Commission Calls for Tolls, Draws Backlash

OTTAWA, ON – A new report shows Canadians are increasingly frustrated by traffic congestion in their major cities and want solutions before the situation gets worse and costs them even more time and money, but one answer is getting a lot of heat.

The study by Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission recommends pilot programs in Canada’s cities to explore how “congestion pricing,” as part of a broader, coordinated package of policies, can help solve traffic problems. 

“Attaching a fee to driving, for example in traffic hot spots at peak times, increases urban mobility by encouraging more informed transportation choices, while making all other transportation investments work better,” the report says. “Canada should begin exploring congestion pricing policies now with temporary and transparent urban pilot projects supported by all levels of government.”

Established in November 2014, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission describes itself as “an effort to advance fiscal policy reform for the benefit of Canada’s economy and environment. The commission comprises a dozen prominent economists from across Canada’s regions and 18 advisors including former political leaders and leaders from the business sector.”

Traffic congestion is damaging the economy and threatening the health of Canadians, says commission chair Chris Ragan, an associate professor of economics at McGill University and former special advisor to the governor of the Bank of Canada.

“Congestion on our roads and freeways leads to wasted time for commuters and delayed goods movement,” he says. “This translates into a less efficient economy and makes almost everything Canadians buy more expensive.”

Ragan notes that congestion costs regions like Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary billions of dollars every year. Meanwhile, 71 percent of Canadians in the biggest cities say it is simply too hard to get around and 20 percent of full-time Canadian workers report experiencing congestion every single day that they commute, according to the report.

The plan drew a quick rebuke from Quebec Transport Minister Robert Poëti, according to CBC News. He said the province is already working on solutions to traffic problems.

An editorial in the Toronto Sun newspaper was also highly critical of the report saying “For now, any road toll on existing roads is nothing more than a cash grab by governments.”

The editorial also went on to say:

“User fees such as tolls are acceptable to finance the construction of new roads – provided there is a free alternative route – because then the public is making a voluntary choice to pay more for the convenience of using a less congested road.

“But imposing tolls on existing roads like the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, which keeps coming up in Toronto political circles like a bad smell, is utter nonsense and entirely unfair.”

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