Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Toronto Congestion Costs $3.3 Billion Annually: OECD
A recent report by the OECD found that congestion in Toronto costs $3.3 billion dollars in lost productivity every year. This problem is not unique to Toronto. The Texas Transportation Institute found that congestion costs each American commuter $750 in lost productivity and wasted fuel per year, and added nearly the equivalent of a full week of sitting in traffic every year. While the OECD recommends increased public transit funding as one part of the solution, they are also recommending the two main policy measures that free market economists tend to encourage for reducing congestion: tolling, and congestion pricing.
Toll roads are obviously familiar to Torontonians, as the city is home to one of the most successful toll roads on earth. The sale of Highway 407 generated $3.1 billion dollars for the Ontario government, and has saved taxpayers over $2 billion dollars in operating costs since 1999. Moreover, the private sectors has shelled out over $1 billion in lane extensions, lane expansions, and interchanges.
While the 407 is widely regarded as a financial success, it is easy to overlook the positive impact it has had both on reducing commute times, and on reducing carbon emissions. An independant study in York region found that using the 407 saves the average commuter 33 minutes for a 42 kilometer commute. Furthermore, the average 407 commuter emits 5 tons of c02 per year, compared with 9 tons for the average Highway 7 commuter.
Toronto has not yet attempted congestion pricing on city streets, though there are plenty of jurisdictions that the city can learn from. The most famous example is in London, where congestion pricing was introduced to downtown in February of 2003. Congestion has since decreased by 30%, and c02 emissions have decreased by 20%.
Tolling and congestion pricing are issues that could create consensus between fiscal conservatives, conservationists, and commuters. Surprisingly, and to his credit, David Miller seems to support toll roads, though Metrolinx (the regional transit agency) appears to be standing in the way of any potential expansion of toll roads. If an openly socialist mayor is willing to support toll roads, there is no reason why fiscal conservatives should demand anything less from whomever they support in the 2010 municipal election.