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Put electronic tolls on urban roads, says study for Transport Canada

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  • Ronald Dawson
    From http://www.southam.com/montrealgazette/newsnow/cpfs/national/010506/n050610. html Dawson Put electronic tolls on urban roads, says study for Transport
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2001
      html Dawson

      Put electronic tolls on urban roads, says study for Transport Canada

      HALIFAX (CP) - Motorists should start to pay road tolls in major Canadian
      cities to help ease traffic congestion and cut urban pollution, says a new
      study for Transport Canada. And to help sell the politically unpalatable
      idea, Canadians should be given the toll money back in the form of tax

      "Electronic toll collection systems are the most effective available measure
      . . . and would appear to be the best choice for high-density urban areas,"
      says the December report.

      The $50,000 study, commissioned from the Ottawa-based Research and Traffic
      Group, was obtained under the Access to Information Act.

      The authors were asked to survey transport policies around the globe to
      recommend ways to ensure Canadian travellers bear the full cost of the
      impact that their activities have on society and the environment.

      Motorists, for example, create pollution and road congestion but vehicle
      registration fees and fuel taxes don't cover all of society's costs of
      coping with these problems.

      "Transport users should bear all the additional costs that their activities
      impose on the economy," says the study, citing a wide range of economists.

      The list of transport-related problems ranges from accidents, congestion and
      pollution to noise and global climate change. These can cost an economy
      billions of dollars - more than $100 billion a year in the United States, by
      one calculation - that is never charged back to travellers.

      The authors looked at several radical transport experiments, including in
      tiny Singapore where an aggressive anti-car policy has helped cut congestion
      dramatically since 1975.

      The so-called Singapore solution includes limits on car ownership, licence
      fees scaled to the age and size of the vehicle and road tolls that
      discourage peak-hour traffic.

      In Canada, there has been no clear relation between taxes and roads since at
      least the 1960s.

      In fact, the authors note that road-related taxes such as those on fuel have
      risen 20 per cent after inflation in the last decade while spending on roads
      has actually fallen 10 per cent over the same period.

      And where governments have tried to introduce tolls to make motorists bear
      the direct costs of new roads, there has been enormous public outcry.

      In New Brunswick, for example, the rookie Tory government of Bernard Lord
      was elected in June 1999 largely on his promise to end tolls on improved
      stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway. Lord kept his promise.

      Nevertheless, the report suggests imposing tolls on urban roads that have
      already been paid for, and collecting the money through highly efficient
      electronic detectors, such as the toll system in place for Highway 407 in

      The move, put in place over many years, would help reduce congestion and
      could be sold to Canadians if the extra revenues were recycled as income-tax
      cuts or other tax breaks.

      The study is to be circulated among interest groups in advance of a workshop
      set for later this year, said Bruno Gobeil, spokesman in Ottawa for
      Transport Canada.

      Gobeil added that the department will not take a position on the issues
      raised by the study until 2003 at the earliest.

      In March this year, a Toronto city councillor suggested putting rush-hour
      toll booths on the Don Valley Parkway, Gardiner Expressway and other major
      routes downtown.

      The $1 charge would help ease gridlock in Canada's largest city, said Chris

      The head of Transport 2000, a advocacy group, applauded the idea of urban
      road tolls but cautioned that Canadians would need a lot of education first
      about the benefits.

      "There is a never-ending hunger for cheap gas, for free roads, for the total
      ability to go anywhere, anytime in one's car," said president Harry Gow from

      "You do have to get around the New Brunswick factor - as long as people
      don't have the education as to why we're doing this, they won't accept it as
      they didn't accept toll roads in New Brunswick."

      A business professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax also cautioned that
      such a system could be unfair to many commuters who bought their outlying
      homes without having to factor in toll costs.

      "You're changing the rules of the game on them in the middle, and that's
      what gets people apoplectic," Mary Brooks said in an interview.

      © The Canadian Press, 2001
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