The Vancouver Sun reports on a report by the C.D. Howe Institute by Benjamin Dachis that calls for the 74km of existing and planned HOV lanes in Vancouver to be converted into HOT lanes, to help reduce congestion. He also writes about doing the same for Calgary and Montreal.
The report claims congestion in Vancouver cost C$927 million per annum (US$935 million) which comes to C$466 per capita (US$470). It looked at allowing vehicles to use the network by paying a toll akin to C$0.23 (US$0.23) per km at peak times and half that at the off peak - to match the Toronto 407 toll road rates.
That would generate C$81 million (US$82 million) per annum in revenue. The report notes that existing motoring taxes in Vancouver are too low, saying that taxes on fuel and ownership only cover 53% of road infrastructure costs - quite the opposite of such taxes in Europe.
The Vancouver Sun article is quite complimentary of HOT lanes because:
- HOT lanes preserve untolled options;
- HOT lanes improve travel times for buses as well as cars;
- HOT lanes ensure better utilisation of HOV lanes;
- Lower income drivers often value the time savings greater than middle income ones, contrary to the much abused "Lexus lanes" label (in part this is due to a greater need to get to work on time or having a busier schedule with multiple jobs);
- The primary use of HOT lanes is for urgent trips, which is typically irregular (e.g. attending appointments or to meet flights).
The report does not explain the potential congestion reduction benefits, but assuming the lanes are underutilised, there would clearly be some benefits. One issue not yet adequately addressed is quite why HOT lanes should simply not be toll lanes. After all, if a car carries two or three people that is two or three people who can pay for the scarce road space. I strongly advocate HOT being HOV for 3+ occupancy, with a long term intent to phase out the HO component over time.
However, for now HOT lanes make a lot of sense for cities with extensive HOV networks. They can improve utilisation of networks, introduce road pricing in a painless way, with a parallel unpriced option, and offer the real benefit of express lanes that are appreciated by motorists undertaking trips with a high value of time. I would argue they should also be available to trucks, as freight has similar challenges of meeting time.
I hope Canadian policy makers can start to think of how they might take lessons learned from US HOT lanes to replicate the successes seen there in Canada.