Motorists getting used to free high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes now in use for the Pan Am Games should prepare for high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in the future, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday.
The HOT system would allow motorists who don’t have enough passengers in their vehicles to pay a toll and use the speedier lanes to get where they’re going.
While it’s too early to say which highways will get HOT lanes or when that will happen, they will be an “important source of revenue” to help bankroll a 10-year, $130-billion plan to improve public transit and reduce severe traffic congestion plaguing the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Wynne said.
It’s unlikely the expanded network of Pan Am HOV lanes will all become optional toll highways, the premier suggested, after a meeting with Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“Whether the configurations that have been put in place on provincial roads for the Pan Am Games are exactly what will transpire when we put in place the HOT lanes, that’s not our plan at this moment,” she told reporters.
The lanes are now restricted to vehicles with at least three occupants, along with taxis and buses. During the ParaPan Am Games, vehicles will have to have at least two occupants in HOV lanes to avoid traffic fines from police.
The HOT lanes have been promised in the last two provincial budgets.
For his part, Tory seemed cool to the idea of HOT lanes on Toronto highways such as the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.
“If there’s any frustration that I’ve heard, it’s that the HOV lanes during Pan Am have been underutilized … the lesson for us all now is to take lessons.”
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca challenged Tory’s point on HOV lanes, saying they’re intended to make sure Pan Am athletes and officials “can travel around the region and get to the venues on time,” not strictly for ordinary motorists.
“I think from that standpoint they’ve been very successful.”
Tory said he wants to see traffic statistics after the Pan Am and ParaPan games are over.
Ontario has 235 kilometres of HOV lanes for Pan Am, up from 85 km previously. Those extra kilometres of HOV lanes will end with the closing of the ParaPan Am Games later in August.
More HOV lanes are planned for extensions and widening of highways such as the 401, 427 and 410.
Data from the Pan Am HOV experience “will help inform the decisions we will make” on HOT lanes, he added.
Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris (Kitchener-Conestoga) said HOT lanes are a bad idea.
“Taxpayers of Ontario have already paid for these roads where HOT lane tolls will be levied. Now the Wynne Liberals want us to pay again for the privilege of driving on our own roads,” said Harris, his party’s transportation critic.