Toronto Takes the Gold for Congestion

In the ever-exciting congestion Olympics, Toronto takes the gold! Raise a toast! Congestion is a measure of prosperity and success. We win!

According to a Toronto Star article reporting a Board of Trade report, our average commutes are now longer that those in a field of 19 majors (see table). But these are not really the biggest and nastiest. The BOT skipped many tens of worse-off cities in Asia. Heck, Moscow, still worse, is not on the list. And look where Montreal is already. We may not even make the podium at next year’s BOT Congestion Olympics.
The truth is this is caused by a lot of things besides prosperity. Lousy Transit, Sprawl, Cheap Gas, Property Values, Gas Tax Unchanged for 20 years, Ontario’s Protectionism of the Auto Industry. A lot of things. It is broadly systemic. It cannot be fixed by a Mayor, no matter how courageous she may be.

Christopher Hume gets it big time: “It should come as no surprise that a (provincial) government that would spend billions bailing out the auto industry would also cut billions from public transit. If it's true that action speaks louder than words, there can be no doubt about where the province's intentions lie – and it's not on the subways, or LRTs, or buses.”

And Dennis DesRosiers was vilified for making this very clear last November: “…if governments collectively want to protect the 900,000 to one million jobs in the automotive industry, they also have to accept that we need more vehicles, not less ... I'm against road pricing… We need consumers to drive more, not less.”

Hume and DesRosiers get it. 100%.

If you add to Hume’s and DesRosiers’ insights that the Ontario Ministry of Electric Outlets has promoted the FIT program as a way to get near-free energy for your car, what else needs to be said?

Good-bye Transit. Hello Cars. Good-Bye Fuel Tax. Hello lots of cars. Hello congestion. Hello Road Pricing. Ontario will save Toronto’s surface transportation system by forcing it to tax its roads. Ruthlessly cutting meager transportation funding is to be expected as a measure in the progress of this multi-billion dollar automotive-sprawl policy. Money is made in building homes and cars, not in building roads and transit. Consumers will be left to build their own roads. No mayoral campaign can stop this. But I am heartened that it is a subject of debate in the current mayoral election.

What almost no one gets is that road use charging is needed to keep the roads under our cars, NOT to keep cars off our roads. No one. No driver. No politician. No journalist. No cyclist. No pedestrian. No philosopher. Only a handful of transport economists and cyberneticists can see this, and they, too, are for the most part unable to say what I just said for fear of being politically incorrect.


A proud day for Canadian Innovation

Canada’s Skymeter claims Intertraffic Innovation Trophy

After 8 years of work...

"Canada-based Skymeter Corporation has won the overall 2010 Intertraffic Innovation Award. The company succeeded with its smart road-use device which it has designed to handle a wide range of automotive mobility-related payment needs, including road user charging, parking fees, insurance and carbon metering, as well as reward schemes to encourage differential driving times, carpooling or teleworking.

Foppe Mijnlieff (left) and JD Hassan. Lookit dem smiles, eh?

"Specific innovations include the mitigation of urban canyon-derived errors, privacy-protection ranging from full anonymity for private motorists to full transparency in logistics management, and charging reliability independent of map matching.

"Skymeter was also the individual sector winner in the ITS/Traffic Management category. The Awards Jury saw it as a technology for the future and one which seemingly addresses many apparent concerns over using satellite tracking for traffic management applications."


Readings for Toronto Transportation Leadership

Selected readings re: transport policy ideas related to tolling, parking, revenues, fairness, costs, objections and monetization from an upcoming book tentatively called: "The Death of the Gas Tax and what to do about it".

Replying to objections to tolling in Toronto:


Why under-pricing parking harms Toronto:

How the cost of tolling can be made (near) zero:

The danger of monetizing Toronto parking before it is fixed:

How to add MORE parking, rather than less -- while addressing bike lanes:

A way to fund cycle lanes AND make then safer:


How and why to toll roads in Toronto:

How to get Free Parking (comic relief!):


Why and how to toll roads in Toronto

It’s time to make Toronto’s transport systems work for everyone. Funding, congestion, and emissions are issues that are not going away. Urban tolling is a matter of discussion in hundreds of jurisdictions around the world and there are many deployments each with its own reason and design and its own success or failure profile. There are none that Toronto should mimic, but there are many lessons to glean. For the kind of tolling we usually think of – that of a limited access highway like the DVP – the current best practice worldwide is the one we proudly pioneered on the 407. We could use the same transponder-plus-camera combination for the easy opportunity and inherited idea recently resurrected by mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson – tolling the DVP and the QEW.

Unfortunately, tolling only these two highways is a flawed approach, expecting one subset of commuters to subsidize those using other routes into the city. It will divert traffic onto adjacent roadways creating new bottlenecks, new hazards for pedestrians and cyclists, and shuffle emissions into neighborhoods. London and Stockholm saw 20% drops in traffic counts after tolling schemes were set up that permitted no alternate access route for cars or trucks. Given free, nearby alternatives to the DVP or QEW, tolled traffic will drop far more than 20%, distorting traffic flow and producing less revenue than needed. The 20% ‘over-performance’ of the 2003 London scheme caused the initial £5 charge to be raised to £8 by 2005. Interestingly, this increase had only a miniscule effect; traffic counts showed extreme inelasticity since the original £5 fee had already exorcized non-critical demand. A core set of drivers are willing to pay to stay in their cars, but not all and not so many if there is an alternative.

Tolling these two roads would do little for congestion or emissions and would raise far less revenue than expected. As proposed, this program could not fulfill its revenue target in 10 years.

For urban livability, our mobility, and our health and sanity, Ms Thomson does Toronto a service by forcing this conversation to the fore. For this alone she deserves an audience in the current race and will carry a burden of our road rage. For this she should be thanked.

We need to start tolling roads – and not only for the unholy trinity of revenue, gridlock and pollution. As we electrify our personal vehicles, the fuel tax, already funding only 70% of our highways and virtually none of our urban streets, will continue to fail us. If you drive an internal combustion vehicle, how long will you subsidize my e-car?

Satellite-based road-use metering can now operate anywhere without 407-style roadside gantries. It requires only a modest number of mobile enforcement spot-checks. This technology is as private as your personal navigation device permitting payment without location data leaving your control – or your vehicle. It is more private that the 407 transponder and can even be anonymous (pre-paid). The smart road-use meter, a forerunner technology for the next-generation dashboard manages demand-based use-fees that depend on time and place. It provides for our road networks what “time of use” charging does for our electric grid.

To make this new shift from property and fuel taxes to pay-for-use charges even more attractive, it manages parking payment by the minute, removes the need for parking tickets, and can find a spot for you. It handles pay-as-you-drive insurance, providing fairer premiums to those who drive less. It even offers a voluntary switch from fuel taxes to variable pay-as-you-go fees saving money for the motorist who can avoid peak-hour travel in a single-occupant vehicle.

TIME 100’s Robin Chase calls this using Finance 2.0 to build Infrastructure 2.0.

But most importantly it is self-enforcing when it is voluntary since its advantages are designed to outweigh the rewards of cheating. Regional governments need build no tolling infrastructure beyond a geographic database of time-dependent prices for roads and parking. Nothing needs to be mandated. Disinterested drivers can ignore it.

Tolling in the style of the 407 is like elevator music no body likes. Using voluntary smart-meters loaded with incentives is like using an iPod to escape the Muzak.

Rescue Toronto’s surface transportation system with rewarding technology, rather than by shooting fish in a barrel.


Sarah Thomson: Tolling Toronto’s DVP and QEW

There are a lot of ways to toll roads in Toronto. You could toll the city center, as London and Stockholm do. You could toll the entire GTA as the Dutch intend to do with their entire country. You could toll just the DVP and QEW as Sarah Thomson proposes.

There are a lot of reasons to toll Toronto. You could avoid raising property taxes to pay for the roads. You could fund Metrolinx’s Big Move (last I heard, they were shy $38B over 25 years – now 24 and ticking). You could reduce congestion (but parking reform would be an easier way). Or you could toll for only ten years to build out the subway as Sarah Thomson proposes.

I am pro-tolling. I am pro-subway.

But I am not for tolling this way or for this reason.

I commend Sarah Thomson for having the kahunas to propose this out loud while running for mayor. She has started a critical debate – and she is right in all but the details.

Tolling only the DVP and QEW means that commuters to and from Pickering and Oakville fund the subway, but commuters from Richmond Hill do not. This is unfair. Worse commuters from everywhere in Toronto West of the DVP and North of the QEW will also not contribute. I live in Southwest Scarborough. Perhaps I should help fund the subway, but I won’t be able to in this scheme, since I drive along Kingston and Gerrard. Our tendency to want to toll 905 commuters and not ourselves is obsessive. I want to see renewed transit. I want to see Toronto get great again. But it is our city, after all. We need a way to toll everyone a little bit, not a few people a lot. Besides if we tolled by distance traveled – not just because you used a certain road segment – then 905ers would pay a little more – but not because they are not “one of us” but only because they drove further, they used more road, they caused more congestion, and they polluted a bit more. You should pay for how much you use, not because of where you live.

Tolling exclusively to build the subway taxes Peter expressly to pay Paul. It becomes a tax, not a usage charge. I agree that some road tolls should be directed toward transit on the argument that a good transit system can help decongest the roads, but not the 100% cross subsidization Thomson proposes. We need a way to toll everywhere a little bit and to develop a sharing formula so we can repair our roads (which are in a similar state of decline as is our subway) as well as contribute to new transit.

A toll of $5 per day to someone in Pickering to use the DVP is about 110 per month – equivalent to a metro pass. This will divert traffic and move congestion to parallel roads, congesting neighborhoods and reducing Sarah Thomson's target revenue (traffic drop can be expected to be about 20%, so she needs to take that into her calculations. The 20% will largely come from time-shift and road-shift, not from taking transit).

The issue of taxing road users exclusively to pay for transit, is seldom broadly accepted. This is the case in Europe as well as the US. A report arrived in my email today from a US commentator, Bob Poole of Reason.org, a thought-leader credited with contributing the HOT (high-occupancy/toll) concept. While reading a small outtake, note the parallels for Toronto, and the GTA and the 905ers vs 416ers. Even a strongly pro-tolling leader like past Secretary of transportation in US, Mary Peters, was against extensive cross subsidization from a single facility, while she was very much for tolling everywhere using a time-distance-place approach.

Legislators and transportation officials are on tenterhooks awaiting the U.S. DOT’s decision on Pennsylvania’s proposal to put tolls on I-80. The state got turned down two years ago by the Mary Peters DOT, on grounds that its plan did not meet the requirements Congress laid down in the TEA-21 pilot program that lets up to three states rebuild an Interstate with toll financing. What Pennsylvania (still) proposes doing is to make I-80 tolls a major funding source for transit and highways statewide, not just for rebuilding and modernizing I-80 (which is what the pilot program allows). The trucking industry rightly opposes Pennsylvania’s plan as both contrary to law and as a terrible precedent that would convert a toll into a tax.

… Connecticut legislators have been debating for the past year the idea of putting tolls back on I-95 for “improving traffic flow on I-95, maintaining and reconstructing state bridges, and expanding mass transit,” according to the co-chair of the legislature’s transportation committee. In New Jersey, the transition team for Gov. Chris Christie proposed putting tolls on I-78, I-80, and I-287 so as to bail out the state’s ailing Transportation Trust Fund. Wyoming’s state senate in February approved a study that would lay the basis for applying to the feds for permission to toll I-80 in that state, but the measure failed in the other house after heavy opposition from the trucking industry.

An idea frequently mentioned in most of these proposals is putting the toll collection points at the state borders. The idea is to tax those out-of-staters who don’t vote in the state, while de-facto exempting most state residents who do vote there. That almost certainly would not survive legal challenges under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. (Even cutting existing turnpike tolls in half for local residents, as some West Virginia legislators recently proposed, was judged likely to be ruled unconstitutional.) And this kind of thing serves to further stoke trucking industry opposition, reinforcing the view that what those legislators are proposing is a tax rather than a toll levied in order to provide Interstate users with much-improved mobility.


Ontario and US transportation leaders share a common set of problems

Ontario’s Transportation community is in good company.

A 2010.03.06 newsletter from Ken Orski re Transportation Funding in the US is an excellent crystal ball and near-future predictor for Transportation Funding in Ontario (www.innobriefs.com (Vol.21, No 4) “The Clouded Future of the Surface Transportation Program”). Here are its critical messages for Ontario:

This is the third time in less than three years that Congress used the general fund to bail out the Highway Trust Fund, growing from $8B to $19B over three tranches. This is a measure of the steadily declining efficacy of the fuel tax. We enjoy the same trend.
“House approval of the Jobs Bill … on March 4 … has put an end to the series of temporary month-to-month extensions and placed the federal surface transportation program on a solid financial footing for the rest of the year. The bill, which extends the federal transportation program through December 31, 2010, transfers $19.5 billion from the General Fund into the Highway Trust Fund and restores an earlier $8.7 billion rescission of contract authority. These resources, when added to the expected revenue stream from the gas tax, should allow the Trust Fund to support highway and transit programs at the levels authorized for Fiscal Year 2009 through the end of 2010 and into 2011.”
Using money from the General Fund is a holding pattern, because for various reasons they cannot take the necessary measures re funding reform. Note the taboo against mention of a critical market-rectifying tool – paying by road use rather than by a fuel consumption tax. We enjoy this same taboo. We also need “breathing room”, have “murky prospects” and “fail to shed light”.
“Passage … extend[s] the existing law for 18 months (through March 2011). It also provides Congress and the White House with some welcome breathing room in which to come up with a longer-term solution. However, the prospects for a multi-year bill remain murky. Several meetings in the past two weeks have focused on the outlook for transportation legislation but failed to shed any new light on how to pay for a long-term bill…”
US Congress cannot raise fuel taxes. Neither can we.
“Running through all of the discussions was a common refrain: how to pay for the needed improvements to the nation’s transportation system. To close the funding gap between the projected revenue to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) ($235 billion from 2010 to 2015) and the program needs … would require an extra $215 billion over the life of the next authorization (or an extra $265 billion if the proposed rail program is included). Where is the money to come from? No one has yet produced an answer. “We cannot afford to continue funding our highways and transit out of the General Fund,” Sen. Conrad said, urging Sec. LaHood to devise other funding alternatives. But the latest round of meetings broke no new ground.

The most obvious option --- an increase in the gas tax--- seems to have been taken off the table. The Administration’s unwillingness to consider this option was forcefully reaffirmed by Secretary LaHood at the AASHTO Briefing. “It’s easy for people who are not elected to talk about raising the gas tax,” the Secretary observed. “They don’t have to face the voters.” He left no doubt that the Administration remains unalterably and unequivocally opposed to this option—at least as long as the country finds itself in an economic recession. Nor is there political will in Congress to enact a tax increase in an election year.”
In the US, as in Ontario, how roads are funded becomes less and less transparent. This prevents taxpayer from having any idea of the true cost of the use of a private vehicle.
“How about supplementing the HTF revenue with General Fund appropriations? This option, it was pointed out on more than one occasion in the recent meetings, is not exactly without precedent. It was pursued de facto to keep the Trust Fund solvent during the past year (with two transfers amounting to $15 billion) and it will be used again in implementing program funding under the latest extension ($19.5 billion). Overall, the federal surface transportation program has benefited from almost $60 billion in General Fund transfers over the past two years.

Objections to using General Funds are based on three grounds: that their use undermines the user-pays principle; that it means a potential loss of contract authority, i.e. the ability to enter into multi-year funding commitments in advance of appropriations; and that it opens the surface transportation program to competition for funds from other government programs.”
Hiding the cost of mobility erodes the user-pays principle. This will serve to make eventual funding reform (e.g., road-pricing) ever harder, until we reach a state of emergency.
“While the user-pays principle is not without merit, it has been already substantially weakened in recent years as the Highway Trust Fund assumed additional funding responsibilities for mass transit and other non-highway modes (walkways, bike paths, scenic trails) and, most recently, promoting the “livability” agenda. Today, as much as 25 percent of the Highway Trust Fund revenue is spent on non-highway programs. One way to partially restore solvency to the Highway Trust Fund, some participants at the recent meetings suggested, would be to limit the use of HTF funds to highway expenditures and transfer all of its non-highway obligations to the General Fund. It is estimated that this would free up approximately $10 billion/year for highway expenditures.

At the state and local level much of the revenue for routine highway operations already comes from sources other than user fees. It includes developer impact fees, tax districts, local government bonding, and state and local sales taxes. Thus, another funding approach would be to follow the local example and reserve HTF tax revenues for the maintenance of the National Highway system in a state of good repair while shifting the expense of funding new capacity to the General Fund. The Administration seems to have embraced this philosophy by proposing to fund the $4 billion National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund (NIIFF)— designed to fund major capital transportation projects— with General Fund contributions.”
The US lacks decisive leadership in Transportation Funding. So does Ontario.
“The need for the Administration to become more engaged in advancing the transportation agenda was mentioned repeatedly at the recent meetings. “We need President Obama’s leadership to move things forward,” urged Sen. Voinovich at the Bipartisan Policy Center meeting. Implied in his statement was a widely shared perception that the White House has been largely absent from the debate about the future of the program.”
The unrelenting (and I say fruitless) struggle between highway vs transit continues (note the car-wars swipe):
“The Administration has yet to articulate a clear vision of where the federal program should be going. Its “livability” agenda – described by some critics as “a rhetorical abstraction” and alleged by the AASHTO community to be a code word for downplaying highway investment in favor of public transit – is no substitute for a coherent long-term strategy that clearly defines the federal role, establishes criteria and performance standards for federal investment and provides a financial plan.”
Leadership remains non-committal for both of us:
“Pressed to provide some indication as to when the Department may be expected to unveil its blueprint for a multi-year transportation bill, Secretary LaHood told reporters at the AASHTO meeting that a set of “principles” will be released within the next 90 days. Will the principles include a funding proposal, the Secretary was asked. He would not say. But the Secretary's earlier testimony before the Senate Budget Committee made it clear that the Administration does not expect to release its full authorization proposal before the end of the fiscal year.”
Our two publics are insufficiently engaged:
“Another recurrent theme at the recent meetings has been the need to seek public support and raise public awareness about the necessity for larger investment in transportation But … warnings about “crumbling infrastructure” do not resonate with the general public. People do not seem to share a sense of an impending infrastructure crisis, nor are they alarmed about the deteriorating state of the transportation system. Collapsing bridges are happily few and far between, and the focused attention that state and local highway agencies devote to system preservation and maintaining their assets in a state of good repair tends to keep signs of aging infrastructure largely hidden from view. The effects of disinvestment are not readily apparent and warnings about an “infrastructure deficit” fall on deaf ears.”
People complain about congestion, but do not see is as solvable. It is seen to be like the weather – either unaddressable, or “the worst happens elsewhere”.
“To be sure, another current deficiency of the transportation system— traffic congestion— is highly visible and public dissatisfaction with it is well documented. But the driving public has grown skeptical that more money or program reform will bring effective congestion relief. Perhaps they have come to accept the truth of the oft-repeated refrain that “you cannot build your way out of traffic congestion.” What is more, traffic congestion leaves vast [rural] stretches … unaffected and unconcerned. Mitigating traffic congestion may be of great importance to many individual urban communities, but it is not perceived as warranting federal intervention.”
Without a major change, we will both continue to drift.
“According to most economists, the projected budget deficit in the out years will not return to what is considered as “sustainable” levels any time in the foreseeable future. This has led one respected political analyst, NY Times' David Sanger, to predict that there will be virtually no room for major new domestic initiatives in the next ten years. Instead, as Emil Frankel [Director of Transportation Policy, Bipartisan Policy Center] speculated, we may continue to drift along, relying on General Fund appropriations to prop up the program until such time as the effects of the accumulated disinvestment become visible enough to create conditions of a genuine emergency. At that point, aroused public opinion will oblige the Congress and the President to act forcefully and decisively, setting the stage for a major multi-year program of infrastructure renewal akin in scope and ambition to the Interstate Highway Program.”
Frankel is right. Things have to become “visible enough to create conditions of a genuine emergency”. And that is a shame. Unfortunately, “infrastructure renewal” in the absence of user-pay reform from fuel-tax to road-use-tax will be a no-show. Every government program demands more funds. Every tax-payer demands to pay fewer taxes. This is not rocket science.

Regarding the Innobriefs newsletter:
“Please feel free to forward or reprint this item with appropriate citation. All correspondence, including requests to subscribe and unsubscribe, should be addressed to: C. Kenneth Orski, Editor/Publisher; email: korski@verizon.net; tel: 301.299.1996; fax: 301.299.4425. Please make sure that your email account is set up to accept incoming mail from korski@verizon.net”


Parking Manifesto as a broke Toronto goes into a civic election

  1. Street parking in Toronto is underpriced.
  2. Underpriced street parking:
    - generates congestion,

    - generates pollution
    - wastes citizen's and visitors time
    - harms the lower-income driver disproportionately
    - diminishes safety (of cyclists),
    - diminishes livability, and
    shifts the burden of funding the City from motorist to property tax payer.
  3. Toronto’s underpricing of street parking denies the City badly need revenues.
  4. The cost of parking operations has been estimated to me at about 70% of its income. This implies that if Toronto appreciates an annual net revenue of $125M as recently reported in the newspapers, that this could be increased to about 325M (est.) without increasing staff or purchasing additional equipment, but by a average doubling of on-street parking fees (assuming 1/2 of the revenue is of from street parking).
  5. In the event the City were to monetize its parking assets the estimate of 500M (recently made by a journalist based on 4 x net revenue) would undervalue the Toronto parking franchise by some 800M (using the same 4x assumption). This would represent a terrible loss of opportunity to our City, forcing a further, unnecessary increases in property taxes.
  6. Under monetization of Chicago's parking to a private company, that company raised on-street prices, extended its operating hours and extended some parking zones. If that happens here, it means that property tax payers are indirectly paying taxes to a private company.
  7. Toronto’s the use of one-hour free-parking and our police force to mark tires is an egregious waste of City money, when it is now possible to correctly managed priced parking anywhere in the City, including streets where paid (non-resident) parking turnover is too low to return investment in pay-and-display equipment.
  8. In the event Toronto parking assets are monetized, I ask that the City argues for a proper valuation (to reduce property taxes or avoid a further raise) and then permit the private operator to adjust prices appropriately, to recover its investment. In other words, I propose the City trust a private operator rather than Council to set market prices and rescue our city from its sea of circling cars looking for cheap parking.

    How Toronto’s parking pricing contributes to pollution and congestion, wastes time, and robs Toronto of desperately needed revenue.