Ontario’s road transportation network underpins our economy and quality of life by enabling 12 million citizens to travel to their jobs, do their shopping, visit family and friends, and participate in leisure and recreation activities. However, since Ontarians are driving over 91 billion kilometres annually, this travel results in several environmental, economic and social challenges (e.g., climate change/GHGs, air quality problems, congestion, stormwater contamination, infrastructure issues, urban sprawl, safety and health impacts).
Despite growing public awareness of these intertwined quality-of-life issues, the demand for road infrastructure to accommodate single-occupancy vehicles and trucks is projected to increase in lockstep with the economy and population growth. As a result, all levels of government are grappling with new transportation policies and techniques to manage the challenges. Over the last several years, substantial progress has been made in developing sustainable transportation policies that:
- balance transit, walking and cycling with road building and automobile/truck use through research, infrastructure investments, and commuter programs;
- promote road geometrics and streetscapes designed to slow down traffic so that communities are safer, healthier and more equitable for all ages and physical abilities;
- protect air, water and agriculture through better land use planning (e.g. intensification, preservation of green space/farmland);
- promote intelligent transportation systems and “green” vehicles of all types;
- consider new fiscal tools that finance infrastructure (e.g. Tax Increment Financing) and are related to emissions (e.g. carbon tax).
But these measures can only go so far in solving the environmental, social and economic impacts that come with increasing growth in automotive and goods movement trips. Therefore, progressive governments around the world have suggested that properly structured transportation user fees -- commonly associated with transportation demand management (TDM) -- can reduce congestion by helping to motivate sustainable modal choices while ensuring that road users pay their fair share of multi-billion dollar transportation plans and infrastructure.
Learning from global experience, Metrolinx suggested in early 2008 that user fees are one way to positively motivate sustainable transportation choices amongst road users in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Parking fees, road pricing and other measures can help pay more directly for the implementation of The Big Move, Metrolinx’s $50 billion regional transportation plan (a plan that includes maintaining existing infrastructure, constructing new multi-modal facilities and supporting TDM programs). In a 2008 report entitled Financing Public Transit and Transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton: Future Initiatives, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) also supported this direction by outlining several fiscal instruments that could reduce gridlock, lower GHG emissions and encourage greater transit use. Although Metrolinx plans to release a long-term investment strategy in 2013, to date a pricing dialogue with the public has not materialized. As a result, Healthy Transport Consulting picked up the torch in 2008. We believe that with full public information and debate, Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan-- and other provincial transportation plans -- will have a much better chance to become a reality “on the ground” over the next 30 years.