Kudos to Sean Gordon

It is not often we get a straight piece of reporting on the issue of congestion pricing. Sean Gordon, Quebec Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star wrote just such a piece: Montreal eyes downtown tolls on 18 May, 2007.

It is refreshing to know that a journalist can still report on something and leave his opinion out of it, to let the reader decide for themselves. Nowhere in this article can I tell if Gordon is for or against tolling. I can’t tell if he drives an SUV or uses a bike. That is as it should be.

The only bone I could pick, since that is my job (and I am 100% biased toward proper congestion pricing) is the characterization of Mayor Tremblay’s plan as “presumably patterned on London, England's successful anti-congestion strategy”. If Mr. Gordon means: toll the busy inner commercial core to encourage alternate modalities, then I would concede accuracy. But if he means: set up cameras at ~300 intersections at a cost of $600M (the cost of the first two stages of the London Congestion Charge (LCC) system) and charge a fixed entrance fee, I hope very much he is wrong.

Why? Because a simple one-size-fits-all cordon-fee distinguishes only among drivers who will take their car into the CBD and those who will not. (Yes, I get that is important.) But such a charge is a blunt, regressive instrument. And this is well known criticism of the LCC – indeed our own Toronto Councillor Brian Ashton has traveled to London to review the LCC, and he has rejected this system, presumably for this reason as well as the mistaken notion that we must have a subway system the relative size of London’s, first.

Since the endgame for congestion pricing is to replace the fuel-tax-based economy with a pay-as-you-use-it economy, we need to mete out road access by distance. And location. And degree of congestion. In other words, pay for your externalities, not your gas.

As we start the engines of the road-pricing debate, we will too often refer to the LCC as the model. It is the model for bold action, and Mayor Livingstone deserves all of the praise he garners. But it is not the model for economic efficiency, system efficiency, urban aesthetics, or fairness.

While Mayor Livingstone has been a guiding light for other more timid mayors, his specific system architecture should never be copied.

1 comment:

Darren J said...

Not quite on the topic you are addressing, but: The report I saw suggested that Montreal is probably considering $1/day/car toll (toll/fee/tax!).

If it's going to be that low, I would think that might not reduce congestion, but simply raise money for the local government.

That's not to say that's a bad thing, especially if it lets the government build an effective transit system and bike network. Step 2 could be to raise the toll.

I take your point though, that a border around the core is not the ideal system.