Dear Mayor Watson and City Councillors,
A public conversation is happening in Ottawa about how our streets can be made safe for all. Last month, hundreds took part in a silent bike ride following the tragic death of a cyclist on Laurier Avenue, in front of City Hall. People are speaking up in the mainstream media, on social media and in messages to you, their representatives. It’s clear that many in our community want change.
Two important motions to protect everyone who uses our streets are coming to Council on June 12. The first calls for Council to adopt a strong Vision Zero policy and make immediate changes to protect vulnerable road users. The second asks Council to dedicate the $57-million federal gas tax transfer to making our cycling network safe.
We ask that you pass both motions in full and begin the urgent work needed to make our streets safe for all. It’s a matter of public health.
A strong Vision Zero policy, properly funded, would improve the health of our community in several ways.
Many municipalities in Canada and around the world have already adopted Vision Zero— an ethical approach to transportation that makes safety the top priority. Under Vision Zero, no deaths or serious injuries are acceptable, and the transportation system is designed to prevent them.
Bringing Ottawa’s streets up to the Vision Zero standard would save lives and prevent life-changing injuries that result from collisions. No one should be at risk of death or serious injury on our streets.
But the health benefits wouldn’t stop there. A Vision Zero approach would also encourage the active modes of transportation that make us, our communities and our environments healthier.
An investment in Vision Zero streets is an investment in the health of our children and youth. The expert statement in the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth—the most comprehensive assessment of child and youth physical activity in Canada—notes that active children and youth are healthier, with improved heart, bone and muscle health, as well as a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes. These experts also point to evidence that active children and youth think better, learn better, and have better emotional, psychological and social well-being.
Sadly, the Report Card revealed a grade of D− for active transportation among children and youth in Canada—much worse than the global average of C. Only 21% of 5- to 19-year-olds in Canada typically use active modes of transportation to get to and from school. The numbers for Ottawa aren’t any more encouraging: the Ottawa Community Wellbeing Report 2018 noted that only 25% of 12- to 17-year-olds in our city get the recommended amount of physical activity each day—the equivalent of a D− grade.
What would happen to these numbers if Vision Zero routes for children and youth to walk and bike to schools, community and recreation centres, parks, and other places, were a priority?
The shift to Vision Zero will require significant financial resources. It is a necessary investment in public health and safety with a substantial return. The Ottawa Cycling Plan, for example, cites an estimate from Ottawa Public Health that a 5% increase in the city’s cycling mode share can result in an annual benefit of $16 million. We need much more of this kind of broad analysis to inform spending at all levels of government.
The shift to Vision Zero will also require long-term, forward thinking and leadership (“vision”!). We ask you to lead now by passing the two safe streets motions in full on June 12. The result will be a safer and healthier city.
Richard Annett, Executive Director, Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre
Naini Cloutier, Executive Director, Somerset West Community Health Centre
David Gibson, Executive Director, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
Simone Thibault, Executive Director, Centretown Community Health Centre
Mark Tremblay, Director, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute; Professor and Scientist, Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa; President, Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance
Michelle Perry, Member-at-Large, Board of Directors, Healthy Transportation Coalition
So, OC Transpo staff have responded with a memo in response to Councilor Mckenney's question regarding trialing electric transit buses in Ottawa. The memo reads like a typical government document written by a bureaucracy looking for every way they can to justify the status quo (in this case, a 100% diesel bus fleet). OC Transpo says they'll watch what other cities are doing and maybe get around to trialing a few buses in 2025. Meanwhile, 14 global cities (including Montreal) have committed to not buy any more diesel buses after 2025 (before OC Transpo even gets around to trying one out!). In Canada leading cities are well into trying out electric buses. These include Toronto (60 electric buses), Edmonton (50 electric buses), Montreal (40 electric buses). Where is Ottawa? For more info check out www.sustainable-bus.com
OC Transpo acknowledges that their buses generate 44% of all the City's corporate emissions but that fact and the recent declaration of a climate emergency doesn't seem to be enough to motivate them to do anything about this for 5 or more years. In fact over the 2018-2020 period OC Transpo is buying 300 brand new diesel buses. They say, bringing the LRT into service is good enough for now.
This memo goes on to trot out a litany of reasons why trialing electric buses would be complicated. Do we try out a bus with big batteries or small batteries?, how would we find space in our garage for the charging infrastructure? we need to train new mechanics, what if the electricity supply to the garage doesn't have enough charging capacity? (hmm no problem running 34 electric trains to the garage though!). They're more expensive so we'd have to study whether we'd save enough money in reduced diesel vs the cost of electricity. In short, this is too much for us to try and deal with right now.
Completely missing from this memo is any acknowledgement of the well known and well understood benefits of electric buses or of their rate of adoption by other transit agencies. The electricity costs per km of travel are easily 1/3 of the diesel costs per km of travel. Electric vehicles are quieter, smoother and more pleasant to ride in, dramatically less polluting, and simpler to maintain. One of the biggest challenges to electric vehicles, the limited range and extra time required to recharge (vs refilling a diesel tank) are much less of a factor for transit buses because the number of kms they need to travel in a day are nearly constant and well known and they can be recharged again each night. Transit buses are very high mileage vehicles with a predictable mileage per day usage pattern -- the perfect scenario for electric vehicles vs fossil fuel powered vehicles.
Maybe the biggest mistake was that OC Transpo was asked about a trial of such buses. What we need is just to get on with starting to migrate the bus fleet to electric. There are 385,000 electric buses in operation worldwide. This is a technology that is well beyond the trial stage. It's time to get on with it.
Traffic congestion. Parking problems. Collisions. Noise and air pollution. Unaffordability and inequity. Sedentary living. Social isolation. Ugly streetscapes. Fear of crime. These are modern plagues in our cities.
What will rid us of them? The status quo of expanding roadways? A widespread move to efficient/electric cars? No and no.
What we need is a shift from a single-minded focus on car travel to a multi-modal mindset that prioritizes the affordable and inclusive modes of transportation – cycling, walking and public transit.
This was the message Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI), gave to nearly 100 people gathered for a Planning & Transportation Equity workshop held recently by the Healthy Transportation Coalition.
Walking, cycling and public transit: overlooked and undervalued
One of three expert speakers at the event, Litman talked about how to plan for equity, affordability and community health.
Walking, cycling and public transit provide many benefits that are often overlooked or undervalued, according to Litman. He challenged us to apply the kind of comprehensive analysis of planning and transportation issues that the VTPI is well-known for.
And he provided a great example: a chart clearly showing what cycling, walking and public transit can do for a city (and where expanded roadways and efficient/electric cars fall short).
Litman also pointed to some fascinating research that demonstrates how prioritizing affordable and inclusive transportation modes solves not only environmental problems but also social and economic ones.
Inviting more walking and cycling in a city can reduce social isolation, for example. A survey in Vancouver showed that people travelling by foot or bike are much more likely to have a friendly social interaction than people travelling by car (with transit riders somewhere in the middle).
There is also evidence that transit-oriented cities are safer cities. Litman pointed to research from the US showing that transit-oriented cities have about half the traffic fatality rates as more automobile-oriented cities.
Litman also introduced the concept of affordable-accessible housing: inexpensive homes in compact, mixed-used, walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods with good transit service. Research from the US shows that housing and transportation account for more than half of all spending for all but the richest households – which is unaffordable. Often in Ottawa it’s an either/or: either affordable housing far from services, or expensive housing in a connected neighbourhood.
We can make Ottawa a walking, cycling and transit city
Right now, the City is updating a document that will determine the fate of the city for years to come: the Official Plan.
For equity, affordability and community health, the Official Plan needs to:
- Prioritize the affordable and inclusive modes of transportation: cycling, walking and public transit.
- End roadway expansions for car traffic and instead expand and improve the city’s walking, cycling and public transit networks.
- Stop the construction of car-dependent neighbourhoods and instead create more compact, mixed-use, walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods with good transit service and affordable housing.
You can tell the City what you want to see in the Official Plan through an online feedback form. But act soon -- the form is open only until June 30, 2019.
The Healthy Transportation Coalition has been working on transportation equity in Ottawa since 2014. And, we’ve won some important victories, working with our allies:
- the EquiPass, monthly & single-ride versions, offers a 50% discount on OC Transpo prices for people living on low incomes;
- 20 parcels of government-owned land should now be used to build affordable housing near rapid transit stations;
- in Budget 2019, we won a transit fare freeze on the Access, Community, and EquiPasses; and
- we've won some important pedestrian and cycling improvements in lower-income neighbourhoods.
In 2018, in partnership with the City for All Women Initiative, we conducted community consultations with equity-seeking groups to ask them what they think of transportation, planning and equity issues.
But if we are to continue to make progress, much more needs to be done.
Now is the time for you to tell the City how it can better address inequities here. How do you think the Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan need to be improved? Get engaged, visit the City’s Official Plan website, www.ottawa.ca/newop.
Other cities require companies like Uber and Lyft to provide wheelchair-accessible service. Why not Ottawa?
Here’s a scenario: you and a friend have spent a pleasant evening out. It’s late, and it’s cold, and so you both decide to splurge on a ride home. You live in different directions, so you’ll need two vehicles. You each request a vehicle, and after a short wait, your ride arrives.
Once home, you text your friend to make sure she got home safely and find out that she is still waiting in the cold! She uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, and there isn’t an accessible vehicle nearby.
There is a danger that this will become the new normal in Ottawa.
Against the advice of accessibility advocates, the City of Ottawa decided in 2016 not to require transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft to provide wheelchair-accessible service, as other cities do. Instead, the City decided to ask the companies for a voluntary surcharge that would go into an “accessibility fund” meant to improve accessibility in other ways.
The City’s consultants, KPMG, recommended that the accessibility surcharge be 30 cents per ride. Total surcharges for these companies in other cities are much higher: US$0.72 per ride in Chicago and US$2.75 in New York City.
Accessibility advocates have no shortage of ideas as to how money in the fund could be spent: when consulted by the City in 2018, they put forward 33 recommendations. The top priority was to increase the number of accessible vehicles. Also near the top of the list was creating an online, self-serve booking system for ParaTranspo.
Unfortunately, the accessibility surcharge has shrunk from the recommended 30 cents per ride to a mere 7 cents per ride — far too meager to make much of a difference. In fact, City staff have already warned accessibility advocates not to expect too much from the accessibility fund.
With the possibility that companies such as Uber will take over more of the market — diluting the already often inadequate service for people using motorized wheelchairs and scooters — that’s just not good enough. The KPMG report clearly sets out the risks:
The economics of the taxi industry have been changing with the introduction of new competition. In New York City there are reports of many taxis being parked because there is insufficient demand. Should that occur in Ottawa, the incentive could be to park the accessible vehicles first, as they are the most expensive to operate. There has already been concern expressed that accessible taxis may not be on the road as often as other taxis.
Other cities, including the City of Toronto, simply require companies such as Uber to provide wheelchair-accessible service with the same fees and wait-times as non-accessible service. We can do that here, too.
And in the short term, the very least the City can do is to increase the accessibility surcharge to 30 cents per ride or even more, so that we have the funds to take real steps to make transportation equitable for all — a very reasonable expectation in 2019.
Tell the Mayor and your City Councillor that you want:
- the accessibility surcharge for companies like Uber to be immediately increased to 30 cents per ride or more; and
- work to begin on requiring companies like Uber to provide wheelchair-accessible service at the same rates and wait-times as their non-accessible service.
You can also tell your Councillor in person that you expect action on this file at a budget 2019 consultation. Find out when your Councillor is holding one here.
Then ask your friends and neighbours to do the same!
Momentum Building in Bells Corners: 500 Residents Petition for Bike Lane and Speed Reduction on Moodie Drive
BIG changes are on the horizon in Bells Corners, all thanks to our committed group of volunteers and the united community of Bells Corners.
On July 22nd, the Healthy Transportation Coalition hosted a public event: Bells Corners Pop-Up Bike Lane & BBQ to demonstrate the residents of Bells Corners’ strong desires to have a safe, separated cycle track and speed reduction implemented on Moodie Drive. Working with City Councillor Rick Chiarelli, the event closed down two lanes of traffic on Moodie Drive in order to install a temporary bike line upon which residents of Bells Corners could cycle safely from 10AM-4PM. We wanted to demonstrate the pressing need for safe cycling infrastructure and a speed reduction on Moodie Drive. The widespread success of the event shattered our expectations.
More than 100 residents attended the event.
500 residents signed our petition, which asks the City to implement a separated cycle track and speed reduction on Moodie Drive.
CBC’s radio broadcast program, All in a Day interviewed Vice President of the Healthy Transportation Coalition, Trevor Haché, and Bells Corners resident, John Netto.
You can find the radio broadcast here: All in a Day Radio Segment
It is imperative that we capitalize on the momentum generated from our outpour of success. With City elections around the corner, the opportunity for the implementation of cycling infrastructure and speed reductions is imminent; in order to progress, we must act now.
To ensure that we can maintain momentum and achieve the separate cycle track and speed reduction on Moodie Drive, I encourage everyone to help our Bells Corners neighbours by:
Sending an email to City Councillor, Rick Chiarelli, urging him to prioritize our petition asks in current city planning initiatives. The link to the email can be found here.
Calling City Councillor, Rick Chiarelli to ask how he plans to implement the cycling infrastructure and a speed reduction, which has been clearly requested by 500 members of Bells Corners who have signed the petition.
We have ways to go before seeing the speed reduction and cycle tracks implemented on Moodie Drive, but if we work together to build from this momentum, we can make more progress, more quickly.
Toronto and Montreal are among the cities putting widespread 30 km/h speed limits in place to protect their residents. With its street-by-street approach, Ottawa lags behind.
Years ago, I asked for a reduction in the speed limit on a street my daughter takes to school, which has the city's default of 50 km/h. I knew that the Ontario Coroner had recommended lower speeds, and I had seen charts like this one (from Toronto Public Health):
We could change the limit, I was told, but it wouldn't slow anyone down – people will drive the speed they feel comfortable driving. This street had just been rebuilt in a way that made it very comfortable to drive at lethal speeds on a busy route to school. Any request for permanent traffic calming would require a long wait for an expensive study.
I tell this story because I can see the same thinking at the heart of the city's new 30 km/h speed limit policy, adopted last April: lowering the speed limit by itself is a useless gesture, and it is too difficult and expensive to enforce speed limits or physically calm traffic.
Would you like a 30 km/h street in your neighbourhood? First, submit an application. Staff will determine the operating speed – if it's 35 km/h or less, you'll get your 30. If speed is more of a problem, the street must meet a long list of criteria (no more than 2500 vehicles per day, no more than 3 buses per hour per direction, no wider than seven metres, etc.). Slower speeds must be popular on the street, because you'll need a petition showing that 66 percent of residents agree to the change.
(Councillor Jeff Leiper pointed out problems with the policy – “in the areas where we need the most help, this policy is not going to give it to us” – and secured a slight loosening of the restrictions to include more streets fronting schools.)
Other cities are taking much bolder action.
There are 30 km/h zones in more than 80 cities in the European Union; some are city-wide, such as in Graz, Austria, which became Europe's first 30 km/h city in 1992, and Dublin, Ireland, which moved to 30 in 2017. Pressure is building to expand 30 to even more urban areas.
Montreal will soon see sweeping speed limit reductions, including 30 on residential streets and some commercial streets (several Montreal boroughs already have 30 km/h residential limits; Plateau-Mont-Royal's date from 2015).
In Toronto, councillors representing more than 700,000 of the city's residents voted in 2015 to drop the speed limit to 30 on 387 km of streets under their jurisdiction. In doing so, they rejected a recommendation from city staff to adopt a restrictive, street-by-street policy.
These councillors took issue with the belief that lowering the speed limit alone was futile. Evidence was brought forward that signs alone will lead to decreases in operating speeds, and that even small reductions in speed would increase safety.
They saw the lower limit as a first step in managing speeds – setting a new standard that would make it easier to meet warrants for speed humps and other traffic calming, and make enforcement tougher with higher fines and points.
They also saw a widespread speed limit reduction as more equitable than a street-by-street approach: “We're going to make it right for everybody. You don't have to give us a petition in order to have a safe street at 30 km/h, as recommended by the Coroner” (Councillor Paula Fletcher).
Councillors felt an urgency to act: “We're not pretending that this is going to solve all ills .... but it's going to contribute, and we have to take every step, based on the evidence that we know to be true, to protect our communities” (Councillor Josh Matlow).
(This was before changes to Ontario legislation – championed by Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi – gave municipalities new powers to set speed limits and use automated speed enforcement.)
There is no excuse for Ottawa to delay taking similar action. To say we can't because all drivers won't immediately comply is to miss the point: setting lower, safer limits retools the system, so that streets like the one on my daughter's route to school are rebuilt to make slower speeds self-enforcing (with raised crosswalks, more pedestrian crossings, narrower lanes, etc.). It also simplifies traffic calming: no need for an expensive, time-consuming study when you already know the street should be slower – and the money saved can be put into speed humps and other measures.
For now, the trickle of safer streets in Ottawa has begun: the first 30km/h signs are up on Princeton Avenue in the leafy neighbourhood of Westboro, after 90 percent of residents on the street signed a petition supporting the change. Where the next signs pop up is anyone's guess.
Many members of the Healthy Transportation Coalition were pleased to voice support for the City of Ottawa to study the causes of traffic congestion and the full range of solutions.
After receiving the support of 70% of Transportation Committee members at the April 6th meeting, the matter was referred to City Council for consideration on April 13th.
City Councillor David Chernushenko, Transportation Committee Chair Keith Egli, and six other city councillors should be commended for their support of the proposal, but unfortunately a majority of council voted against it.
Click here to watch a video of the debate that occured at City Council on April 13, 2016.
As was mentioned in Metro Ottawa press coverage of the decision, not everyone was pleased with the outcome of the vote:
Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli said scrapping the study over fears of tolls does a disservice to Ottawa residents.
“We have to address (congestion) and the only way to do it is with knowledge and information.”
Instead, most councillors turned their backs on reason, said Trevor Hache, of the Healthy Transportation Coalition.
“They decided they didn’t even want the facts,” he said. “They didn’t even want to have the analysis of … the causes of congestion and possible solutions.”
A few days later, the Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely, a respected journalist that covers City Hall, wrote about how Mayor Jim Watson's positions on a lot of issues are 'simple and wrong' and his opposition to studying congestion pricing is "dumbest and saddest of all".
Below is documentation of the significant support that was voiced, at the Transportation Committee, by community organizations and individuals, in favour of the study proceeding:
- 14 community groups and 2 noteworthy individuals
- Centretown Community Health Centre
- Citizens' for Safe Cycling
- Champlain Park Community Association
- Ecology Ottawa
- Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee (and related PowerPoint)
- Geoff Stiles presentation
- Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital
- Healthy Transportation Coalition
- Old Ottawa East Community Association
- Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict
Support for Road Pricing. The idea of road pricing is gradually gaining support in Canada. For example, Ontario has announced a pilot project to turn High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes into High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, and the City of Toronto has just issued an RFP for consultants to study the technologies and impacts of road pricing on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. The topic is also being actively debated in Vancouver, where bridge tolls are already in effect, and in Calgary, where the provincial government has rejected this option, but strong counter-arguments are being presented.
In view of the increased interest in road pricing, it makes good sense for Ottawa to proceed with a study of road pricing options. A motion to undertake such a study is being brought forward at the 6 April meeting of the City’s Transportation Committee, and is expected to attract robust debate. It is important to emphasise that approving such a study does not bind Council to follow the study’s recommendations, but can provide useful information for later decisions on road pricing and will ensure that any measures that may eventually be adopted are appropriate to Ottawa’s needs.
Canada’s Experience with Road Pricing. Compared to most European countries as well as the U.S., Canada has relatively few examples of road pricing, and most of these involve tolls for bridge or ferry crossings, not for roads.
Bridge tolls can in fact serve as a form of congestion pricing, since most examples in Canada involve tolling commuters travelling to and from the outlying suburbs and the city centre. However Canadian bridge tolls are usually seen as a means of covering construction costs only, and only rarely as a means of meeting ongoing maintenance costs. In short, they are not used strategically to reduce urban congestion.
In the case of road tolls, there are several instances in Ontario and Quebec where road tolls were discontinued after construction costs were covered, and only two roads in Canada where tolls have been used to meet maintenance costs—Highway 407 in Ontario and the Cobequid Pass Highway in Nova Scotia. Details of these are provided in the following sections.
The following is a list of bridge and road tolls in Canada, both existing and past.
Examples of bridge tolls:
1. Halifax harbour (Halifax-Dartmouth)
a. Toll location: both sides (tolls are one-way)
b. Amount of toll for passenger vehicles: $1.00 ($0.80 with MACPASS)
c. Amount of toll for trucks: $1.25-$2.00 ($1.07-$1.60 with MACPASS)
2. Canso Causeway: A toll was charged from 1955 to the early 1990s, then discontinued once the causeway constructions costs were paid for.
3. Confederation Bridge (NB-PEI)
a. Toll location: PEI side only (traffic leaving PEI)
b. Amount of toll for passenger vehicles: $46
c. Amount of toll for trucks: $46 plus $7.50 for each additional axle.
4. Serge-Marcil Bridge (Quebec Autoroute 30)
a. Toll location: Both sides
b. Amount of toll: $1.50
5. Olivier Charbonneau Bridge (Rivière des Prairies, Quebec)
a. Toll location: Both sides
b. Amount of toll: $1.80-$2.40 With transponder, $6.80-$7.40 with video capture.
6. Golden Ears Bridge (Vancouver/Fraser River)
a. Toll location: Both sides (electronic transponder and license plate recognition)
b. Amount of toll for passenger vehicles: $2.95-$4.20 (transponder vs plate recognition)
c. Amount of toll for trucks: $5.95-$10.05.
7. Port Mann Bridge (Coquitlam-Surrey/Fraser River)
a. Toll location: Both sides (electronic transponder and license plate recognition)
b. Amount of toll for passenger vehicles: $3.15
c. Amount of toll for trucks: $6.30-$9.45
The following international bridges (all in Ontario) are also tolled:
1. Ambassador Bridge
2. Blue Water Bridge
3. Fort Frances–International Falls International Bridge
4. International Bridge
5. Lewiston–Queenston Bridge
6. Ogdensburg–Prescott International Bridge
7. Peace Bridge
8. Rainbow Bridge
9. Seaway International Bridge
10. Thousand Islands Bridge
11. Whirlpool Rapids Bridge
Examples of tolled roads:
There are only two tolled roads in Canada:
1. Highway 407 in Ontario
a. Tolls: Range from $0.21 - $0.37 per kilometre depending on time of day and week for passenger vehicles, and from $0.43 to $1.11 per kilometre for heavy vehicles depending on time of day and week.
b. Toll collection is completely electronic, measuring entry and exit using either transponders or license plate recognition technology.
2. Cobequid Pass Highway in Nova Scotia
a. Tolls: $4.00 for passenger vehicles, $3.00 per axle for trucks
b. Toll collection is both manual and electronic.
By comparison, 26 US states have toll roads, totalling over 8,000 km as of 2015.
Examples of roads and bridges formerly tolled:
1. In Ontario:
a. Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway (Hamilton-Burlington): tolls collected from 1958 to 1973)
b. Garden City Skyway (St. Catherines): tolls collected from 1963 to 1973)
2. In Quebec:
a. Champlain Bridge
i. A new Champlain Bridge is under construction which was intended to be tolled; however the new federal Liberal government has decided not to impose tolls on this bridge.
b. Jacques Cartier Bridge
i. The structure was a toll bridge from its opening until 1962 and a toll plaza was located on the southern approach.
c. Laurentian Autoroute (Autoroute 15)
i. The first section from A-40 to Saint-Jérôme was opened in 1958 as a toll road, although the tolls were removed in 1985.
d. Eastern Autoroute (Autoroute 10)
i. Featured five toll stations (at current km 22, km 37, km 68, km 90, and km 115). Motorists were charged $1.50 to make the entire trip.
ii. Tolling was discontinued in 1985.
e. Chomedey Autoroute (Autoroute 13)
i. Built as a toll highway in 1975 with a goal to connect the two international airports, Mirabel and Dorval (now Trudeau International Airport). The freeway is mostly six-laned and tolls no longer apply.
Examples of Road Pricing in North America and Elsewhere
The recent study of road pricing by the Ecofiscal Commission includes several case studies which make useful reading. These include Single-Entity Pricing on Highway 407 in Ontario, High Occupancy Toll lanes in Minnesota, Zone-based Pricing in Stockholm, Distance-travelled Charges in Oregon, and Parking Pricing in San Francisco and Calgary. Each of these examples is assessed on the basis of “Lessons Learned” for future applications in Canada. Briefly, the study’s conclusions (summarised on page 17 of the report) are as follows:
1. Ontario’s 407 ETR illustrates that congestion pricing can work in Canada, and highlights the possible role of the private sector for program admin¬istration.
2. Minnesota’s experience demonstrates that converting HOV lanes into HOT lanes can offer drivers a congestion-free commute while still preserving a free alternative.
3. Stockholm’s congestion charge shows clearly that public acceptance can increase once people experience the benefits (for further details, see our separate blog on Stockholm on this website)
4. Oregon’s pilot projects show that technology is available to enable distance-based charging—whether the primary objective is increased revenues or reduced congestion.
5. San Francisco’s experiment with dynamic, demand-responsive parking pricing is an innovative example highlighting the role that parking price and availability plays in traffic congestion.
6. Calgary’s similar parking program demonstrates that Canadian cities can unilaterally use parking prices as part of a wider congestion-reduction strategy.
Ottawa’s recent decision to increase its emissions reduction target to 80% from 2012 levels by 2050 will require major changes to one sector in particular: transportation, currently responsible for 40% of the City’s community greenhouse gas emissions.
In a previous blog, Trevor Haché discussed how introducing congestion charges could help alleviate the City’s dependence on private vehicles and incidentally reduce the burden of road repair and maintenance. In this and subsequent blogs, I will look at experience with congestion charges in other cities.
As the previous blog mentioned, congestion charges have been (or are about to be) tried in various forms in a wide range of cities and countries, including a number of Canadian and U.S. cities, as well as in Europe and Asia. In addition to reducing congestion in inner cities, a major secondary benefit of these charges is revenue generation, and in particular creating revenue that can be used to offset the wear-and-tear of vehicle transport on the city’s roads—a major ongoing cost for both the city and the province. Congestion charges are also a very cost-effective way to incentivise the “modal shift” to public transport that Ottawa will need once its LRT network is implemented. And finally, they offer one solution to the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
But exactly how effective are congestion charges, and what experience from other jurisdictions could Ottawa use to ensure that the introduction of such charges will be successful? This blog tries to answer these questions by looking at a one city that has conducted a detailed post-implementation evaluation.
The best known example of congestion charges is Stockholm, which introduced road pricing on a provisional basis in 2006, and then on a more permanent basis in 2007. The provisional phase was intended to give citizens a chance to experience the effect of congestion charges--at a time when public resistance to the idea was considerable—before agreeing to institute them for the longer term. Following that phase, a referendum was held on the subject, which passed by a substantial majority. The charging system consists of a cordon around the inner city, with a time‐differentiated toll being charged in each direction. According to a recent analysis, traffic across the cordon has been reduced by around 20%, leading to substantial congestion reductions in and around the city.
It is useful to compare Stockholm’s situation with Ottawa’s, since the first objection to such comparative analyses is that cities are unique and such programmes are therefore not easily replicated.
First, Stockholm’s population is nearly identical with Ottawa’s: approx. 1 million. However around 2/3 of the city’s inhabitants live in the inner city, an area of some 35 km2. The population within the “toll zone” or cordon is around 330,000, of which 60,000 commute to workplaces outside the zone.
By comparison, 81% of Ottawa’s population lived in the “inner core” in 2001, but this has declined significantly in recent years as new outlying areas were incorporated into the city, and is probably more like 60% (the proportion “inside the Green Belt”) at present. On the other hand, Ottawa’s employment is heavily concentrated in the inner city (if we define this as the area within a 35 km2 “ring” around the Parliament buildings), as therefore is commuting. The main target of a congestion charge in Ottawa would therefore be suburban residents working in the inner city, rather than inner city residents working outside the core.
The main difference between Stockholm and Ottawa is the availability of public transit. Ottawa Transpo’s bus service is relatively efficient and heavily utilised for inner-city commuting, but less so for suburban transit. The advent of LRT services over the next 10-15 years will change this picture dramatically, but even then the city will have far less transit availability than Stockholm currently has. According to the Centre for Transport Studies:
In Stockholm, “60‐65% of all motorized person trips to and from the city centre are made by transit. During rush hours, the share increases to 80%. The public transport system in the county of Stockholm consists of a subway network with 100 stations and over a million trips per day, a commuter rail network with 51 stations and nearly a quarter of a million trips per day, five light rail lines with 98 stations with a bit more than 100 000 trips per day, and an extensive bus network with nearly a million trips per day.”
Despite the availability of transit options, Stockholm’s rush hour traffic density is three times that of its off-hour density, so private vehicle congestion was definitely a serious problem.
The differences between Stockholm and Ottawa are therefore smaller than might be expected, with transit availability the main distinguishing feature. The notion of an inner-city “cordon” would also differ, as in Ottawa’s case the main peripheral roads—176, 417, 17—do not “ring” the major employment areas but rather run through them. Still, these roads do funnel the majority of commuter traffic in and out the city, and would therefore present a logical target for cordon-based pricing, subject to a more detailed study of traffic flows during commuter periods.
The lessons learned (and ideally transferable) from the Stockholm experience are that (i) even a small decrease in congestion—20% in their case—will be perceived positively by road users; and (ii) a gradual or provisional introduction of congestion charges is preferable to a sudden imposition. As well, the lack of strong transit alternatives at present may lead to greater initial user resistance in Ottawa than was the case in Stockholm. At the same time, there is clearly a strong need for incentivising the transition to public transit when it does come, and congestion charges are an effective way to do that.
It should be noted as well that the Stockholm experience had strong national government support, and the referendum was even timed to coincide with national elections. Subsequent to the elections, the city was able to use the referendum success as a way to leverage major transport funding from the federal government, arguing that by improving revenue from commuters, the city was able to pay for a portion of new road development itself. Although it may seem ironic and counter-intuitive that a cordon charge was used to pay for new roads, this did make sense within the very different context of Swedish coalition politics. And of course Stockholm, unlike Ottawa, did not need to use the additional revenue to repair old roads, which were in very good condition!
A few other benefits of the Stockholm charge:
1. Travel times for commuters decreased by as much as 2/3 for peak travel periods, although this varied quite a bit for other travel periods.
2. Transit usage increased by 4-5%. Note that there were some additions to the transit network, intended to provide an additional stimulus to encourage modal switching.
3. CO2 emissions for the wider Stockholm region decreased by 2-3%.
4. Attitudes towards congestion charges improved dramatically both during the trial period and after, suggesting that “familiarity breeds acceptability.”
A detailed examination of the history and impacts of the Stockholm congestion fee experience, written in 2014, can be found at: http://swopec.hhs.se/ctswps/abs/ctswps2014_007.htm
A cost-benefit analysis can found at: http://www.eltis.org/sites/eltis/files/case-studies/documents/stockholmcongestioncbaeliassonn0_8.pdf ;
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