This is How You Deal With Congestion

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 14, 2012

Jonas Eliasson is the director of the Centre for Transport Studies at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology. In his TEDx Talk, How to solve traffic jams, he explains how he helped Stockholm to deal successfully with its traffic congestion.

Hint: it wasn't by adding more lanes.

I hope Metrolinx is paying attention as they prepare their Investment Strategy to pay for the next phase of their Regional Transportation Plan.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By TIH (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 14:27:10

Ya but this is HAMILTON, universal laws of human behavior don't work here.

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By johnny velvet (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 15:39:56

...taking some decongestants, drinking lots of fluids and getting some rest always works for me! :P

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By *snif* (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 18:18:25


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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:43:40

Thanks for this. Always interesting.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Fraser Institute cover some of the same territory recently:

Hearing McCuaig spitball $34 billion a couple of weeks back -- a conservative guess apparently gleaned from $50 billion Big Move price tag -- did not give me much hope for a frank funding conversation.

Scant months before TBM was being rolled out, Metrolinx’s own studies suggested an estimated investment gap (taking into account capital expansion, renewal and operations) of between $2.8 billion and $6.2 billion a year (after MoveOntario 2020 investments), which suggests that the agency could easily be staring at a funding gap at least $20 billion larger than the one it’s prepared to discuss.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 14:34:38

So what is your point? Do you want to start charging a fee to drive into Hamilton? I don't believe we have a particular congestion problem because we have a terrific road system. Do you want to destroy our road system that works really well to create a problem so then we can start charging drivers to solve the problem that was created?

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 16:04:38 in reply to Comment 83981

I think the point of this post is that such an idea might be well suited to some parts of the GTA, e.g. the 403, QEW, 401, DVP, 427 which are extremely congested. The money earned from a congestion charge could help Metrolinx fund their plans for expanding transit in the GTA, including LRT and subways in Toronto, Missisauga and Hamilton. If this guy is to believed, it would be a win for everyone, because we get reduced congestion, happier drivers and money for transit.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 08:07:26 in reply to Comment 83984

This won't work. This can't work.

To charge someone to drive to work is not something we do here. In the 70s (I think it was, may have been the 60s) we decided to have a gas tax instead of road tolls. Now you want to double-dip to get more money? Get real. I can't afford to live in Mississauga, nor do I want to. Transit from Hamilton to the East edge of Mississauga sucks and I'd love to take transit, but it isn't feasible. The reality is, North America is built around the car and Europe isn't. Can we transpose a European existence to ours? Not at this time.

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By J (registered) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 14:15:22 in reply to Comment 83995

the reality is that we are the most congested place in North America. Los Angeles is currently building 12 LRT and BRT lines. It is the height of stupidity to be sitting in traffic on highways. Maybe you enjoy it, but it is an absolutely senseless waste of money, time, and resources. There is nothing uniquely North American about sitting in traffic or being stupid, though we really are upping the ante.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 23:09:11 in reply to Comment 84003

Those lines you speak of are not for the City of Los Angeles but rather the County of Los Angeles. The county is huge and has a population of about 10 million. For example the line being started is from LAX into the City. This little 14 km line is expected to cost almost $2 Billion. The funding for all the LRT projects is a
1/2 % sales tax increase for 30 years in the county. A far cry from Hamilton isn't it.

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By J (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:55:27 in reply to Comment 84012

no it's not a far cry at all - in fact it's remarkably similar. Population of the GTHA is 7 million. One of the lines is exactly like LAX to the city, from Pearson to downtown. Phase 2 involves upgrading of Lakeshore west including electrification. This is exactly the model we should be following, and it's a harsh indictment that we've lagged behind the city that for 50 years has been the congestion capital of the world.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:46:06 in reply to Comment 84028

Comparing Los Angeles County to the GTA has some credibility but comparing it to Hamilton is downright silly.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 15:06:04 in reply to Comment 84003

Another sad reality is that Metrolinx's $50 billion master plan will more or less ensure that the current levels of congestion are the reality in 2031 -- but because traffic will have become truly abysmal in the intervening years, it will still be viewed as an improvement.

What will hopefully have realized great improvements by then is the speed and efficiency of transit:

"Nationally, users of public transit spent 44 minutes travelling to work, compared with 24 minutes for those who went by car. (Commuting times are door-to-door. Times for public transit are generally longer because its use can involve walking to a transit stop and waiting for a bus.)

In the six largest metropolitan areas, the average commuting time was 44 minutes for public transit users and 27 minutes by car. The gap in average commuting time was slightly larger in mid-sized metropolitan areas: 46 minutes on public transit and 23 minutes by car.

The gap was not a result of distance travelled. Among workers in CMAs with at least 250,000 residents who travelled less than 5 kilometres to work, car users had an average commute of 10 minutes, compared with 26 minutes for public transit users. The same held true for longer commutes."

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By Gamma Ray (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:32:17 in reply to Comment 84006

"Among workers in CMAs with at least 250,000 residents who travelled less than 5 kilometres to work, car users had an average commute of 10 minutes, compared with 26 minutes for public transit users."

Especially pertinent trade-off for a city of local commuters.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:06:45 in reply to Comment 83995

The idea that gas tax pays for road usage is a myth. According to the latest Transport Canada data, the three levels of government collected in total $15.5 billion in taxes and user fees from road users. However, during the same period, they spent $28.9 billion to maintain and build roads. (See table G5 p. A66)

The reality is that over $13 billion, or a large percentage of our annual fiscal deficit, is a direct consequence of over-subsidizing driving in this country. Charging road users for their usage isn't "double dipping" at all, it is merely bringing about the kind of fiscal discipline that is absolutely necessary to avoid leaving future generations in a massive hole.

The video Ryan linked to cites incentives as having an impact on behavior. It is precisely these incentives that have led to roads becoming over-congested.

Comment edited by arienc on 2012-12-16 10:11:41

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:52:33 in reply to Comment 83999

When you take a close look at the auto industry another picture takes form. In order to make cars iron ore must be mined. This mining ads dollars to the economy and to the government coffers. The iron ore must be made into steel. Again this ads to the economy and to government finances. The list is almost endless. Why do you think the various governments fall all over themselves to attract automakers? The manufacture sales and repairs of vehicles is a driving force in our economy one without which the governments would be broke. So don't go whining about how drivers don't pay their own way. Those same streets by the way are what allows all the goods that you and I use to get to the stores wherever we buy them. Those streets are also used by buses and emergency vehicles. This war on cars and driving is counter productive.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 07:24:42 in reply to Comment 83999

It's not a myth. It's the reality. Perhaps the issue is more that either the gas tax has not been properly spent, is being spent in the wrong places, or the growth of roads etc has outpaced the tax use.

The only thing that's never talked about by those who are so high and mighty against driving is that if I take a GO bus from the TH&B to Square One, will I be paying an additional fee on my ticket as I'm using the road? What if I take a city bus from Square One to work? Another fee? What if I ride my bike? Is that a different fee?

ALL these things must be taken into consideration. You can't just say "we must tax and tax and tax and tax and tax" to make the problem go away.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 17:55:44 in reply to Comment 83984

I am guessing -- and on this I may well be out to a late lunch -- but I'm guessing spoils might get dispersed asymmetrically, so that the area that is habitually congested (let's say, Dorval to the Don Valley) has a more substantial transit investment, and the 416 also benefits from a funding line to bankroll light-year transit upgrades.

Doug Ford is all for tolls on the Gardiner, so that's a start, right?

The CivicAction's projections on funding mechanisms seem to indicate that road tolls are just one of several options that would be required. They have projected that "Road Tolls on GTHA Freeways (400 series highways and municipal controlled-access highways)", using tolls of 10¢-20¢ per kilometer, would generate revenues of $1 billion to $2 billion a year. Of course, the toll will act as a disincentive, so it will reduce traffic somewhat and soften revenue streams, so they'll need another measure. Or two, or three or more.

Metrolinx has already had these options on the table for quite a while.

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By BK (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 08:47:40

Hamilton to Toronto: $10 by GO or $7-14 in highway tolls will make for some choice talk radio, if nothing else.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2012 at 14:23:43

I'd love to take GO to work. Unfortunately the schedule sucks and would get me to work 48 minutes after I'm supposed to start. So i drive.

No choice

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By g (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 21:45:43 in reply to Comment 84005

that may be true, but again the whole point is that you don't need to nudge many people in the direction of public transit, or relocating, or changing jobs, or car pooling, or going to work another route, or at a different time, or any of the other unknown ways that people would subtly change their behaviour. it might not work for you, but the person stuck sitting in traffic next to you might reconsider their situation. it kind of blows my mind that any driver that has sat in traffic even once a month wouldn't be howling for tolls. the government is spending way more than $30 of your money a month trying to deal with too many cars on the road anyway, why not actually enjoy having smooth flowing traffic for the same cost.

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By g (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 21:40:25

anyone who sits in traffic is already paying a toll. time equals money. is half an hour of time wasted in traffic worth $1 to you? $2? $5? we all pay for congestion, the point of this ted talk is how to ACTUALLY reduce congestion, not figuring out how to penalize drivers.

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By Funny (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 00:35:54

The Skyway Bridge was tolled for years after it opened. I have old tokens to prove it.
It's funny that 1960's thinking about transportation infrastructure is so pervasive here, except when it come to how to pay for it.

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By Gamma Ray (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 06:14:39

User-fee thinking can cut both ways. For example, I believe that the UPASS for the Vancouver CMA costs students $30/mo (contra Mac/Mohawk's $12/mo). Factored out over tens of thousands of users, I'm sure that goes a way toward making their RT system fare-rational.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 09:43:25 in reply to Comment 84014

Keep in mind though that Vancouver's transit is worth paying for. Ours is largely a joke after decades of being gutted.

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By Gamma Ray (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:12:36 in reply to Comment 84023

Vancouver's ownership/operational model seems a little different than the HSR. That and we haven't hosted an Expo or an Olympic Games. Yet.

Aside from those quibbles, I wonder if Hamilton's UPASS loss-leader isn't something of an anachronism in the age of "fare parity".

Consider: There are upwards of 30,000 students spread between Mac and Mohawk that use the 8-month UPASS. The cost for that, if I'm not mistaken, is around $122 per, roughly 18% of the going rate. That puts $4 million into the HSR coffers, around $16,500 daily for eight months -- 6,500 adult cash fares daily.

This is relevant if for no other reason that because this is a sizable chunk of the ridership that is being used to rationalize the B-Line LRT. As Metrolinx/Presto consume the HSR's monthly pass, who's to say that UPASS isn't next on deck?

These dealings are never less than interesting.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 14:13:18 in reply to Comment 84034

It is important to remember that ALL students pay the cost of the UPASS, whether they use the bus or not (many students don't even live in Hamilton).

This means that the true discount per user is much less than the savings of the UPASS over the regular pass. It is more the case of some students subsidizing others than a heavy subsidy of students by the HSR.

In any case, it is pretty standard to offer special rates on transit to students, just as lower rates are offered to seniors.

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By Page Six (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 10:13:04 in reply to Comment 84041

HSR criteria should include poverty

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By Gamma Ray (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 15:02:05 in reply to Comment 84041

Oh, absolutely.

And the number is low enough at present that everyone can swallow it. But if it comes to a premium twice as high, as it has with Vancouver's UPASS, I would imagine that MSU referenda will grow considerably more spicy.

The Metrolinx/Presto transition is another unknown and presents ample opportunity to recalibrate fare rates. And also to attach numbers to campus ridership, something that it seems to be entirely absent from the HSR's business analysis (such as it is). Unless someone can point me to a evidence-driven report that can put a shape on student ridership numbers (daily/monthly/semester/term).

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 15:57:09 in reply to Comment 84043

This is one really good feature of moving everyone to Presto: HSR will finally get better and more up to date ridership numbers.

It is hard to optimize the service when there is so little real data on ridership by route and time of day and time of year.

The Main/King corridor is by far the busiest part of the HSR network and most of that is McMaster traffic (probably underestimated since rush-hour buses are mostly over-capacity).

Demonstrating large numbers of university student riders might help with HSR advertising inside the buses (currently pretty minimal), since this demographic is one of the most valuable to advertisers.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 20:04:34 in reply to Comment 84045

Percent of buses over capacity in highest peak (at any point on route):

03 Cannon: 50.00%
41 Mohawk: 50.00%
25 Upper Wentworth: 20.00%
02 Barton 16.67%
51 University: 15.38%
01 King: 12.50%
10 B-Line: 11.11%

No other routes were found to exceed capacity at peak.

Average load:

51 University: 20.6
25 Upper Wentworth: 16.7
02 Barton 16.4
41 Mohawk: 16.3
03 Cannon: 15.1
01 King: 15.0
10 B-Line: 13.8
05 Delaware: 13.2
21 Upper Kenilworth: 12.5

All other routes averaged fewer than the system average: 12.1 riders.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 15:52:06 in reply to Comment 84043

Don’t hold your breath for an spit-and-polish TTC-style Annual Report, but here are some stats that IBI Group observed in their March 2010 report:

Page 37 / Exhibit 3-21: Boardings by fare type: U-Pass constituted 430,963 boardings a month: 388,584 weekdays, 23,604 Saturdays and 18,775 Sundays.

Page 38 / Exhibit 3-22: Observed Pass Use Factor by Pass Type

Page 39 / “In summary, HSR has experienced a shift in fare payment such that passes now make up 60% of revenue trips in large part to the implementation of U-Pass, which added over 23,800 active passes each month to the transit system. Furthermore, not only is there an increase in the number of active passes, the number of times a pass is used each month is higher than previously assumed. The effect is an increase in the overall number of revenue trips and HSR ridership.”

Page 40 / Exhibit 3-25 shows that Revenue Boardings represent around two-thirds of total boardings.

Page 41 / “The Exhibit [3-218] shows that HSR has the third-lowest (and hence third-best) cost per passenger at $2.80, but it has one of the lowest (and hence worst) mean fares at $1.37 per passenger.”

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 16:05:44 in reply to Comment 84044

One of the little known facts about the Voluntary Pay scheme has been forgotten in the debate over how much blind users should pay.

I was invited to participate in a focus group for the IBI report, and a visually impaired participant complained about the "four legged cane scam" and suggested the HSR could save a lot of money by stopping it.

Under the "Voluntary Pay" scheme anyone who boards with a four-legged cane can ride for free. So, for the price of a cane (as little as $20) the dishonest get unlimited free bus rides.

Since then I have seen this scam in operation numerous times in downtown Hamilton: someone gets off the bus with a four-legged cane and as soon as the bus pulls away they walk off briskly with the cane tucked under their arm! This explains in part why you see so many people with four-legged canes waiting for the bus in downtown Hamilton ...

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-12-17 16:06:20

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:35:44 in reply to Comment 84023

Ah, but which comes first, do we raise the fares to generate revenue to improve the system, or do we find another source of cash to improve the system and then raise fares to generate revenue to support the maintenance of the improved system?

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By mainstreet (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 09:21:38

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 09:39:36 in reply to Comment 84021

Nice troll, mainstreet. Try to figure out what the difference in public cost might be between riding a bike and driving a car...

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