Last week I had a chance to talk with Marty Collier from Healthy Transport Consulting about the upcoming Transportation Futures: Ontario’s inaugural road pricing forum, and what road pricing will mean for the province.
To a lot of people, the introduction of road pricing might seem like nothing more than a cash-grab, but Transportation Futures aims to show exactly how road pricing works (and the ways it can work in Ontario) as well as showing how the potential benefits might outweigh the costs to drivers. My talk with Marty was not only to find out about the forum, but also to find out more about road pricing to be able to see past the initial shock.
Out of sight out of mind
“Every time I get on transit I’m paying $2.75, but if I have a car and have gas and insurance paid, then it’s free to go on any road. So nobody knows the real price of what that road costs: what does it cost to maintain, what did it cost to build, what it costs to have it plowed in the winter…. All these costs that nobody has a clue [about]. Putting a price on the roads, and not just highways but the local and arterial roads, gives people the idea that this actually costs something and the use of it also costs. It helps people to make more informed choices on how they get around. It doesn’t become this sort of free access people use for shorter trips instead of bikes or transit; it becomes a more level playing field with the other modes.”
What if you can’t afford it?
“Some people may get hit a little more. Some people can barely afford to have a car and if you give them more costs they couldn’t get to work. So you would have to make [the system] so they don’t get hit so hard, so that when they get their bill they get a rebate based on a certain income level. But by the large most people can afford to pay that extra amount. If people don’t have access to a car right now and they’re lower income folks they’re the ones who will actually benefit most because there will be new money going into the systems they can afford. They might be able to afford a bike, they might be able to afford transit and so if the system is better for them then it’s a much better system than what we have now because people are forced to buy a car to get out to those jobs.”
Where does the money go?
“Right now we don’t really have enough money to have a good, sustainable, and multi-modal transportation network in the GTA or anywhere else in the province. It’s all very car-oriented; we’ve only put our money into one thing. Now we’re in this situation where we don’t have enough money to catch up and build better transit so [road pricing] actually creates a new revenue source so we can create and build those plans we want to make. You could end up designing better roads and â€˜complete streets’, where you have the money to create bike lanes or you can change the number of lanes to accommodate transit-only lanes or wider sidewalks. You can start designing better streets if you have more money rather than having little money and just doing the same old same roads [that] only accommodates cars and no one else wants to be there because it’s a bad environment for walking, it’s bad for transit, [and] it’s bad for biking.”
Who would control it?
“I personally don’t think the cities should ever get involved. It should be provincial or like a Metrolinx-type of governance where they are in charge and are doing it across the region. It shouldn’t just be Toronto on its own while Mississauga, Halton, Oshawa and the other regions all have something different, because it wouldn’t be fair. That’s why we’re bringing the Dutch people in because they will be doing all across the country and they’re going to be taking the tax right off the purchase of cars and put it into the roads that the cars use.”
What are the benefits of road pricing?
“Depending on how you use it, you might even get safety benefits because people start getting out of their cars and into other modes. In London, England it has actually decreased the number of crashes that occur because there are less roads. They have this special system called congestion charging which is a certain area of the downtown where people have to pay to get in so not only do people move through there more efficiently and not get caught up in traffic but also [there’s] more people biking and taking different modes so you have less crashes because there are less cars.”
Why have the forum?
“The first and primary goal is just to have a rational discussion about road pricing because most of the facts aren’t out there and people might react to it as they’re being gouged, like it’s just a tax grab, and there is no other reason for road pricing. And the other reason is just to learn how other countries and cities have dealt with road pricing and implementation, and how they failed. [The forum is] to learn from [the international speakers] and have a brief discussion of the Canadian systems as well because we should talk about the 407 and the Golden Ears bridge in B.C. and then we’ll just have an assessment on what are issues, what are the benefits, what are the costs then we’ll see what the next steps are.”
Transportation Futures: Ontario’s inaugural road pricing forum is taking place at the Intercontinental Hotel Toronto-Yorkville on Thursday, November 13. For more information, go to www.rccao.com/events and keep an eye out for the upcoming Spacing events guide.
photo by Colin