New HOT lanes latest MTO policy tool

Item date: 
July 8, 2016
Item context: 

Martin Collier was quoted in this article which mainly rehashed our HOT Lanes pilot project concerns submitted to the government in February.  But Martin did mention another reason why the province’s HOT Lanes pilot on the QEW between Oakville and Burlington will fail: road tolling of any type must be priced properly to incent a Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) to consider using other modes.  For a distance of 16.5 km, the alternative mode would most likely be transit. Since GO trains also operate between Oakville and Burlington adjacent to the QEW corridor, we can compare prices for commuters using government owned infrastructure:

  • HOT Lanes 3-month permit: Cost of $180 -- $60/month.  Assuming SOVs would only use HOT Lanes during their weekday commute in two directions (20 days/40 trips per month), their daily cost is $3.00/day or $1.50/direction ($0.09/km for 16.5 km).  Price per trip (and per km) goes down as SOVs use the HOT Lanes more than 10 times/week.
  • GO Transit (using discounted Presto prices): $3.22/direction or $6.44/daily (assuming two trips daily).  No discount for number of trips. (Riders without a Presto card, pay $6.80/trip between Oakville and Burlington).

So using the HOT Permit in two directions costs, on a daily commuting basis, a maximum $3.00/day in comparison to a return GO Presto fare of $6.44 – which increases by $3.22 with each subsequent trip.  Even with the HOT price, travelling by SOV costs maximum 47% of GO – and SOVs participating in the pilot receive the benefits of the faster trip in the HOT Lane.  While we understand that the province had to price the permit on the low side to ensure enough SOV volunteers participate in the pilot, they should have made the per trip price equal to the GO fare price.  The next phase of the pilot should ensure this price change is implemented.

The introduction of Canada’s first High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes represents much more than merely a way for a few well-heeled Ontario commuters to shave a few minutes off their drive times, transportation policy analysts explained in the wake of the June 23 Ministry of Transportation (MTO) announcement.
The new lanes, to be introduced along the QEW between Trafalgar Road in Oakville and Guelph Line in Burlington on Sept. 15 as part of a pilot project, will be accessible to drivers holding one of 1,000 permits to be distributed by the MTO following a random draw held in late August. The cost of a three-month, once-renewable permit will be $180. The existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) system will continue to operate alongside HOT, sharing the lane.
HOT lanes if properly administered are a progressive marketplace mechanism that can promote more carpooling and transit use, reduce congestion, decrease emissions and provide revenue, said Martin Collier, founder of the Ontario forum Transport Futures. The policy uses a user-pay principle to get drivers used to the idea that it costs a lot of money to build and maintain an expensive highway system.
"People will value the system more than today because it will be priced," said Collier. "That's how our economy works."
Jamie Austin, director of the HOT Lanes Pilot Branch, Policy and Planning Division at the MTO, said HOT lanes are another policy tool for the MTO alongside expanding public transit networks such as GO Regional Express Rail, which is expected to boost GO usage by 50 per cent in the next five years. The MTO will evaluate consumer demand and behaviour and test different technologies during this pilot as it works towards establishing the first permanent HOT lanes on 15.5 kilometres of Highway 427 beginning in 2021, with more planned after that, he said...
Austin acknowledged the concerns of advocates like Collier, who praised the launch of HOT policy but called it merely "baby steps" with such a short stretch of highway being studied. Collier also suggested the use of permits, rather than more sophisticated electronic monitoring, meant a missed opportunity to get the best data possible.
"I understand there is a desire to get there quicker, with a full network, but we want to make sure that when we put the permanent program in place, with the technical solution that will be implemented and maintained, that we've got the right one that gives us good value for the investment that is being made and ensures that the bills are going to be accurate at the end of the day," said Austin...
Collier's group Transit Futures has called for the MTO to use a continuous network of roads, not just the short segment of the QEW, and for dynamic pricing and Global Navigation Satellite System technology for better data collection. Collier said a bolder option for changing commuter behaviour would be switching the Highway 401 express corridor to HOT lanes and for more effective policy options he looks worldwide to jurisdictions that have introduced congestion charges for driving in busy metropolitan areas.
"Congestion charge systems are seeing huge paybacks," he said, mentioning Stockholm and London. "Goteburg just started theirs. That will pay for all sorts of transit and road infrastructure that's needed."