Pay Your Own Way

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Road pricing is back in the news as Metrolinx tries to fund transit improvements in the GTA. On the table are expressway tolls of 10 cents per kilometre. This would, according to the Globe and Mail, mean a one-way toll of $3.60 to get from Oakville to downtown Toronto.

This is a pretty good deal for motorists; GO riders pay $6.00 for the same trip.

While recognizing this is a good idea, we should hold off on implementing some or all of the tolls until certain significant improvements are made to transit. I know this is a chicken-and-egg problem, but the Yonge subway is at capacity during rush hour and GO has serious trouble arriving on-time. If we can’t fit people on the trains or get the trains to run on time it isn’t fair to punish them for hitting the highway.

And since we’re talking about road pricing, why not tolls on most of the 400-series highways? Ten cents per kilometre gets very pricey very quickly, but we might consider something similar to the New York State Thruway. Accordingly to my (shaky grasp of) math, it costs about 2.5 cents per kilometre between Buffalo and Albany. Applied to the length of the 401, a journey from Detroit to Montreal would set drivers back about $20. It isn’t a lot of money, but it is a reminder that driving has costs. You may not have to buy more gas when you get on the 401, but you always pay a small toll.

Gas taxes encourage people to use gasoline sparingly which is a worthy goal in this age of climate change. Getting people to leave their car – Hummer or Prius – at home is a part of that, but setting aside inconvenient truths, fewer cars on the road has independent merit. It isn’t healthy to spend hours on the road commuting between or across cities. Cars turn people into monsters. Highways destroy neighbourhoods.

The financial and psychological impacts of road pricing make it a useful tool for combating climate change, urban sprawl, and low standards of living.

[photo] “Toll booths” by vagrantant

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