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September 07, 2021

Should HOV lanes be turned into toll lanes, too?

Asking a Canadian if he’d be in support of toll roads would be like asking a Penguins fan if Sidney Crosby should take next season off, too.

No, you idiot, I already pay taxes higher than Rob Ford’s cholesterol. Find a way to make traffic work with the 80 per cent of my paycheque you’re already taking.

Fair, but what can we say about Canadian traffic? In the country’s largest metropolises, congestion seems to be far worse than our population should suggest it be, and some highways in the GTA are among the worst in North America (the dreaded 401 being the most used roadway on the entire continent).

What can we do, then? Go back to square one. As suggested again by a C.D. Howe Institute report, Canada needs to add high-occupancy toll lanes to reduce traffic and generate revenue for municipalities.

So, raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before.

*Bing: What does ‘HOV’ lane stand for?

The latest chapter in the “add toll roads” debate adds a bit of a twist, at least. This time, the C.D. Howe Institute wants to turn Canada’s car pool lanes into toll lanes.

Ben Dachis, author of the C.D. Howe report, argues that the high-occupancy vehicle lanes are underused by car poolers, so while they should remain free for vehicles carrying more than one passenger, opening them up to single-driver cars for a price might be a fitting alternative.

“When you have bad congestion, the only way to maximize capacity of the highway is to restrict and manage access,” he says. “You do that by charging people for that access.”

On paper, you have to admit: makes sense. Take lanes that are already underused and collect cash to have them reach reasonable capacity.

Except, that only works when you think people will pay to use the lanes.

“If anything, tolls would make these lanes less popular, shifting traffic back to the already congested free lanes, but only speeding up traffic for those who chose to pay the toll,” Steve Munro, a long-time observer of Toronto traffic, tells the National Post. In other words, the single drivers that scam use of the car pool lanes now would move back to gen. pop when municipalities start catching onto their ruse.

What do you think: is adding a toll component to an already-used lane a no-brainer, or would it merely scare drivers away, making traffic in the other, free lanes immeasurably worse?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...