Transport Futures urges Toronto City Council to support Mayor's bold toll plan

Item date: 
December 13, 2016
Item context: 

On December 13, Toronto City Council voted 32-9 in favour of Mayor John Tory's call for road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. While much is still to be sorted out (e.g. provincial regulation, technology procurement), Transport Futures congratulates the Mayor and council for taking this courageous first step towards installing tolls on the two highways.

Below is a press release we issued in advance of the council vote. It includes four key recommendations to ensure successful toll deployment. If Toronto Council and staff follow these recommendations and the province expands its HOT Lanes program so it includes Highway 401 and Highway 427, Toronto will have one of the most comprehensive toll networks in North America.

GUELPH, December 13, 2016 -- Having facilitated Ontario’s only continuous mobility pricing conversation since 2008, Transport Futures (TF) is urging Toronto City Council to support Mayor John Tory’s bold plan to install road tolls on the city’s Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and Gardiner Expressway. 

“Council has nothing to be afraid of”, says TF founder, Martin Collier. ”For almost 20 years, commuters and truckers have paid tolls on the 407 ETR since they gain tremendous time benefits, reduce their vehicle’s wear and tear, save gas, decrease emissions and feel safer. Hundreds of drivers who wanted to pay $180 for a permit to participate in the provincial government’s High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes pilot project were turned away -- the permits were sold out. And commuters looking for a reliable trip are ready to pay a toll on Highway 407 East and 412 next year. For the same reasons, they’ll be ready to pay a DVP and/or GE toll as well.”        

The benefits of tolling the DVP and GE include:

  • congestion reduction – for commuters and goods movement;
  • improved modal split – shifting trips from cars to sustainable modes that cut congestion, pollution and crashes while enhancing health;
  • decreased automotive emissions  will help meet Toronto's climate change and air quality targets;
  • significant revenue raised for GTHA transit infrastructure and road maintenance – minimum of $200 million  (depending on price of toll) and potential savings from reduced road expansion;
  • increased job opportunities – increased revenues will lead to new jobs, especially in construction, transit, Intelligent Transportation Systems and Transportation Demand Management services (e.g Smart Commute).
In order to achieve the above benefits through a DVP/GE toll system, TF makes four important recommendations to council (details below):                

  1. Ensure toll rates are dynamically priced and comparable to provincial toll rates and TTC fares
  2. Replace “toll cap” with a low-income assistance program. 
  3. Ensure quick system implementation, efficient administration and interoperability
  4. Earmark toll revenue

Collier says that Council’s decision to support Mayor Tory’s tolling plans has massive implications for achieving sustainable transportation in Toronto, the GTHA, Ontario and Canada.

“A vote in favour of a dynamic, non-capped toll will demonstrate that council is serious about reducing congestion, decreasing emissions, creating jobs, raising earmarked revenue and improving quality of life. Toronto will be Canada's leader and follow the rest of the world’s great cities that installed advanced toll systems decades ago.”

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For further information, please contact

Martin Collier
Director, Healthy Transport Consulting
Founder, Transport Futures

4 Tolling Recommendations for the DVP and Gardiner Expressway

In order to achieve multiple benefits from tolling the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and Gardiner Expressway (GE), Transport Futures (TF) has four recommendations:                    

1. Ensure toll rates are dynamically priced and comparable to provincial toll routes and TTC fares
Mayor Tory’s proposal for toll rates, based on one of staff’s recommendations, is simple: all DVP/GE lanes tolled with a flat $2 fee t
o generate net revenues of $160 million. Unfortunately, imposing a flat (i.e. time-invariant) toll on a highway link can increase travel time on the link by inducing spillback of traffic flows upstream. Fortunately, the Mayor has stated he wants the most technologically advanced system and seems open to staff’s recommendation to use dynamic pricing. Council must be firm in supporting dynamic pricing as this cutting edge technology will:

  • limit diversion on to adjacent roads. Some initial diversion will return to highways once drivers see the DVP/GE as the faster route. Some commuters will change departure times while some will switch modes or telecommute further limiting local traffic problems.
  • increase throughput by smoothing traffic flows and avoiding lane changing manoeuvres that reduce capacity.
  • ensure best revenue generation without looking like a tax grab (which a flat fee often does).
TF recommends that dynamic toll rates for light vehicles be set between $0.20 and $0.40 per km depending on traffic levels, changing every 15 minutes to ensure minimum 80 km/hr traffic flow at all times. This rate would be about the same as 407 ETR rates and equal $6.60 to $13.20 for the entire 33 km distance (from top of DVP to west end of GE). Most commuters are driving half this far so, depending on when they choose to drive and traffic conditions, tolls would average $3.30/trip (close to $3.25 price of TTC adult fare) to $6.60/trip. (Heavy trucks should pay at least a third more given their wear and tear on city roads.)  Light vehicle rates could be halved to $0.10 and $0.20/km on weekends. There will be requests for weekend exemptions (e.g. no tolls on Saturdays and Sundays) but that is bad policy given Toronto’s heavy weekend congestion. People do not want to spend their precious weekend time sitting in traffic.        

2. Replace “toll cap” with a low-income assistance program
Initially, Mayor Tory said every driver was to pay their tolls every day. Unfortunately, Councillor Minnan-Wong’s motion to cap the total amount that Toronto residents would pay was passed at Executive Committee on December 1.  What the cap amount would be was not discussed but the motion should be rescinded as wealthy commuters drive much further than low income commuters. They would reach a cap sooner and then drive for free the rest of the year – potentially thousands of kilometres adding to congestion without payment. Rather than give a break to those drivers with the highest income, a low-income assistance program should be created so wealthier drivers don’t ever get capped. Low income drivers would apply for the program and would be charged a discounted toll rate or receive a rebate at the end of the year. Rebates should be derived from toll revenues, not general revenues.

3. Ensure quick system implementation, efficient administration and interoperability
In order to decrease congestion and raise revenue as soon as possible, the DVP/GE tolls must be installed as soon as possible. A target year of 2019 would be preferable than waiting until 2024. 2019 would be achievable if working with the 407 ETR Concession Company which has a back office for its own highway as well as for the province’s 407 East. Not only would this reduce Toronto’s administration costs significantly, transponders would be interoperable so commuters and truckers don’t need to own more than one.

4. Earmark toll revenue
TF agrees with Mayor Tory’s statement that toll revenues be earmarked to road and transit projects.  International experience demonstrates that dedicating funds achieve far broader public support.


See our December 1 press release requesting that the province expedite their HOT Lane program so a toll network is created around Toronto.