Toronto’s Mayor John Tory should be recognized as a very brave mayor when he called for road tolls, today. Unfortunately, this call will please few.


Many travellers will not like to pay any toll (this has been true in Canada well before cars were invented, as shown in this 1863 Cornelius_Krieghoff painting “The Tollgate”. I suspect thumbing one’s nose, as the gentleman riding shotgun is doing, is how one flipped the bird in the 1860s.) I am rather surprised it is not written into the Canadian Constitution. Our own sort of Second Amendment.

Many transport demand managers will not like a flat (non-varying) tolls since those address only funding and hardly touches congestion or emissions. Few people will shift their trip time or travel modality for $2. That is the cost of a very plain coffee, 30 minutes of parking, or about 65% of a TTC fare. Don’t get me wrong, the money is needed for infrastructure, but a flat fee is less effective in having drivers adjust their modal and time choices. Given the technology available today to manage variable tolls it borders on the unethical to install a flat-rate system.

The proper purpose of tolling is to address three elements:

  • Funding. We need to the replace the waning gas tax, as cars become more efficient, and as EVs begin to become more viable. When the last gas-powered car is taken off the road, where will the money come from then? It goes without saying that money from road tolls must go into roads and transit, not a general fund. I think that point may be getting through.
  • Congestion. We need tolls that vary by demand. Busy times need higher tolls, less busy time lower tolls. This nudges drivers to shift their schedule or their mode.
  • Emissions. We need to set tolls in gradations depending on vehicle emissions. A Bolt would pay less than an Escalade. In Germany, from 2005 to 2015, road tolls that varied by emission class increased the percentage of clean vehicles from 1% to 92% and decreased the dirtiest vehicle percentages from 34% to 1%. We could easily do the same thing here.

If we tolled according to demand and emissions class, we would address:

  • income for financing infrastructure
  • carbon emissions
  • congestion

What is simple is that correctly structured tolling has been consistently proven to be effective. What is not simple is getting it in place politically, socially and physically. Tory has my admiration for sticking his neck out, even if he has changed his mind on this four times since 2003. It takes more courage to admit an error than to stick with it.

You should support Mayor Tory if you:

  • need the DVP or Gardiner to speed up a bit
  • would like to see more done about congestion
  • use the TTC
  • use GO
  • bike
  • pay property tax in Toronto (it is also included in your rent)
  • walk
  • telework
  • don’t have a car
  • have children or grandchildren
  • are going to buy an EV within 10 years (EVs will likely get an exemption or a lower toll, at least for awhile)
  • are under 30
  • are over 75
  • worry about carbon emissions

There was reporting and discussion about this on CTV earlier today.

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