Canadian and North American Experience with Road Pricing

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.

There have also been supportive editorials in the Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail.

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.

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