It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday and I am on my way to a meeting in Markham. Worming my way through the city to pick up a colleague at Yonge and St. Clair, we eventually make our way onto the DVP at Eglinton. The weather is clear, the roads are dry, and no accidents have been reported on the radio, and yet, the parkway is a parking lot. I guess I missed the memo regarding rush hour becoming an all-day event.
I wonder, as I sit staring out at the infinite stretch of glass, metal, and rubber, would the traffic be as heavy if the parkway was tolled? Would more people choose public transit or carpooling? Perhaps. Yet, as much as I loathe sitting in traffic, I can’t help but see the vast stretch of cars as a vast stretch of untapped revenue.
Imagine what we could do with all that extra dough.
The good news is that these questions are being seriously considered, as the City of Toronto recently put out a request for proposal (RFP) for tolling options on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. While this discussion has been tossed around since the 1990’s, they’ve never gone past the planning stages. With the city on the hook for the $2.5 billion to upgrade the aging Gardiner, not to mention the dire need for new subways and light rail, maybe now’s the time to revisit the idea of tolls.
Some interesting considerations have been added to the RFP, including a request for information regarding cost adjustments based on the number of people in the car. To me, this is where behaviour can be affected with the most impact. While most people who drive will continue to drive regardless of tolls, the motivation to carpool might increase. Less cars on the road, less impact on the presently overflowing subways, and possibly a decrease in pollution however minor it may be.
And of course, the potential revenue stream can be lucrative. The city has done preliminary studies to provide broad estimates on cost and revenue. The most likely scenario is one that uses a ten-year payback horizon for capital and operating costs for both highways after which the tolls would be continued as a general revenue source for the city, with revenue estimates going out thirty years to 2053. Under this option, the cost to drivers is $3.25 flat or $0.35/kilometer. The city estimates that excess revenues from the tolls would amount to approximately $4.5 billion (2015 dollars).
Tolls can represent a tremendous revenue source to be funnelled back into infrastructure and transportation initiatives. It seems only fair that, as our cities become more urbanized, those who continue to drive should contribute to the operating costs of those roadways. In a city like Toronto, where traffic is an ongoing battle and plans for new transit as seen as polarizing political issues, city council needs to consider all new sources of revenue — especially ones that may take a few cars off the road while putting more subways in the ground.
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