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Toronto exploring road pricing on downtown highways

Road pricing is on the table in Toronto. (Somebody has to fund the expensive Gardiner Expressway East rebuild.) On March 11, 2016, the City issued a Request for Proposal for: “Options for Establishment of Toll Facilities on F.G. Gardiner Expressway/Don Valley Parkway.”

As a vocal supporter of road pricing, I am happy to see us headed in this direction. And I bet that today’s post will just be the beginning of my ruminations on this topic.

Because naturally, it raises a lot of questions:

Should the pricing be fixed or variable? Similar to how Uber’s surge pricing model is intended to ensure that there are always enough drivers on the road, should our road pricing model strive to eliminate traffic congestion by increasing the price of the road as demand rises beyond road capacity? I like the idea of a “congestion charge” rather than just a road toll. There’s something very efficient about it.

Who should pay? Should anyone and everyone who uses the road pay? Or should it just be be non-Toronto residents who aren’t already paying property taxes in the city? I would imagine that this latter scenario would be easier for Toronto politicians to get behind, since there will obviously be a segment of people who flat out don’t want road tolls/pricing. But if we stick with the principle that it’s a “congestion charge”, then everyone should pay. It doesn’t matter where you live when you are demand trying to exceed the available supply of road.

(I’m running a Twitter poll right now with this exact question. At the time of writing this post, “everyone should pay” is winning.)

Should electric vehicles be exempt from the road tolls or congestion charges in order to help accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels? With Tesla getting ready to announce its mass market Model 3 (price $35,000), I’ve been thinking lately that the car I currently own may very well be the last gasoline car I ever own.

It’s still early days for road pricing and our mayor doesn’t seem to be a fan. So who knows how far we’ll get with this RFP. But I for one hope that we find the courage to make the difficult decisions and that this new revenue stream is leveraged for the purpose of building more sustainable forms of urban transport in this city. 

Let’s make a 50 year decision and not an election cycle decision.

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