How do you change almost $1 billion a year in lost money and productivity into tens of millions of dollars for government coffers?
First, scrap the inefficient HOV lanes serving Metro Vancouver, says a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute. Then redesignate them as HOT lanes - high occupancy toll lanes - and set a range of prices that varies with time of day and with traffic volume for anyone who wants to pay for the privilege of faster speeds and shorter commutes.
Wasted fuel and wasted time caused by traffic congestion costs about $5.2 billion in Canada's five major cities - $927 million just in Vancouver, says the study's author, Benjamin Dachis. This works out to an average cost here of $466 per capita, second only to the $473 figure in Toronto-Hamilton.
If Metro's 74 kilometres of existing or planned HOV lanes on the TransCanada were converted into HOT lanes, which usually let high occupancy vehicles travel for free while other drivers who use them pay a toll, this could - under one realistic scenario - bring in $81 million a year, Dachis says.
Or it could be more - or less. In real life, the amount depends on how much drivers choose to pay. The cost of a trip can vary considerably - in Los Angeles, for example, the peak rush-hour price is roughly seven times the off-peak price. So for his calculations, Dachis looked at "a politically acceptable level" - the 23-centsa-kilometre charged to use a major Toronto toll road during peak hours, and half that at non-peak.
The tolls would be collected either through transponders, or photo-recognition of licence plates. This means the cost of conversion could be kept low, and the net revenue from almost any level of tolls would likely be substantial.
This money is needed. Canada-wide, net revenue related to highway usage has inched up over the past decade from just over $13 billion a year to just over $15 billion. Yet expenditures on roads by all levels of government have soared from roughly equal to this annual revenue to almost double.
These numbers effectively skewer the frequent argument that tolls represent double taxation because a portion of drivers' taxes already goes to build and maintain roads.
In fact, Dachis says, "Gas taxes, vehicle licences and other revenues from drivers, which do little to curb congestion, only covered 53 per cent of roadway expenses."
And because HOT lanes preserve a free option - the lanes that are not designated for HOV - governments sensitive to voter backlash "can achieve the benefits of road pricing, while still being politically palatable."
The price for HOT lane use, which is prominently posted at the points where drivers can access the lane if they wish, varies with traffic flow.
The worse the congestion on the free lanes, the higher the price - and the higher the number of drivers who might be tempted to pay for a faster trip. And the more who choose the HOT lanes, the less congestion remains on the free ones, thus setting the stage for the price to move back down.
The experience of the nine American cities that have adopted the system shows the price-use balance works itself out quickly, and traffic flows faster in both kinds of lanes.
Meanwhile, existing HOV lanes are often under-used, leaving greater-than-necessary congestion in the regular lanes.
Yet at other times they also might be over-used, thus diminishing their benefits.
A couple other lessons from cities that have adopted HOT lanes are instructive.
First, these lanes don't necessarily favour only those who can afford to pay the toll because they also speed up public transit. As well, a study has found that lower-income drivers tend to value their travel time more than middle-income drivers do, meaning they're more likely to use the HOT lane. And both high-and low-income drivers use HOT lanes only on occasion, mostly when their trips are urgent.
Finally, surveys of drivers on highways with HOT lanes find that most users of both free and tolled lanes approve road tolls, and that approval ratings increase as drivers become more familiar with the benefits of HOT lanes.
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Opinion+...#ixzz1Wi9LG6vg