Ontario to build more HOV lanes and convert some to high occupany toll lanes.
Toronto road pricing expert Bern Grush calls high occupany toll (HOT) lanes “training pants for road users.”
They can help manage traffic and they can change the way people think about driving.
“It’s a way for people to start understanding that paying for roads makes sense,” says Grush of Applied Telemetrics.
What HOT lanes won’t do, he says, is pay for Metrolinx’s Big Move regional transportation plan, estimated to require a $2 billion annual investment in public transit improvements to reduce Toronto area gridlock.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced in Thursday’s provincial budget that high occupancy vehicle lanes will more than double around the region. He offered no details, however, on where or when they will be installed.
But he did commit to turning at least some of them into HOT lanes with an expectation of raising $200 million to $300 million a year. Metrolinx has put the revenue potential of HOT lanes at $160 million to $250 million.
A report from the city and board of trade on taxes that could be dedicated to transit, says HOT lanes would raise between $25 million and $45 million.
Here’s how HOT lanes work: Cars carrying more than one person can still access the HOV lanes for free. But single-occupant cars can also use those lanes in exchange for paying a toll.
The flaw in Ontario’s plan, says Grush is that, with the population expected to grow significantly in the next 20 years, there won’t be enough lane space in the HOV lanes to make them attractive.
To make money and manage congestion, he says, the free use of HOT lanes should be confined to cars carrying at least three people, instead of the current rule that allows two.
Ontario government statistics show there is car capacity in existing HOV lanes on the QEW, Highway 404 and Highway 403. The eastbound 403 carries about 5,750 cars per hour in regular lanes in the morning rush. The HOV lane carries 1,100.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath disparaged the HOT lanes as “Lexus lanes” available only to those who can afford to pay.
“The one thing (in the budget) that’s supposed to be about transit isn’t really about transit. It discourages people from taking transit and it creates Lexus lanes in the province,” she said.
But Sousa says HOT lanes are about offering transportation alternatives.
“We want to be able to offer choice to those who choose to use them and pay for them,” he said.
Grush points out that HOT lanes, managed properly, also benefit regular lane users by syphoning some cars off the regular lanes of traffic.
But if too many people use them, they have to be priced higher.
“The HOV user now has a little bit of competition so the government now has to ease those numbers by putting up a sign that says it’s 20 cents a kilometre. A little bit later it gets full so you put up a sign that says it’s 30 cents a kilometre because it’s not fair to the HOV drivers,” he said.