Toronto’s same old road-pricing script

(updated 2011.06.08)
The past 12 days have produced a noisy buzz of articles in the Toronto Star regarding the need to use road-pricing of one sort or another to raise capital for GTHA transportation needs and to quell congestion. The basic script for the discourse this past week is identical to the script playing in every city and every country for the past 15 years (this week's example from Oz!):

Experts: “We need road-pricing!”
Drivers: “ We don’t want it!”
Politicians: “And we won’t do it!”
Journalists: “There is no solution, the sky is falling!”

One exception to the above script is a Star editorial, presumably written by a journalist, that says: “We have no choice but to use road pricing, so get over it.” The Star is half right—the no choice part is correct. But we are not simply going to “just get over it”. 

It turns out the Experts are correct—we must deploy tolling. The Drivers are right—they really don’t want tolling. And the Politicians are telling the truth (this time)—they won’t do it.  The only ones who are wrong are the journalists—because there is a solution.

That solution involves the voluntary selection of services, privileges, rewards and discounts in exchange for behavioral changes. Think of an analogy to the Airmiles™ system, but far, far richer. This approach, already tried and proven viable in France, Holland and the United States (among others), can be accomplished using automated, self-enforcing, privacy-assured, in-car road-use meters. It is possible, given current telemetric technologies to measure where and when a vehicle is driven or parked and to calculate, using a secure on-board database, rewards and discounts based on behaviors such as eco-driving, reduction in car-use, avoidance of peak hours, use of smaller vehicles, avoidance of congested routes, etc.  Rewards can include parking cash-outs, or transit passes.  Parking discounts or transit passes can be provided for not moving a vehicle during peak times or in congested areas or for using an alternative vehicle. Services include traveler services and pay-as-you-drive insurance that can save drivers money while reducing congestion. Privileges can include a guarantee of no parking tickets, graduated parking access to HOT lanes, fuel-tax rebates in exchange for road-pricing and parking spot reservation via a related parking finder.

It is possible to reward drivers based on comparative behavior.  If the monthly aggregate driving behavior of several thousand drivers were established, drivers in the upper deciles could be rewarded (automatically, without disclosure of location) via discounts to their service accounts.  There are literally hundreds of easy ideas such as this that a road-use metering system can automate. If a couple dozen were made available, there would be “something for everyone”. Some drivers would in fact save money, rather than pay more, as most journalists assume.

Such a system would be operated by private industry, bolstered by distributing consumer rewards from urban retailers seeking business, regulated by government to ensure equitableness, privacy and access, and (eventually) would permit switching from fuel tax to road-use fees.

A study by RAND (October 2010) described this (section 6.2.3), and NYCDOT currently has a RFEI asking private industry how they might set this up.

So it is possible. And it will be done. And it can start soon—this year, if someone wanted to. It just won’t be done by government mandate... 

Hepburn: Ford is right, toll roads are nuts
Bob Hepburn June 08, 2011. Tolls and congestion fees mere cash grabs on motorists with no realistic option except to drive to work.

Pros and cons of road tolls
June 08, 2011. Denial on tolls needs to end, Editorial, June 4

Cohn: Legislature united against road tolls and carbon taxes
Martin Regg Cohn June 08, 2011. Remember the environment? In Ontario, pollution has slipped from mainstream to slipstream.

Editorial: Denial on road tolls needs to end 
June 04, 2011. Two authorities — one provincial and the other working for Toronto — agree road tolls are needed to pay for key public transit projects. 

GTA needs gas hikes, road tolls, congestion charges to fund transit: Experts 
Brett Popplewell June 04, 2011. Add all these charges and this city might solve the gridlock that has Toronto moving more slowly than almost any other city in the Western world. 

Oslo does it, Stockholm does it, London does it 
Brett Popplewell June 04, 2011. Congestion charging and tolled highways are inevitable for Toronto, according to Harry Kitchen, a professor of economics at Trent University. It’s just a matter of the public and the politicians accepting the reality that this city, in its current state, is grinding to a halt. Why? Because roadways are jammed... 

65% of Torontonians say no to road tolls; 72% want bike lanes 
David Rider June 03, 2011. Torontonians strongly oppose the idea of road tolls to pay for Mayor Rob Ford’s promised Sheppard subway line, says a new opinion poll. 

Road tolls worth considering 
May 31, 2011. Road toll ‘reality check’ stirs up Toronto council, May 28 

Watchdog recommends road tolls to reduce traffic, pollution 
May 31, 2011. Ontario’s environmental watchdog is recommending a “serious discussion” be held on road tolls to lessen traffic and reduce greenhouse gases. 

Go with road tolls, Environment Commissioner tells GTA 
Richard J. Brennan May 31, 2011. Ontario Environment Commissioner Gord Miller is pushing for more toll roads in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area to reduce single-passenger traffic. 

Mayor Ford won’t support tolls to fund Sheppard extension 
Daniel Dale and Paul Moloney May 30, 2011. Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother and trusted adviser, said emphatically that “road tolls are not going to happen.” 

James: Sheppard subway? Not now, maybe not ever 
Royson James May 30, 2011. The Sheppard subway extension is a lost cause as NIMBY residents, council opposition and high cost conspire to kill the plan. 

Road toll ‘reality check’ stirs up Toronto council 
Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew May 28, 2011 

James: Ford’s subways will require tolls and grants 
Royson James May 28, 2011. It will likely take new road tolls and congestion charges and other revenue tools to help deliver “the biggest transit deal in North America, or perhaps the world,” says the man hired to pave the path toward the $4 billion Sheppard Subway. An exclusive report by the Star finds that new road tolls and congestion charges will be needed to deliver the $4B Sheppard subway.