Canada's Condominium Magazine

An argument that road tolls are the price we must pay for congestion

When Mayor John Tory proposed implementing road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway, he was opposed by both the right and the left. The Conservative leader, Patrick Brown said he didn’t like the idea, but blamed the Wynne government. NDP leader Andrea Horvath expressed her concern, calling the proposed tolls “flat and regressive.” Such tolls can have a “disproportionate and unfair” impact on struggling and marginalized communities, she said. Still, the tolls were approved at city council by a handy margin, and will take effect, at the earliest, in 2019.

Now a couple of analysts at the Fraser Institute, described as a conservative, even libertarian-leaning public policy think tank and charity based in Vancouver, have weighed in on the subject of Toronto road tolls. They are for them. In fact, they see them as “essential” if Toronto is ever to solve the gridlock problem that threatens to “strangle” the city’s economy.

Addressing the commonly heard argument put forward by toll opponents, that drivers have already paid for the roads so why should they have to pay to use them, Steve Lafleur and Ken Green argue that there is another cost to be paid, the cost of congestion.

As congestion costs the economy “billions of dollars” a year in lost productivity, wasted time, reduced employment options, delayed deliveries and higher emissions levels, Toronto has to “get serious” about putting a price on congestion, and a good place to start is with tolls.

It’s understandable that people are upset that they might have to pay more to drive. After all, they already pay for roads in many ways. But the unfortunate reality is that many people want to use the same roads at the same time, and that’s contributing to tremendous gridlock in the city. Putting a price on traffic congestion is a crucial step to improving the flow of traffic and quality of life in Toronto.

One outcome could be that those drivers who can change their driving patterns will do so, avoiding congested areas during rush hour. Another could be the greater use of carpooling, while employers could become more flexible about office hours and telecommuting. People might even choose to live closer to where they work.

As for the perception that tolls are just taxes by another name, the Fraser Institute writers agree that a flat toll, as proposed by Tory, feeds into the it’s a tax narrative. What is needed, they say, is a “dynamic” toll that adjusts itself as demand levels change throughout the day. Such time-of-day tolls provide a strong incentive for people to travel a bit earlier or later than usual, with the result that peak driving time is spread out. The proposed flat toll offers no such incentive, a “critical flaw” that needs to be addressed.

To address the “justifiable” concern that lower-income motorists will suffer more from the tolls, the Fraser Institute contributors propose using some of the money generated by the tolls to reduce other fees or property taxes. Mayor Tory has promised to use all of the toll revenue for transit infrastructure projects, but that “won’t do much” for low-income drivers.

Their final position is simple: putting a price on traffic congestion is “crucial” to improving both traffic flow and quality of life in Toronto.

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