Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Would congestion pricing in Toronto be popular?

An article in York suggests it could be based on two surveys.

A survey conducted by Leger Marketing for the CBC found half of Canadians surveyed said they would pay $3 a day for road tolls. 

Another poll, conducted by Angus Reid for the Toronto Star, showed 37 per cent of Torontonians moderately support and 18 per cent strongly support the idea of a congestion charge.

However, as optimistic as this may look for advocates of congestion charging, I would prefer to be sceptical.  The CBC poll talks of road tolls, but most people see tolls as something paid for on a new road.  Would that many support new tolls on existing roads?  The Toronto Star poll is more compelling, and does seem to give a mandate to look at options in more detail.  The Greater Toronto Civic Alliance seems supportive, as it is seen as one solution to growing congestion and to help fund public transport improvements.   Other opinions expressed are mixed.  However, Toronto does have one advantage - the 407 toll road was the world's first fully electronic free flow toll road in the world.  So silly arguments about technology can be avoided, but what could you do in Toronto?

The city is fairly flat and whilst there are some natural boundaries to the south and east the west and north have no obvious urban boundaries for a city centre congestion charge.   The Google Earth image below shows how the city actually melds from residential to commercial rather organically.  Putting charges on roads to the north and west would be artificial.

This suggest a wider solution is needed, such as distance charging, perhaps as an option at first to replace other taxes.  The problems of Toronto are not unusual, but it still remains that no city has yet implemented distance based congestion charging, primarily because of the cost and complexity of dealing with vehicles from outside the city.  Vehicles not registered or equipped for distance charging still need to be charged.

Hopefully Toronto will take a very open approach to this, but I think the whole province of Ontario needs to take a lead and see this issue as being one of how to charge for road use in the future.  For it would be far more effective to implement distance charging for the whole province than for Toronto on its own.

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