Should Toronto’s Pan Am HOV lanes be here to stay?

Item date: 
July 10, 2015
Item context: 

In this interview, Martin Collier gave credit to MTO for installing 235 new 3+ HOV lane kilometers in time for the Pan Am Games -- quite incredible since it has taken 10 years to install the 50 2+ lane kilometers we already have in place.  However, he noted that at least $5-$10 million has been invested in HOV planning, paint, signage, communications and enforcement so it is a waste to throw away those millions when the games have concluded.  It makes far more sense to leave them in place (after being reduced to 2+ HOV lanes as they will be for ParaPan Games) and track where usage is particulary good or bad. Then install High Occupany Toll (HOT) Lanes to generate revenue to subsidize better transit in the corridor and pay for system administration.


The Pan Am HOV lanes were never really for the locals – though some drivers are allowed in as a sop to public opinion – and their essential value must be judged by how smoothly those connected with the Pan Am Games are able to do their jobs.

But officials are also hoping that some local residents react to these high-occupancy lanes by changing their commuting behaviour, a key part of the overall Pan Am traffic plan. And as drivers start to become accustomed to the lanes, there are calls to consider making them permanent.
The lanes – 235 kilometres of them, mostly on Toronto-area highways – are officially temporary. They allow transit, taxis, emergency vehicles, motorcycles and, in some cases, electric cars, as well as any vehicle carrying three or more...

The provincial Ministry of Transportation has ruled out keeping the lanes past the games, saying that they will use the data gathered to inform future transportation choices. But others argue that it is a waste to go through the painful transition period into an HOV scenario and then simply pull the plug...

In a tweet earlier this week, Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat noted that HOV lanes are “always empty when first implemented. Drivers then see them as an alternative, and change travel behaviour to access them.”... she argued that drivers react rationally as their situation changes, noting the example that carpooling has been shown to go up in some jurisdictions when the price of gas rises.

This shows that driving is to some extent elastic, that at least some people have a choice about modifying their behaviour. Which helps support the argument that, after the government has weathered the political difficulty of bringing in the lanes, and drivers have had to get used to them, it would be illogical to get rid of them when the games end.

“You’re just going to take them out and everybody just goes back to the behaviour they always had,” said Martin Collier, who runs Transport Futures, a regular conference series that brings together transportation experts.

“What kind of legacy will you leave, transportation-wise, with the games? The legacy could be those 235 extra kilometres. Leave them in.”

Mr. Collier said that a related option would be to consider converting some or all of them to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, a form of HOV lane that allows drivers without the required number of people in their vehicle to pay for access. Such lanes have been floated in recent years by the province but none have appeared.

His call was backed by Andy Manahan, a member of the 2013 panel formed by the provincial government to study funding for transit.

“The people who are paying the freight in the HOV/HOT lane are freeing up some space in the regular lanes,” said Mr. Manahan, the executive director of the Residential & Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario.

“It does allow for better utilization of the existing road network, and it might convince more people to take transit. I understand the argument that people make, that people need choice and not all areas where people live have good transit options, but I think we’re making some good steps to try to get there.”

But others, acknowledging the MTO’s official opposition to keeping these lanes, hoped only that their presence for a few weeks would at least lay the groundwork for change.

“Why can’t we have a big conversation about HOV lanes, and why can’t this be the start of that conversation?” said Moaz Ahmad, a Mississauga teacher who formed his consultancy, the GTA Move Network, with the hope of bringing transportation and urban planning into the classroom.

“It’s a really good time to start having this conversation. I don’t see us keeping those lanes … but it would be nice to grab the data, study the behaviour of drivers.”