Pricing Toronto’s roads: Looks like I have some ’splainin’ to do
Toronto Life’s April issue is now on newsstands and includes a column by me that lays out the case for road tolls in the GTA—a surprise, perhaps, to anyone who’s been reading this blog long enough to remember when I used to rail against the idea. Among those smirking with satisfaction will be fellow Toronto freelancer John Lorinc, a long-time proponent of road pricing who once challenged me to a blogger’s debate on the issue. I said I’d take him up on it, then never did; I preferred to change my mind without being hectored into it. Except that I haven’t really been converted to the idea. I’ve just become resigned to it.
What has always annoyed me about the road-pricing debate is the assumption that Toronto’s downtown core is on par with those of such top-tier cities as New York and London, which I don’t believe it is. Toronto’s core is not a job-creation juggernaut that is so hyper-dominant in its region that motorists can be extorted every time they need to drive into it. The road-pricing ideas I opposed last year are still the ones I oppose now, namely any “fortress Toronto” scheme that puts toll walls around the city and charges outsiders for the privilege of entering.
A London-style downtown congestion charge is the wrong solution for this town. I feel much the same way about a broader “cordon” toll of the 401, 427, Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, which is just an extra-large downtown congestion charge and which, though it might keep cars out of Toronto, would do precious little to keep people out of their cars. And isn’t that the whole point? If you want to change people’s behaviour through road pricing, you’ll need the scheme to extend as close to every driveway as possible. You’ll certainly need to price more than just four roads, and you’ll need to price roads throughout the whole Golden Horseshoe.
In the end, the idea that we can reduce the number of cars on the road is a pipe dream. Here’s how the future looks to me: 30 years from now, the GTA will have grown by 2.6 million people, there will be toll roads throughout the region, more people will be taking transit and cycling to work, and there will still be more cars on the road than ever before. Oh, and all our vehicles will be emissions-free, so there will no longer be any environmental guilt about driving. This is why I am resigned to the idea that road pricing is inevitable: if politicians don’t implement them soon, they will lose one of their most potent political arguments for imposing them.