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 ;
Carbon Impact Consultants
On March 2nd, Ottawa’s Transportation Committee will receive an estimate from City staff on the time and costs required to conduct a study on user fees for roads.
This is a result of a ‘direction to staff’ moved by committee member and City Councillor David Chernushenko on December 2nd. It was during the city’s 2016 Budget deliberations that two members of the Healthy Transportation Coalition (listen here to related audio from the meeting) urged the City to study the potential effectiveness of user fees for roads, and Chernushenko agreed it would be worthwhile to do so.
The leadership shown by Chernushenko, who is also Chair of the City of Ottawa’s Environment Committee, comes at a time when cities across the country are increasingly showing interest in the subject (see examples in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal) and Ontario is moving forward with a pilot project in the Greater Toronto Area that will see the conversion of some high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
During the Budget 2016 presentations, Ottawa was reminded that Ontario’s Transportation Minister Steven Del Luca has said the province is willing to work with any Ontario municipality that wants to toll a road within its jurisdiction.
A commitment by Ottawa to study various options for a user-pay approach to roads was originally included in the Preliminary Policy Proposals (see User Pay on pages 10, 11) released in January 2013 related to the Building a Liveable Ottawa 2031 planning process, which later that year finalized updates to the city’s Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan. But, unfortunately, the commitment to study user fees for roads did not make it in to the final version of those documents.
This is not the first time user fees for roads in the nation’s capital has been proposed. Indeed, Ottawa is currently in the midst of studying how it might be able to remove thousands of transport trucks from its highly populated Lowertown and Sandy Hill neighbourhoods through the construction of a downtown truck tunnel. A feasibility study on building the tunnel is expected soon, and Jim Watson, Ottawa’s mayor, has said he would want the tunnel to be a toll tunnel to recoup the construction costs associated with building the large underground hole.
And, in 2013, City Councillor Stephen Blais had pushed the idea of charging a toll to non-residents of Ottawa driving into the City, creating congestion on Highway 174. At that time it was reported that Blais thought the plan could raise as much as $5.6 million a year for Ottawa and the move was justified because “traffic from outside the eastern border of the city is contributing to the congestion on the highway but those motorists don’t pay taxes to maintain the road.”
Indeed, there are a number of compelling reasons why Ottawa should move forward with studying a user pay approach for roads, not the least of which is that applying user fees to roads could help the City meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments.
And there are other important benefits that pricing congestion can help accomplish, such as revenue generation, cost savings to drivers, and increased health and safety, all of which were highlighted in a recent Pembina Institue report.
While Ottawa is doing a lot to create incentives for people to use public transit, spending billions of dollars on a new light rail transit system, the first phase of which is due to be completed in 2018, it is abundantly clear not enough is being done to create disincentives for unsustainable transportation behaviour.
Transportation currently accounts for about 40% of Ottawa’s ‘community’ greenhouse gas emissions (emissions created by people who live, work, and play in the nation’s capital are referred to as ‘community’ emissions in the city’s Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan, while emissions generated by the city government’s operations are referred to as ‘corporate emissions’;).
It should also be noted that many of Ottawa’s 6,000 kilometres of roads it is responsible for operating and maintaining are in a state of disrepair. As was recently noted by the National Capital Heavy Construction Association, reports indicate that roads in the nation’s capital are worse than roads in many other Canadian cities:
• According to the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, while almost 50% of roads in Canada are deemed to be in good or very good condition, the story in Ottawa is quite different.
• In the City of Ottawa, just 20% of all roads are deemed to be in Good to Very Good condition.
• The story gets even scarier when you look at Collector Roads, where over 50% are rated as being in Poor to Very Poor condition.
• The 2014 Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative report would seem to confirm the results of the Infrastructure Report Card.
• The 2014 OMBI report revealed that Ottawa had the worst roads of the major cities participating in the benchmarking study.
• Only 19% of paved roads in Ottawa were rated as being in good or very good condition. This compares to a mean of 54%.
Ottawa is clearly having difficultly funding the proper maintenance and repair of its 6,000 kilometres of roads. The costs of repairing those roads increases exponentially the longer the roads are allowed to deteriorate. Due to a lack of financial resources, Ottawa recently decided to postpone the widening of the Airport Parkway.
An argument could be made that those driving on the roads daily, damaging them with their heavy vehicles, should be paying more of their fair share. Reports from the C.D. Howe Institute, using figures from Transport Canada, have shown that governments routinely do not recoup all the costs associated with building and maintaining our roadways:
“Gas taxes, vehicle licences and other revenues from drivers, which do little to curb congestion, only covered 53 percent of roadway expenses across Canada during the 2009/2010 fiscal year.” (see page 7, Figure 2)
Bolstered by success stories from around the world…
Source: Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission
… and in order to build on the good work of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, and Pembina Institute (both groups have produced great reports on the need for user fees for roads), it is time the nation’s capital showed leadership on this issue, and at a minimum, study the pros and cons of different user pay approaches for roads.
Given Ottawa’s numerous bridges, collector roads and Highways (417, 416, 7, and 174) within its jurisdiction, there are many areas of the city where pilot projects could be established.
We should not have to wait until the truck tunnel is constructed and tolled to see how effective road pricing will be. The city’s financial situation and climate change commitments demand that it take action now.
On May 8th, a bunch of our members sent the following letter on the new Term of Council Priorities to City of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and all Ottawa City Councillors. On May 9th, Joanne Chianello, city affairs columnist with The Ottawa Citizen, wrote an excellent opinion piece on the same subject titled "Mayor's 'strategic initiatives' short on vision — and consultation"; here is a relevant excerpt:
"And here’s arguably the worst thing about this crop of strategic initiatives: They include a number of items that most reasonable observers would assume were already funded, or have no business being called a new initiative.
Perhaps the most egregious example is the inclusion as a strategic initiative of $4.6 million that is supposed to be spent this year on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. That biking and walking plan was an integral part of a massive transportation strategy approved by council in 2013. Councillors were rightly shocked to discover those funds were not set aside in the main budget."
Below is the letter we sent; if you too agree with some or all of our priorities, get in touch with the Mayor and let him know
Tel.: (613) 580-2496
Dear Mayor Jim Watson, May 8, 2015
As members of the Healthy Transportation Coalition, we are writing to express our concern that spending related to the City’s Transportation Master Plan, including pedestrian and cycling mobility, are being included as part of the Strategic Initiatives debate instead of the City’s core budget. We urge you to move these items to the City’s 2016 Budget to uphold commitments made in the 2013 Transportation Master Plan, and ensure sufficient funding is spent in these areas every year.
We felt Ottawa took important steps toward a healthier and more sustainable multi-modal transportation system with the 2013 Transportation Master Plan. Some of the measures in the Plan, such as transit-oriented development, expanded pedestrian and cycling networks, and a complete streets policy, are very much supported by our members and citizens of Ottawa.
Transit and active transportation are core parts of the City’s transportation system, and their funding should be treated as core parts of the city’s budget. The 2013 Transportation Master Plan committed $70 million from 2013 to 2031 to improve the cycling network, and $66 million for pedestrian infrastructure, $40 million for multi-use paths, and billions for Light Rail Transit.
However, the serious infrastructure deficit across the country demonstrates that Canadian cities cannot approach transportation from a business-as-usual perspective. We reiterate our request of October 2014 that the City of Ottawa, as part of its Term of Council Priorities, initiate a study to research different options related to a user-pay approach to roads. We believe that looking at new options to manage and fund roads will create a more innovative and sustainable transportation system, one that is more welcoming to all users.
In summary, we ask Ottawa City Council to:
• Ensure that Budget 2016 includes core funding for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure improvements;
• Spend $3.5 million on the Pedestrian Facilities Program in 2015;
• Create a protected bicycle lane network throughout the city;
• Spend $20 million a year on cycling, matching the overall transportation budget to the per cent of people currently riding their bikes;
• Implement a low-income public transit pass accessible to all residents whose income is less than the Low Income Cut Off (and work toward free public transit for those on social assistance [Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program]); and
• Commit to studying user-pay for roads as part of its Term of Council Priorities.
Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your response to this letter and the specific requests contained within it.
Robin McAndrew, Acting Associate Executive Director, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
Wanda MacDonald, Chief Executive Officer, Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre
Catherine Doolan, Board President, Centretown Community Health Centre
Dianne Breton, Chair, Ottawa Seniors Transportation Commitee, The Council on Aging of Ottawa
Kat Fortin, Chair, Ottawa ACORN Board of Directors
Mark Tremblay, Ph.D., D.Litt. (hons), FACSM
Director, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute
Scientist and Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa
David Sweanor, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, Common Law, University of Ottawa
Special Lecturer, Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham
Erwin Dreessen & Nicole DesRoches, co-chairs, Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital
John Woodhouse, Chair of the Steering Committee, Walk Ottawa
Trevor Haché, worker, Healthy Transportation Coalition