Ford Wrong About Toll Roads

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 13, 2011

Last week, the Star's Bob Hepburn wrote an editorial titled, "Ford is right, toll roads are nuts".

Like most other things, Rob Ford is actually wrong about road tolls as well. I'd like to correct some common misconceptions about road tolls and the costs of roads Hepburn repeated in his article.

1) "Billions of those dollars are being used for non-transit purposes, such as paying down the government deficit."

This is simply not true.

Although motorists feel they pay too much in fees and taxes (and we do pay a lot), a very careful Federal Department of Transport study shows that federal and provincial net road fuel tax revenues and provincial fees cover only 50% to 78% of the total cost of the nation's roads.

Even if all "road related revenues" (such as speeding fines, parking charges, building prices and lot levies) are included, table 22 shows that total cost recovery is still only 67% to 91% (and it doesn't seem fair to think of building prices and speeding fines as fees motorists pay to drive on the roads!).

This 2005 study does not include the social costs of death, injury and pollution associated with road use. If all these "road related costs" were included the cost recovery rate would be far lower. Transport Canada is currently attempting to account for these social costs as well.

The bottom line is that the roads are still heavily subsidized by billions of dollars of general tax revenue each year.

2) "[M]ost [motorists] have no realistic option except to drive to work or go shopping."

This is not supported by the evidence.

Transportation use surveys done by groups such as UTRAC at the University of Toronto repeatedly show that many road users have options, even on a daily basis. They could choose to take public transit, carpool or travel at a different time or to a different destination. These options might be less appealing, but they are exist for most residents.

In the GTA, it is hard to argue that all these single-occupant vehicles need to be on the roads with our population density and GO Transit network.

Indeed, one of the main uses of tolls would be to improve the public transit network. Currently, it is much cheaper and more convenient for motorists to drive, rather than to take public transit. Tolls would allow much-needed investment in our public transit network, and would encourage more residents to use it.

In the longer run, not pricing our most scarce resources (the 400-series freeways) at "free" might actually encourage people to live closer to their work or to work closer to where they live. Right now our free-use road network encourages sprawl.

3) Tolls don't reduce congestion.

This is simple demand side economics: the price level needs to be set at the level needed to achieve the desired reduction in traffic. If congestion has returned to pre-toll levels in London, this simply means the toll price has not been increased appropriately (presumably for political reasons).

Every other transportation system (air, rail, buses) uses some sort of demand-based fees system. Why should roads be any different?

Note that the the initial result of the London congestion charge was a 30% decrease in traffic, which shows people do have a choice (despite the inadequate state of the London transport system)!

A recent OECD report noted that the GTA suffers from "Traffic congestion problems (70% of commuters use cars), poorly integrated regional transit services and relatively underdeveloped public transport infrastructure [Chap. 1.2.3.]" and costs the regions billions each year.

This is why various business groups are now supporting road road tolls.

Rob Ford may dislike "Gravy Trains" (maybe it sounds too much like public transport), but taxpayer subsidized "Gravy Roads" are just fine.


Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2011 at 10:37:51

Let's stop pretending that Ford is being honest about his rationales.

His desires are very simple: do whatever suburbia wants. Suburbia hates toll roads and likes free roads, even if traffic is terrible, so that's what he does. Suburbia doesn't want to see traffic lanes lost to LRT, so no LRT. Suburbia drives everywhere.

He's just doing what the people who elected him want him to do. I suppose as a politician I should respect him for representing his supporters so well.

The fact that it's shortsighted and wrong doesn't really matter.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 13, 2013 at 14:52:53 in reply to Comment 64844

Meh. As the mayor, he is not only a representative but also a leader - while it is important for a politician to listen to their supporters, they must also interpret their supporters demands and do what is right. He doesn't just represent his suburban voters - he represents all citizens.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2011 at 10:43:48

Transportation use surveys done by groups such as UTRAC at the University of Toronto repeatedly show that many road users have options, even on a daily basis. They could choose to take public transit, carpool or travel at a different time or to a different destination. These options might be less appealing, but they are exist for most residents.

While I'm on-board with most of what you're saying in the article, this approach...which can be seen in other aspects of 'trying to change the way people think' more than a little naïve.

There are all kinds of instances in this modern world of ours where people COULD see things differently. But in the case of many/most communities that I've been in, lived in, visited, people taking far more inconvenient tacks is simply not something we should reasonably expect to see happen. Choices made by super-charging our moral compass are wonderful to dream about...but most people simply don't have the required energies at their disposal, or won't expend them in this way even if they do.

For years, I've hauled groceries by hand over distances sometimes approaching a mile. But that's me, I'm a physical person who appreciates a good trek. If you want to have people willingly conduct themselves in this way, then it seems to me that you should be more invested in looking at how to promote a society that has this mindset at its core, rather than what many in need of such inculcation would see as being 'penalized' for their behaviour.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2011 at 11:12:09 in reply to Comment 64846

This is the Chicken/Egg Problem at the heart of the debate over land use and transportation in post-automobile cities.

We've danced around this before and I'm loath to wear a deeper trench into the earth by pacing again over the same ground, but I maintain that the only way to transform people's notions about what is possible and/or viable is through direct exposure.

A couple of anecdotes to illustrate what I mean:

I noticed early on during the planning phase of the ad hoc Hamilton Light Rail committee that almost everyone who cared enough to come out to a meeting was someone who had experienced LRT first-hand in another city and been persuaded by seeing it and using it.

People are afraid of the unknown, and will rail against any change that seems to threaten the status quo, even when everyone is in agreement that the status quo is not working.

We see daily evidence of this in the Spectator's letters to the editor.

Early last decade, when the city was planning to convert James North to two-way traffic, Spec readers sent in the most hyperbolic predictions of gridlock, economic devastation and catastrophe. Downtown will become impassable, we were told. No one will go there any more. The last remaining businesses will fail. The street will be a dead zone.

Of course the exact opposite happened: traffic is calmer but still navigable, the street is far more pedestrian friendly, and a remarkable influx of new businesses, investments, building renovations and new residents is busy transforming the street into one of Hamilton's urban jewels.

Of course, some people remain stubbornly unconvinced (those people who haven't been downtown in 20 years but don't let that stop them from pronouncing on exactly what it needs, i.e. mass demolitions and more parking), but I've personally met a number of former two-way skeptics who have changed their minds in the face of this direct evidence that their fears were groundless.

The bottom line is that the public will never demand something they haven't experienced and don't understand. If we try to change people's minds without giving people an opportunity to experience and try out a more balanced living/transportation arrangement, we will continue to fail.

Every success we have had has come from mustering the political will to create alternatives so that people can have a firsthand opportunity to be convinced.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 23:31:48 in reply to Comment 64849

I have experienced LRT. My objection to LRT in Hamilton has always been the enormous costs for such a huge system as proposed. Detroit a city many times bigger than Hamilton is building a line less than 15 km and that was budgeted at $425,000,000. When was the last time a project like this came in on budget? At least some of that, about 25% was privately funded and the federal government was also contributing a chunk. Hamilton's proposed system is something like 18 km long. How do we pay for it? Even after it is built it still needs to be subsidized. Like always transit is all about density and distance. For transit to really work you need high density and short distances. Like Dublin.

You claim that James North the traffic is calmer and still navigable. There are a number of drivers who disagree with you. James North has indeed seen a resurgence since it was made two way. But what of John North? Nothing much has changed. If the changes on James North were directly attributable to the conversion would we not see a similar resurgence on John North? Look at James South, I think it is more dangerous now than before. Vehicles race from light to light trying to get through the mess. Pedestrians are constantly trying to dart across the road between traffic. One person died there recently and unless something changes soon they will not be the last.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:42:34 in reply to Comment 64871

Okay, Mr. Meister, we get it. LRT won't work in downtown Hamilton because there are farms in Glanbrook. And because Detroit built a completely different system that didn't work very well. We get it.

Two way streets won't work in downtown Hamilton because some drivers might not like them, though I suspect those drivers are perfectly happy with their own streets being two-way. When we do convert streets, we deform them so badly trying to maintain one-way traffic flows that they remain impassable to pedestrians - but we blame the two-way traffic, not the psychotic engineering.

Form and performance codes won't work in Hamilton because - actually, I don't know why they won't work, but I'm sure they won't, probably because of the farmland in Rockton.

By the way:

  • Dublin's Luas runs 34 kilometres, including far out into the suburbs. Here's a suburban street near Cherrywood station. (They look a bit like the suburbs around Carcassonne, incidentally.)

  • Aside from the downtown core, Dublin is (wait for it) overwhelmingly suburban. More than half of Dublin's population live in single family suburban homes in the larger metro area.

  • The densest part of Dublin's downtown core has a building form of 2-4 storey streetwalls with shops on the main floor and apartments upstairs - just like Hamilton's historic core. Except that in Dublin, they made sure to protect their historic buildings instead of demolishing them.

  • If you consider only the urban areas:

    • Dublin has a population of 500,000 in an area of 115 square kilometres
    • Hamilton has a population of 500,000 in an area of 228 square kilometres

Thanks to our zoning rules, Hamilton has too many vacant lands, derelict properties and surface parking. We've allowed a series of planning and investment decisions to undermine and destroy value in our built area, even as other cities are busy welcoming people back into their downtown centres. You seem to think Hamilton should just go on making the same decisions that have led us to where we are today.

Dublin takes a different view of planning in the downtown core than Hamilton:

That development should be encouraged in established centres and the redevelopment of underutilised and brownfield land in these areas should be promoted with a view to consolidating and adding vitality to existing centres, and ensuring the efficient use of urban lands thereby...

That intensification of development should be permitted adjacent and close to public transport nodes and corridors in order to maximise the use of public transport, to minimise trip generation and distribution and to promote sustainable development.

That traditional single use zoning can result in development that is largely two dimensional in character, i.e. large blocks of mono land uses. Dublin City Council recognises that a mix of uses is often more appropriate in urban areas, and that a mixed use or three dimensional approach by way of horizontal and vertical differentiation in land uses results in more animation and activity in urban areas. Such a zoning approach is therefore often appropriate in central locations, identified mixed use zones and in areas well served by public transport such as the main radial transportation routes. ...

The nature of Z5 (City Centre) and to a lesser extent Z6 (Employment/Enterprise) land uses zoning is such that a wide range of uses is permissible on individual sites with little assessment of the overall cumulative impact of such decisions. Consequently, the predominant use of these lands is dominated by market forces and switches between office and residential depending on the market. In practice, this approach has led to a relatively good spatial distribution of mixed land uses in the central parts of the city...

Fancy that.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-06-14 10:58:11

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2011 at 11:16:05 in reply to Comment 64878

Your own data tells us that Hamilton has half the density. Why do you keep trying to tell me that the density is the same?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 16, 2011 at 11:32:03 in reply to Comment 64917

I keep telling you that the building form is the same, but that our basket of regulations strongly disincentivizes building renovations and infill development. It's an easy problem to fix, given a modicum of political will.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-06-16 11:33:30

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:03:35 in reply to Comment 64878

I never said LRT would not work. I have said over and over again it is too expensive. We have the 2 - 4 story street walls that you claim but what is behind them. We have them on a few of our main streets for a few blocks. Even Main St. and King St. have single family houses not far from the core. Carcassonne and in fact most European cities have block after block after block of them. Look at a Google maps satellite view of Hamilton and Carcassonne. There is a striking difference. How many city blocks do we have that are completly built up from front to back from side to side. Virtually every square foot is developed. That is lacking here. So much of our cities were built after the 1920's after the automobile became a part of our lives. So much of European cities were built hundreds of years before, without any regard to automobiles. That is the difference.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 17:57:10 in reply to Comment 64881

Business-as-usual is so expensive that we now have an infrastructure deficit, meaning we can't afford to properly maintain what we've already built. However, rather than this being an argument AGAINST spending on LRT, it is most definitely an argument FOR LRT.

The money that would be spent on an LRT line would be paid back in infill, intensification and better utilization of our existing infrastructure. We can't afford to build out any more, and in fact we should have stopped years ago. Building IN is our only option remaining in the long term. The capital cost to build LRT is a drop in the bucket compared to how much we will lose if we continue business-as-usual.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 22:10:17 in reply to Comment 64885

Well said. There's no significant reason to invest along a bus route as it can be changed at any time. LRT is a little bit more permanent, therefore seen as an anchor for investments.

Of course it won't work in Hamilton...

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2011 at 10:32:58 in reply to Comment 64887

LRT is planned along the King - Main corridor. Can you imagine a scenario where the city decides to do away with buses along these two streets? I sure cannot and neither can almost anybody else.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 16, 2011 at 17:09:52 in reply to Comment 64916

They could always move the stops. They could remove the B-line service, there's all sorts of things that can change when all you have to do is move a little sign.

LRT is far more permanent and also more likely to encourage people to use it than buses, which means more pedestrian traffic. Which in turn leads to businesses investing in areas around these stops.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2011 at 23:35:02 in reply to Comment 64935

I guess all things are possible. If the bus stop gets moved a few yards, I do not see it really affecting anything. Stops are usually pretty close together anyway. I just do not see any scenario in the near to medium future where the B line would be cut. But I suppose nobody could say it was impossible. On the other hand nobody could say that making changes to LRT is impossible either. I do not see how LRT is really going to affect who takes transit in any kind of major way.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 18, 2011 at 07:50:18 in reply to Comment 64961

A few yards won't make any difference, a few blocks will. If the city decides that too many stops are slowing down service, they can be removed just by changing a sign.

LRT has attracted plenty of riders and billions in investment in other venues. The fact that you can't imagine it doesn't hold up against the successes it has had in places like Portland.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:45:07 in reply to Comment 64881

What frustrates me the most is that I keep debunking your claims, and yet you keep restating them in the next thread.

Carcassonne and in fact most European cities have block after block after block of them.

Aside from a small, moderately dense core, Carcassonne is block after block of single family houses. So is Dublin. So is Galway. So are most mid-sized European cities.

Virtually every square foot is developed. That is lacking here.

Yet you oppose changes that would actually promote exactly the kind of infill development that would restore downtown population density - the very changes that are already working in other North American cities whose leaders actually learn from past bad decisions to stop making them.

So much of our cities were built after the 1920's after the automobile became a part of our lives.

It's exactly the same overseas. In 1900, Europe has a population of 325 million. Today, Europe has 2.25 times as many people - 730 million as of 2009. More than half of Europe's urban area was built after the introduction of cars.

At the same time, Hamilton's downtown was built before cars became the dominant transportation mode - just like most European cities. Hamilton was founded 200 years ago, and the downtown core was platted, designed and built in the mid- to late-19th century. (And despite decades of abuse, downtown Hamilton has both the highest density in the city and plenty of room for further intensification.)

However, while European cities (and many North American cities) have spent the past few decades making a series of decisions about how to rebalance their transportation systems, Hamilton has mostly remained stuck doing the same things we've been doing since the end of WWII. Not surprisingly, we're still seeing the same results.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-06-14 13:07:30

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By James (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 10:57:09

A few other points that may or may not be relevant. I didn't read the transport study, but since municipal property taxes pay for maintaining city roads (including the DVP, Gardiner and all City of Toronto streets), the gas tax and other fees associated with automobile ownership do not pay for maintaining these municipal roads and a significant portion of these roads are paid for by non motorists through property taxes and rent.

Furthermore, our tax dollars were spent to bail out the big auto manufacturers (in 2008?), and the oil sands are subsidized by the federal government.

Not to mention that vast free parking that motorists enjoy all over Ontario that are also subsidized by non-motorists.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2011 at 12:59:26 in reply to Comment 64847

I am curious how are the tar sands subsidized by the feds?

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By Deedee (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2011 at 13:47:37 in reply to Comment 64894

The feds give around $2 billion in annual subsidies mostly via tax expenditures - fast depreciations, exploration and development expenses, sanctioned tax shelter etc - to oil companies, with most of it going to companies extracting oil from the Alberta tarsands because it's earmarked for high cost, high risk oil extraction.

The Alberta government pumps in another billion a year to tarsands developers.

A leaked internal memo from senior department of finance analysts argues that the industry doesn't "merit preferential treatment" and that Canada should phase out its subsidies.

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By SameOldSong (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 14:32:36

Where will you put all of this new expanded transit capacity? On which new rails will these high speed trains of the future run?
Who owns all the land on which the current trains run, and how can we add more rails?

Yes, the highways are congested. Yes we need more people to carpool.
If there was a solid plan in place, fully thought out, that had a start date and end date for when this new utopian transit system was going to be up and running, then people might buy in.
Currently it's a bunch of mostly non-car owning city dwellers proposing that people who commute to work need to pay more for the privilege, and no real solution.

The GO train is archaic and overpriced compared to any modern rail system in Europe or Asia.
Until someone suggests something even close to as cost effective and convenient as the automobile, toll roads aren't going to win any favor.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 15:15:21 in reply to Comment 64851

If there was a solid plan in place, fully thought out, that had a start date and end date for when this new utopian transit system was going to be up and running, then people might buy in.

There are many plans for improved transit in the GTA. Check

GO Transit is always taking on projects to improve its service. As painfully slow as the progress is, it isn't for lack of a plan. They know what the issues are, and they are constantly buying up or building sections of track, building overpasses and underpasses so their trains can run faster and more dependably.

While it is far from perfect, the Move Ontario 2020 plan includes electric multi-unit (faster) trains on Lakeshore, and all day, bidirectional service on all corridors in the long term. There are short, medium and long term plans. They are going ahead with projects that can be funded, but in the long term new funding sources must be found. Enter road tolls.

Experts seem to agree that the only way to reduce congestion is to put a price on it. According to this study: investing in more roads or public transit does not alleviate congestion, only road tolls will. When roads cost more, people will naturally demand better public transit, so it only makes sense to invest the revenue from toll roads there.

The GO train is archaic and overpriced compared to any modern rail system in Europe or Asia.

It is however the biggest commuter rail system in North America. With 80% fare recovery, no less. Imagine what they could do if properly funded?

toll roads aren't going to win any favor.

They are not popular, they're just necessary.

Comment edited by Jonathan Dalton on 2011-06-13 15:18:45

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By Bellow (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 14:40:23

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By Observer: who goeth (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 15:27:01

Who goeth, who payeth? Roads are paid for out of collective tax money (even the 407 was). Transit structure is also built from and by the collected public purse. Yes, each 'road-user' pays for her/his own vehicle, true--and for fuel, but everyone pays for transit vehicles. Still, all benefit from good transit--just ask the hundreds of employers in central Toronto whose good, reliable employees can get to work, and home again: no workers, no businesses. Good transit brings the customers too. The question for decades has been, why roads "free use," but not transit? Which driver forked over directly out of pocket for a road pot-hole fix lately--even in Hamilton? Supporters of private capital enterprise in big cities should be clamoring for transit that is as excellent and as relatively inexpensive to ride as possible--excellent transit is at least as much a public good as are 'good roads.' Solid arguments for even free transit have been made, for all the above reasons and more. [And don't start with the "frivolous use" that such 'cheap' or free transit would 'encourage. So What? Who never went out just for 'a drive'?]Yet any tolling of roads is deemed to be heretical speech--we paid already!! Transit users pay tolls on each use. The 'free road' could even be seen as a public benefit provided to drivers as reward for their purchasing vehicles--I've got my car, I'm free of the tyranny of transit fares because our roads are 'free!' Yay! The discussion will continue, but much of it will be the male equivalent of hysterical. More on another occasion, perhaps.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 15:45:31

How many more taxes (that's what a toll is) does RTH think the average family can afford? Does RTH see no issue with regular people paying more and more? I want people out of cars too, but I am not so willing to throw the cost burden on those who were duped into this costly and largely unnecessary system to begin with.

Who lobbied for these roads? Who lobbied for the suburbs that essentially force people to use these roads? How did so many of us end up commuting so far for work? When I was a kid that was largely unheard of. Did we make this choice freely? The modern road and highway system, like many other things masquerading as "societal benefits" really benefit and are subsidies to corporations. The subsidy of the automobile and the systems it relies on was not and is not a subsidy for the people. It is a corporate subsidy.

Maybe we shouldn't be driving an hour to work so we can sit in a cubicle just to send emails or talk on the phone? Maybe that's what is nuts? Maybe we need to think beyond taxes/fees on users? Maybe we need to examine why we actually do the things we do and fundamentally change the way our society operates rather than taxing things we want to control because they're destructive?

Why can we not encourage (force?) more companies to allow people to telecommute, allow flex shifts or provide incentive to employees to car pool? How about making the cost of owning a car higher rather than constantly raising the cost of operating a car? Seems to work in Singapore. Of course car companies sell fewer cars.

Why are we not intensely focusing on creating healthy, sustainable, local economies, where cars aren't needed?

I'm being a bit contrarian with this post to make a point but I think these are things people need to think about. Arguing about this issue in a car-user versus non-car-user (or suburban versus urban) context is somewhat flawed and omits the true beneficiaries of our road subsidies… corporations.

And if we really want anything to change we needed more and better mass transit yesterday.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2011 at 16:22:02 in reply to Comment 64857

How many more taxes (that's what a toll is)

A toll is not a tax. A toll is a user fee. A tax is what we call it when you have to pay for something no matter how much or little you use it.

I want people out of cars too

I want a balanced, multi-modal transportation system that gives people a variety of options and does not prioritize one mode over all others. From a car-centric point of view, I suppose that might be regarded as anti-car.

Did we make this choice freely?

It's the inevitable product of a particular regulatory environment that creates a large incentive to build segregated, single-use facilities on suburban and exurban greenfields and then drive everywhere, while at the same time creating a large disincentive on reinvestment in existing infrastructure. (Even the school funding formula reinforces this.) But when our choices are driven by these perverse incentives, we end up unhappy.

However, our system is neither inevitable nor cast in stone. It is the ongoing result of a whole series of conscious decisions. Every day we have decisions to make that either reinforce the status quo or change it. But if we point to the results of past decisions as an excuse not to make different decisions today, we ensure that nothing will ever change.

Why are we not intensely focusing on creating healthy, sustainable, local economies, where cars aren't needed?

We're trying - though I would argue again that the goal should be a balanced, multi-modal system in which driving is one choice among many options, depending on the nature of a given trip.

Arguing about this issue in a car-user versus non-car-user (or suburban versus urban) context

Who is arguing this way? I am both a car user and a non-car user, depending on where I'm going. I am both an urban and a suburban resident, depending on how you define the terms. (I live in an Edwardian semi in a streetcar suburb that was built 100 years ago.)

The people who are insisting on such a dichotomy are the people who want our system to continue catering overwhelmingly to cars at the expense of every other choice - who want the car to remain not just the primary way of getting around, but the only way of getting around.

And if we really want anything to change we needed more and better mass transit yesterday.

Amen, brother.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-06-13 16:41:57

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 23:35:13 in reply to Comment 64860

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:59:06 in reply to Comment 64872

How many times can you possibly reference your own articles in one new article? Is there some kind of record that you are trying to set?

This site has over 3000 articles and blog entries to choose from, going all the way back to 2004! Ryan is a gifted and talented writer with an intimate knowledge of his own past work. Ryan provides links, as any good author should, for our convenience and so he does not have to resell artifacts that have already been sold, ad museum? Plus this also keeps comments shorter and sweeter while adding voluptuous volume to a head columnist's medium.

Besides that, many of the older articles and blogs have yet to be rated by registered users since they were published before the voting system was created and enabled. This gives us a golden opportunity to post, date and rate RTH history during the pioneering days of Hamilton's premier social network; Or so IT is fabled...

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By Rufus (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 11:43:46 in reply to Comment 64879

It's the old problem, if you don't footnote every line you're making stuff up, but if you do you're being pedantic.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 20:56:20 in reply to Comment 64860

A tax is what we call it when you have to pay for something no matter how much or little you use it.

What if you have no choice but to use it? May as well be a tax. So I use that term... freely and loosely :)

But if we point to the results of past decisions as an excuse not to make different decisions today.

What I'm saying is that yes, there is an illusion we all ended up living the way we do through free will. But North American policies in the past 65 years have also lured us into our current mode of survival. The GI Bill in the US drove people into the suburbs, the highway construction and zoning policies were in place to ensure the type of housing choices people made were choices that benefitted the auto industry. People were going to end up living in the suburbs, there really was no choice. At the same time the media machine armed with new advances in propaganda and psychology kicked in and started selling a lifestyle that again benefitted the auto industry and the post-war capabilities of North American industry. You cannot discount the manipulative power of the exponential increases in media in those 65 years.

(You'll note I say North American a lot. As a dual citizen I have spent a fair amount of time on both sides of the border and I have seen how as Canadians we are so linked to the US and sadly we often follow them socially and politically. I even occasionally hear Canadians citing US rights and laws as our own. Their media is über-powerful.)

Yes people bought houses in the suburbs, yes big highways were built and yes people are still making bad decisions when it comes to vehicle and housing choices. But it has not had as much to do with the free will of the people as some would have you believe.

People were duped, set up into this lifestyle of suburban living, miles of open road and a V8 engine. Our governments, our corporations, our advertisers, think tanks, politicians and pundits, they all encouraged it and they bloody well knew why. It meant big bucks for them.

So now it sort of isn't really working out the way they'd all hoped and measures must be taken… NO DOUBT!

But when those measures end up once again on the backs of the people, I gotta at least put up a bit of a MB pissing match over it ; )

Who is arguing this way?

I've seen the debate reduced to this rhetoric on many occasions on many forums. Not accusing you of this Ryan.

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By policies (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 09:34:09 in reply to Comment 64868

>North American policies in the past 65 years have also lured us into our current mode of survival.

...and user fees for roads would be a change in policy that would work toward reversing the trend. I'm not sure what you are arguing here...

Obviously tolling every road is impossible. And tolling roads is not going to be the one and only solution. But it could be part of the change which balances the transportation choices.

What if road tolls were able to reduce the municipal tax levies for roads? Tolls could be intelligently designed so that average users would see no net change in the cost of driving, while those who never drive would pay less and those who drive more would pay more. A correctly designed system would alleviate the problem of overburdening the taxpayer. Since the net result should be fewer km driven across the board, there should be an overall reduction in road costs.

What if, instead of tolls, one paid a surcharge for kilometers driven over a certain amount upon plate renewal? Or better yet, renewal costs were raised slightly across the board in order to bring them closer to covering actual costs - but we also implemented a credit for keeping below a certain number of yearly kms? Carrot instead of stick....

People scream about how they can't "not drive", but that's simply a resistance to change. I used to commute from Hamilton to North York, but I got myself out of that nightmare by taking a risk and finding a lower paying job in Oakville. Then I quit that for an even lower paying job even closer.

My incentive was a recognition of terrible quality of life. Some people need a greater incentive to cut their commutes. Perhaps user fees on roads will be the magic moment that saves many from their two hour commutes...

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted June 17, 2011 at 20:06:45 in reply to Comment 64875

Seriously? why all the effort just to avoid the sensible thing, the one that makes all kinds of sense and best correlates what you pay with what you use?

It's called a gas tax at European (i.e. break even) levels.

And the correct amount of municipal tax revenue going to roads is zero.

btw excellent article Niicholas.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2011 at 16:05:43


Publicly-funded roads are a subsidy on automobile travel. Adding toll roads is not creating a tax, it is removing a subsidy. Removing that subsidy will free up tax money that can either be returned to the public in the form of a tax-cut, or can be used to directly help struggling families instead of indirectly helping them by letting them spend more time trapped in traffic.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 20:57:58 in reply to Comment 64858

Publicly-funded roads are a subsidy on automobile travel.

Which mainly benefits corporations.

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By SpaceMonkee (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 16:36:37

Using the logic presented above, shouldn't cross walks be coin operated?

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 17:52:11 in reply to Comment 64861

Only if green lights are as well. ;)

How much wear does a pedestrian put on the cross walk?

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 17:57:13

The quicker we dispose of the notion that its all-or-nothing in regards to transportation mode, the better. Automobile ownership, bicycle lanes, pedestrian only zones and light rail transit need not be mutually exclusive. There is room for all and the key is creating a balanced approach wherein the choice is available to use any and all of those modes.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 19:02:58

Note that the study also shows that municipalities pay half of the cost of road maintenance but only collect a small fraction of the road-related revenues.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2011 at 00:45:01

The reason we drive so much isn't just about how much money is spent (publicly and privately)) on cars, but how the costs are structured. Driving is in most ways a flat-rate cost. Once you've got the car, driving it doesn't cost much.

If you own a car, you can choose to walk, cycle or bus to work. But while you do that (and pay the associated costs), your car will sit at home costing you money. It will still cost money to buy (and finance), insure, park, and licence. Many of these costs would haunt you for some time even if you sold your car tomorrow. The "marginal cost" of driving, once of you've paid all this, is very low - $0.10-15 per km in gas and a few bucks to park. In town or to many neighbouring cities, this is cheaper than a bus ride - even if you're alone. With four people in your car and $3 all-day parking downtown, you're looking at just a buck each to come in and return from the 'burbs. What would the costs actually look like if you had to pay them all at once, per km? Probably a lot more like cab-fare.

Toll roads help shift the cost to a more per-trip price, which would cut down on driving by car owners. On the other hand, more expenses are the last thing many working families in the area need, so I don't blame people for frowning. Not necessarily a reason not to toll roads, but a damn good one to make sure it's matched with changes (like better transit) which save people money.

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 12:37:56

Any government that imposes tolls would be committing political suicide, it's as simple as that. Majority opinion rules not the minority views presented on this site.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 13:45:25 in reply to Comment 64882

Imagine the poor lemming in the middle in the middle of the group saying "Hey guys, I heard that there was a cliff ahead..."

The crowd around would say "Shut up and keep running."

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By andrewpmk (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2011 at 21:44:37

"[M]ost [motorists] have no realistic option except to drive to work or go shopping."

Chicken and egg problem. It is best to toll anyway because at least it will encourage people to drive less (by living closer to work for example) even if transit is not a viable option. Most people living and working near the 407 have little option but to drive (bus service is pretty bad around there) but nevertheless there is far less congestion on the 407 than the 401 because of the tolls. If we then apply this toll revenue to improve bus service and build subways/LRT/GO trains, it will incrementally reduce congestion further.

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