Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NYC considering congestion pricing -- could TO be next?

An op-ed piece in today's NYT talks about the general concept of congestion pricing for lower Manhattan and how the hold-up appears to be the details of how to implement it. It has worked very well for such places as London, Stockholm and Singapore and there's no reason why America's biggest city would not benefit from reduced traffic provided it came along with major transit improvements.

If NYC manages to put it through and it succeeds it could be a template for other North American cities. One city with chronic problems, of course, is Toronto. It may very well be useful to have downtown tolls for peak periods.

There are two issues: One, an extensive system of cameras and transponder gantries would have to be set up -- and ways would have to be found to ensure accurate tolling. Transponders for the 407 could be used to this purpose however anyone who drives the 407 or has an EZ Pass in the Northeast or Upper Mid-West US knows that inaccurate billing happens. (It has to me, although it was worked out.)

Second, where does one draw the boundaries? Should Bloor be the northern boundary, or Eglinton? On the west side, should it be Bathurst or the Humber? And once it's implemented, who gets to decide if the boundaries should be expanded? A recent expansion of the zone in London, well into residential areas, was extremely unpopular. Do people residing in the zone have to pay the full charge or do they get a discount as in London?

Also needing consideration is through traffic -- should people who travel only on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkways to and from the QEW and the 404 or 401 respectively be nicked as well, or does the toll incur the moment one hits any of the entrance or exit ramps?

Since Ottawa has absolutely no intention to implement even rational pollution standards, it will be up to the provinces to do so. I'd like to see Toronto take the lead. If it reduces traffic even by 20%, that will mean faster public transit as well as lower insurance premiums for everyone.

Sidebar: It's time to harmonize the 407 and EZ Pass systems. A lot of us cross the border quite frequently and with currencies at or near par it would be kind of nice not to have to fumble for change or grab a ticket -- again, saving on emissions over stop and go.

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