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 studies suggested in 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 mobility pricing 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). The Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) commissioned expert reports in 2008 and 2013 that outlined several fiscal instruments that could reduce gridlock, lower GHG emissions and encourage greater transit use.
Knowing that Metrolinx was to release a long-term investment strategy in 2013, Healthy Transport Consulting began Ontario's only mobility pricing dialogue in November 2008. Despite our best attempts for wholesome debate with experts from around the world, the somewhat feeble investment strategy was rejected by the province in favour of hidden taxes in mid-2014 and a timid HOT Lanes pilot project in September 2016. Things got better when Mayor John Tory's bold proposal to toll Toronto's Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway was unanimously approved by Toronto Council and provided the Government of Ontario with an opportunity to expand its HOT Lanes pilot project around Toronto (and link in with the existing 407 Electronic Toll Route) to create a GTHA toll network. Unfortunately, the 2018 provincial election caused the government to lose sight of the big picture. On January 27, 2017, they rejected Council's tolling regulation request under the City of Toronto Act. This decision has major ramications for the comprensive mobility pricing measures that are needed to reduce congestion and raise revenue for The Big Move as well as other provincial transportation and climate change plans. They may never become a reality “on the ground” by 2031 -- only 14 years away.