the north in the Holland Marsh area. They could have it set up like the Mega Food Terminal. Where smaller trucks get enough for 1-2 days. What we need to do is keep them outside of the city central.

  39. What would be the ideal for vechicles should they need to be inside a city boundary. These vechicles should be battery powered period. A business works faster when they have to. If they had to stop at a lot an then transfer to a battery powered car. Its either the TTC or a battery powered transport. I'd love to see the board of directors have to have the head office & live at least 6 months where the majority is produced. It would be nice that they couldn't say they didn't know because they were in the USA.!

  40. How about REDUCED federal/provincial/local corporate/property tax rates for firms that stagger their employee's hours? Since the only ones fretting about productivity are bean counters and the average employee would probably gladly trade a later (or earlier start time) for nearly a full day more of freedom per week it sort of seems a no-brainer for all….except those who wish to leverage payment streams into capital.

    As for accidents, perhaps not closing main roads everytime there is an accident while cops recreate the obvious would be helpful.

  41. Ok so you want to charge me for going to town. Then I will spend my money in the suburbs. Town centers except for jobs would die like fleas. You cant have your cake and eat it to. Make it financially hard for me to drive and I take my money out of the economy. In the long run you loose.

    • "Ok so you want to charge me for going to town. Then I will spend my money in the suburbs"

      Yes, I do believe that's the goal. Please, spend your money closer to where you live so that it reduces long-distance traffic for you and the rest of us. You made Andrew's point perfectly! Well done!

  42. This is a simple, elegant, market-driven solution with a successful and proven track record internationally.

    It therefore has no hope of ever becoming law here in Canada.

  43. The article writers solution proposes to stomp on the poor or middle class who can't afford to pay high tolls to use roads or to travel downtown. Just because these draconian methods work over in Europe, doesn't mean it will work over here. For all those people who want to live so far from work, it's time you got a clue. I know so many people who spend hours in the car just so they can pay for a cheaper home but forget to factor in the price of fuel and all that wear and tear on their vehicles.

  44. What about those of us who require our vehicles as part of our job? I work in construction and have to go to many sites per day. What about those service companies (electricians, plumbers, roofers, computer repair….etc). I bet if these companies had to pay a toll, your repair fees would increase. Add to that, they would probably have to reduce their staff due to that increase and it would therefore take longer for you to get service.

  45. Absolutely no chance of tolls as long as Toronto has Rob Ford at the helm !! He will be bent on finding ways to make driving cheaper and more convenient. Welcome to the dark ages Toronto !

  46. In Calgary we already have a congestion pricing scheme for downtown – its called absurdly high parking charges.
    I take transit to downtown, because I work downtown, and cost of parking is prohibitive. the cost of the parking is the only reason I take transit. I would love to be able to afford to park downtown. being crammed in like animals on the C-Train is not my idea of utopia. probably the reason I have high blood pressure and have to take expensive medication.

    I have an idea, why not mix commercial and residential areas together ? and I'm not talking all hi density, not everyone wants to live in a box in the sky as well as work in one. how about spreading jobs and housing more evenly instead of putting housing in one place and jobs all crammed into one center ?

  47. hes a answer, stop letting all the minority's in this country…

  48. Unfortunately, I just have to say blah, blah, blah… I'm curious where the author of the text lives and work. I live in Etobicoke ( 427 & Bloor area) and to go to work downtown. One option is GO train which is pretty good, if you are walking distance from Union station (otherwise you have to pay for metro pass as well). Second option, to take subway, it takes forever (bus to Kipling, subway, than street car). Conclusion, car is still the cheapest and FASTEST. My suggestion is that downtown businesses spread the work hours from 7AM. I'm sure there are many people that would like to work 7-3 to avoid 5PM traffic. Toronto can not be compared to London simple because our and their subway system is like comparing mouse and elephant. We have to build more faster subway lines ($$$)… I guess impossible task.

  49. The suggestion of tolls is a weak patch for lack of good planning. People are going to go where they need to go; therefore, the only result in the long run is the increase of costs to society, and increase of income to the cities with a marginal reduction of traffic jams. On top of the time lost, we will have the loss of money.
    The 20% impact reported in London refers to an area of downtown. In addition, to reach the praised "20%" we need to consider that London has much more and better public transit system than any Canadian city. In the long term this impact dilutes completely.
    Currently, in order to optimize the cities resources such as hydro installations, the densification of occupation guides the planning. Mississauga is the best example of downtown densification. In few years with the current rate of densification, traffic jams will be the norm. Then a moron will come up with the “brilliant” idea of a toll! The other mistake is the lack of incentives to create jobs far from the city center and areas already congested.
    The other side is the tolled and not tolled as suggested such as 407 tolled and 401 not tolled. Then you have 2 classes of citizen: the rich and the poor, yet both pay taxes to use all public facilities and services. What about creating two libraries: One with better books with an admittance fee and another one with less and not so good books that is free. This principle can be applied any public service. What about a toll to reduce the lines in emergency rooms? Or a toll to… you name it…

    • I totally agree. Especially with the last part, which reminds me of apartheid, except money and not race is the distinction.

    • I totally agree. Especially with the last part, which reminds me of the times of aristocracy where the rich dictated the rules, heavily skewed in their favour – I guess that we are going back to those days, that is if we ever left.

  50. It’s really too bad the Dutch proposal stalled: it would have seen the phasing-out of taxes and charges related to ownership (tax on new cars, reg fees) in favour of paying for use, with funds going to improving transit AND roads. Would have been a good example to point to of how to tackle congestion.

  51. I love toll roads, specifically the 407 ETR.
    I wish there were more of them in Toronto.
    Not only is it reliable,as the article makes the point it is cheaper in the long run on some many levels.
    I think as Torontonians we should be brave enought to test it.

    • The problem is the tolling regime. Let's fix this problem and then explore some ideas. Maybe the public at large will be more accepting if the "powers that be" hold this tolling regime accountable for it's business practices.

    • …..Congratulations! It sounds like you've got plenty of disposable income………and little consideration for those with less.

  52. I believe Andrew's thoughts on the traffic situation need to be given serious consideration. In Ottawa, the debate about spending billions on Light Rail is ongoing. I personally don't believe LR is the answer, as the Andrew's article notes , people loves the convenience of their cars.
    One way to move the costs of highways from "governments (taxes) to user pay could be a "tax credit" for $$ paid in user fees. This would leave money in governments coiffers for transportation needs and to address the fact that not all citizens drive.
    Building bigger highway and expensive LR does not appear to be the answer.
    Perhaps a private company could see a business in a private LR scenario??


  53. I live in London and I'd like to say that In London the congestion charge zone actually hasn't worked as well as intended (or as billed in the article) despite the charge to access it now being £10 (or around $20 CAD) a day.

  54. Congestion charging in London is a bad example, since traffic levels are going back to where they were in 2003, and businesses in the central districts have suffered since its implementation. That is why it was rightfully rejected in Edinburgh, Scotland.
    The right solution is to just build more capacity. If you let cities grow, you have to accomodate the increasing demands on its infrastructure with more sewers, larger electrical grid, increased transit routes, and more roadways. The defeatist notion of: "you can't build your way out of congestion", makes no sense, since roads get busier with increasing development, not by induced demand.
    The problem has been that for the last 4 decades, North America has almost stalled in its road network improvements, while real estate development has increased exponentially. That is why, every little km of new road capacity that has been added since the 1960's has gotten filled up rather quickly, and not because people have nothing better to do than to fill up road space.
    The dumb side has not been on the cities residents' work and home choices, but on disfunctional and irresponsible urban planning for over 40 years.

  55. Here's why I think Coyne's toll solution would work. Look at the plastic bag example, and what a simple 5 cent "toll" accomplished.

    Metro Inc. began charging five cents per bag in June 2009. A month afterward, the chain reported a 50% drop in demand for plastic bags. Now, demand is down 80%.

    “Five cents might not be a lot of money, but it seems to be enough to make people change their habits,” said Metro spokeswoman Marie-Claude Bacon

  56. The solution is ‘co-working’ eg: move the offices closer to the people and collapse the commuting. How can one office move toward its many employees – by sharing the rent of one office space with other unrelated companies. Share the office, share the eqpt, share the admin support, whatever. Have a bunch of employees who live in the same district in that office; have only two. Benefit from lower rents, shorter commutes, happier employees and unplanned ‘synergies’ with other businesses. Worried about your employees floating away to a competitor sharing the same office space? Find out who else is working there or put a caveat in the rental agreement. Clearly, a spread of this practise would take a big, big piece out of the gridlock.

    • Why complicate it? Why not just fix the problem – current public transit systems are based on demographics information from the 1970's and 1980's, which are completely different from current reality. If we update public transit to reflect our transportation needs, more people could actually use public transit and still arrive at their destinations after a reasonable travel time, rather than the current system which sees people spending an hour on public transit to get to destinations that are a 15 minute drive away.

  57. I live in the Hamilton Ontario area and commute one hour to Mississauga Ontario daily for work. Why? Its simple economics. A nice townhouse in Hamilton is $150,000 compared to the $300,000 in Mississauga. Condos fees are rediculous in Mississauga (approx. $700/mo.). Its not a question of will tolls keep me off the roads; Its would still be cheaper to commute and the GO transit system in Canada is a joke. The other major foreign cities sited in the survey have realistic public transit systems that are a viable solution. For me to take the public transit system here, it would take me 3 hours to get to work (I looked into it when I started).

    If you seriously wanted to remove congestion then rural cities and townships need to make more land available for industry. North Americans have a desire to put all industry in small little sections of our country and then complain when its difficult to get to work.

    • How about improving on the public transit system, such as providing more reasonable links between Hamilton and Missauga? The problem is that we're relying on public transit systems that reflected the demographic reality of the 1970's but our reality is substantially different today. We need public transit that reflects where people actually live and where they actually work. It's not about needing more land or moving entire, existing systems, it's about moving people in a reasonable, comfortable, timely and affordable manner.

  58. Is this article about transit. Yes. But one would be mistaken in thinking that it's intention is just about transportation and commuting issues.

    When I read the article I could not help but think that it was an analogy for healthcare reform, er, I mean two-tier healthcare.

  59. You're better off in Los Angeles where traffic is crawling along a 6 lane highway at 17mph and where the weather, at least, is better than in Canada.
    Canada's roads are too narrow for the 21st century.

  60. My solution: I live 2.5 miles (4km) from my job and I don't need to drive anywhere in a hurry on any day.

  61. Living near work is not viable, with Toronto sprawling outwards more and more, and careers moving people around every 3-4 years.
    I think if most people had the choice of 60 minutes of hellish driving, or 75-80 minutes of being in a LRT/Subway, chatting, reading or playing games..the car would start to lose out. It costs a lot to own a car, insure and drive it (for me, $15-20/day). If a suitable option was available for <$10, many would jump at it. The only solution really is rapid expansion of lines, subway/lrt virtually everywhere so more people can benefit from them. If tolling the 401 would help, i'd be in. But you know that any money raised will go into studies and decades of mismanagement.

    But there is little incentive for the government to help when they make $8B from gas taxes and have an economy based on car production and maintenance.
    Regardless, we have been crippled with so many bad design flaws. Looking just at Toronto, the 401 is sadly the only viable option to get through Toronto. The 407 is too far north. The DVP south has westbound 401 exits on either side, but you have to be on the west side to get into 401 eastbound (and only into the collector which is jammed). Taunton (Steeles) drops from 4 lane to 2 lane just at the border of Pickering/Markham where lanes are most needed..

    • Yes, this is exactly correct. The frustrating part is that plans for an expansion of Toronto's subway system has already been developed and the infrastructure to make it happen relatively easily exists. The money that could expand the subway line right up to York University, across the North end of the city and put a second East-West corridor in was blown on the Sheppard extension. Studies and mismanagement are unnecessary. We just need decision makers with the balls to pony up the money. Not sure what's so scary about it but we, as voters, need to take some of the blame for it not having happened yet and start demanding access to public transit that reflects our current demographics and not those of 30 years ago.

  62. Given your arguments, I'm a little surprised you're not advocating further development and expansion of public transit systems. If there was a reasonable, timely link from your home in Guelph to your office in Mississauga, would you use it? Just wondering b/c the current public transit options available do not reflect current demographics, population densities nor work locations. Once we have realistic ways to navigate within and beyond our cities, toll routes would not be necessary.

  63. I have lived in the suburbs and downtown. I have seen congestion from both perspectives. The first problem is the idiocracy that went into our city planning. When my grandfather was growing up in the 20's and 30's, you could walk everywhere in the city. School, church, university, shopping, entertainment, parks, recreation, etc. Everything was in walking distance. I'm not against the car, but I think that at the point where city planning became about cars and not people that we started tearing apart the fabric of what made Canadian cities such wonderful places to live. Of course people love suburbs, but they're blinded by the fact that their lives could be so much better and so much richer if the city planners and politicians forced the kind of development patterns we had in the older neighbourhoods. In any case, I support tolling all roads, because this will likely push people to rethink driving. Heck, just the exercise from walking should be an argument alone. An article just came out recently about how little exercise we're getting. Imagine you could get the exercise you need just by doing your every day routines. Imagine the heathcare savings down the road… le sigh…

  64. One of the issues that needs to be addressed with regards to congestion is the size of the vehicles. Large vehicles take more space, have greater impact on the roadways, and on require greater starting/stopping distances. Tolls are a valid way of placing the costs with the user, but they need to also be scaled based on the size/weight of the vehicle. As an extreme example, a stretch of roadway could move more smartcars per hour than SUVs simply because more of the former will fit on that stretch of roadway at a given time.

    It is beyond time people paid the real costs of their choices.

  65. I think that the major component of traffic congestion are drivers not doing their fair share. How many drivers driving 10-20 carlengths behind the car in front to only allow 10 or so vehicles through a green light, rather than 25 or so if everyone accerated quick enough to follow 3-4 carlengths behind, which is perfectly reasonable at 50 kph. If you ever get to ride with a group of sportbikes through urban traffic you will quickly learn that a whole bunch of vehicles can move along the road a lot quicker, in total safety than is the norm out there. Get the dawdlers and inattentive drivers off the road and no more problem, although Andrew Coynes ideas make good sense if we have to be toally PC and ignore incompetent drivers.

  66. I agree with Andrew Coyne that road polls appears to be a great solution for making commutes more enjoyable. I consider green house gas emission reduction as a higher priority, and I believe a gas tax can support greenhouse gas reduction. I think bothe the road poll and the gas tax have a place, however please bring on the gas tax as a priority over the comfort of driving to and from work. I am much more interested in reducing environmental destruction than the personal gains to be had from comfortable driving.
    Monty Bruce
    Richmond, BC

  67. Yet another traffic article promising solutions. So, I look eagerly for the solution. Pay pay pay. How ridiculous! Especially since the real solution is staring us in the face every day.

    1 – Better driver training. Not just requirements to wear glasses, but stepped driving licenses commensurate with ability (drive in daytime only, off peak hours only, right lanes only, no passengers, no passing, etc.).

    2 – Get rid of all the road blocks created by the wizards who reduce turn lanes and make passing impossible. A typical example can be seen on any road leading to an expressway ramp. While 75% of the traffic is heading onto the ramp, only one lane can enter. When in fact two or more cars can fit in that one lane.

    3 – Make the traffic and turning lanes part of the solution and we could reduce 50% of all traffic. If 75% of the cars are entering the ramp, make 3 of the 4 lanes possible turn lanes, instead of backing traffic up for miles.

    4 – Don't stop capable drivers who can make quick, safe decisions from improving traffics. Don't subject all drivers to sitting behind the most fearful, undecided and slowest of the lot. We have multi-lane roads so drivers can drive at different speeds and improve traffic – not so 4 cars can straddle all four lanes while moving at the same speed.

    5 – Enforce tickets for driving in the wrong lanes until drivers learn how multi-lane highways work – eg; slowest on the furthest right and move into the left lanes ONLY to pass cars that are slower – and then GET BACK into the right lane until you have to pass another car. The faster you go, the more you are passing traffic, the further left you will be. And ONLY while passing. That would reduce traffic by another 30%.

    6 – Stop thinking about paying for solutions, when paying attention is all we have to do. Million dollar studies are wasting our tax dollars to find more ways to tax us. When it's simply common sense.

    • Excellent suggestions,especially #5

  68. Why not start by susidizing transit to the same extent we do highways and offer lower costs to get people out of their cars?

  69. This is INSANE!! Citizens advocating for more taxation? What is wrong with you people? This is perhaps the worst idea I've ever heard put forward in print. Not surprisingly, it appeared in Maclean's. Rag. Why don't we start charging ourselves for the road system that we already paid for? Well, one good reason is that we already paid for it! Sure, traffic is a hassle, frustrating, and a waste of time. Don't like all the congestion in the big city? Move somewhere else. This proposal is nothing but economic classism. As a Canadian living in the U.S., it boggles my mind to hear about all the new taxes up there. For Pete's sake people, stand up for yourselves! Government will never get tired of dreaming up reasons to take just a little bit more of your money. Let's hope this idea never gets off the ground.

  70. Bravo!…… You nailed it all down. I was outraged when I read this article…….Obviously written by someone with plenty of disposable income. I certainly don't want to pay some cockamamie fee every time I get in my car, just to make his commute a little easier. Fu#k off!!! And thanks for pointing out the outrage that is the ETR……Publicly funded infrastructure sold to a private, for profit entity…….what a disservice to the people! Outrageous!!!!

  71. I don't claim to know what the solution to this problem is, but I certainly have thoughts on what is NOT…

    "Densification" has been brought up by many posters here. I suspect many of them are the sort who have the means to avoid having to live that way; being crammed into overpriced multistory rabbit hutches is only for the plebs. Same goes for public transit. The most unpleasant, unsafe, noisy, stressful environments to live in are uber-dense cities of the type we see in places such as Japan, China, and the Third World.

    Humans are social creatures, but they are not ants. Trying to force people to live in this manner creates conflict, alienation, and anger. As an aside, overly dense societies require a level of micromanagement and "big brother" oversight that the average Canadian will balk at. We already have enough government busybodies (in particular, at the municipal/city level) attempting to control every moment of our lives.

    In the late 40's and 50's, suburbia grew for this reason. Residents of densely packed inner cities voted with their feet, leaving in favour of single family accommodations, privacy, lower crime, and larger/cheaper homes. A postage stamp yard is better than no yard at all, and always will be.

    Do we really want to regress to the days of inner-city tenements? Most people will answer with an emphatic "No!". But this is what our politicians, "urban planners", and wealthy green hipsters are planning for us, for "our own good".

    Sorry, but you will have to pry my car out of my cold, dead hands. I would rather spend an hour or two stressed out from my commute than be stressed out 24/7 by "high density" living…

  72. Wow, I must say I love the idea of usage based billing to curb traffic bandwidth. Billing me more for using my car during peak times at peak areas? I guess that way we can all pay more for gas, and have to pay to use the road during rush hour. It’s a win win situation, that way you don’t have to upgrade the roads to accommodate higher traffic demands with the rise of suburban sprawl, and the oil companies get their stop and go fix as well. Wanna know the way to solve this? Automated rush hour traffic, when you enter the highway during rush hour you punch in your exit number, this way traffic can move much faster. This also would open up an entirely new public transit / carpool option. Think it’s too complicated? Assign a lane like the HOV lane meaning only people who upgrade their vehicles can use the automated lane. Think there’s too much of a legality issue? I’d rather be hit while my car was driving itself, no problem for me. Also, we all are always complaining about how people don’t pay enough attention while driving, people are horrible drivers etc. Some people may not be comfortable with a computer driving their own car, but I’d be much more comfortable knowing a computer was also driving yours.

  73. Where are our Super Highways here in Ontario, Canada? Tell me please. (Google it and find out how they will work in Ontario)

    The only thing here in Canada is an old inefficient 60 mph (100 kph) highway system dating back from the mid 1950’s. Actually Ontario, Canada has some of the slowest speed limits in the entire developed world. Even developing countries such as Pakistan have higher speed limits than Ontario, Canada has (bloody embarrassing to have to admit to). No wonder the manufacturing jobs are leaving North America. We’re simply not globally competitive in so many ways. (High labour costs, high material costs, high energy costs, high taxation, heavy government regulation, slow inefficient transportation network in both road and rail…………and the list goes on).

    Our outdated slow highway system is just another example of our inability to compete globally.

    As for this article………..More tolls or highway taxation? Brilliant!! With enough taxation we can become exactly like England.

  74. Unfortunately, toll roads are not the fix-all solution politicians (and this author) make them out to be. A perfect example of this is the 407 ETR versus the 401 through Toronto. I, like most drivers, avoid the 407 like the plague. Although the 407 offers a faster route around and to Toronto, it’s just too expensive for low- to mid-frequency travellers, particularly without the rented transponder. The result is a poorly utilised 407 and an over-congested 401. So who is the 407 truly befitting? I think mostly the private conglomerate who owns it and the “rich” drivers who use it regularly. The real interim solution: eliminate the 407 tolls and share the traffic burden of the 401.

  75. The government and all those enviromentalist need to realize that Canada and the world is changing. To live in Vancouver proper, is over $700,000, 13th most expensive in the WORLD. No one has the money to live closer. There needs to be a new national infastructure plan that gets commuters to there destination without all these so called “highways” that are only 4 lanes (two lanes each way) and usually have street lights. Tolls should not be implied, especially since we pay high taxes on almost everything else in this country. Where they going exactly?  From what I see there not going to healthcare or education! And if they do use tolls they should only be 25-50 cents not $3-4 like what they will do with the new Port Mann Bridge. People see the need for change its just the government and environmentalists holding us back.

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