Transportation in Ontario's Climate Change Policy Agenda

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In May, 2010, the ECO released its second Annual Report on the progress of activities in Ontario to reduce or make more efficient use of electricity, natural gas, propane, oil and transportation fuels. Click here for more information on this report, including videos and communications materials.

Passenger vehicles represent 73 per cent of the GHG emissions from road transportation. As well, as noted in the ECO’s Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report 2009 (Volume One), transportation accounts for the highest demand for energy in the province and the “large and growing consumption of petroleum-based transportation fuels is unsustainable.”[1] In this context, road transportation is an important sector on which to focus GHG reduction efforts.


Defining Road Pricing

Road tolls were a fixture of Southern Ontario at the beginning of the 19th century and were used as a funding mechanism for early road construction.[2] Today, road pricing is usually positioned as a transportation demand management (TDM) tool that is used in many industrialized and developing countries to deal with a range of sustainability issues. Though rarely used in Canada,[3] international experience has shown that putting a price tag on roads can motivate[4] sustainable transport choices (transit, cycling, walking) while ensuring that road users pay more directly for multi-billion-dollar transportation plans and infrastructure. In turn, these decisions help diminish traffic congestion, vehicle accidents, GHG emissions, air pollution, gasoline consumption and the need for expensive road expansion.

Road Pricing Systems

Several types of road pricing systems have been proposed and/or implemented around the world. They are categorized as priced highways, priced zones and fully priced road networks. It is important to note that the original rationale for road pricing was first and foremost to alleviate traffic congestion and/or generate revenue for road building. More recently, however, road pricing has come to be seen as a way to fund transit expansion. Though environmental and safety (accident reduction) improvements are co-benefits, the ECO notes that these have rarely been cited as the main reasons for implementing road pricing systems.

Priced Highways

Priced highways include both conventional toll highways, such as Ontario’s 407 Electronic Toll Road (ETR) plus high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes. A HOT lane gives drivers in single-occupant vehicles access to high-occupancy vehicles lanes (HOV lanes) upon paying a toll. Most systems now provide motorists with a choice of paying the toll manually or electronically (if they have obtained a transponder). Customizing conventional toll booths with electronic passes enables vehicles to maintain high speeds and avoid traffic back-ups, thus decreasing emissions to a certain extent.[5] However, because corridors can be up to 1,500 kilometres in length and traverse rural regions with different weather patterns, transportation authorities have not monitored priced highways for GHG emissions and criteria air contaminants (CACs), except at specific choke points within or near urban areas.

Priced Zones

Priced zones are created by establishing a cordon around congested urban areas as a way to: improve traffic flow; promote transit; decrease traffic accidents and reduce pollution. If a motorist chooses to enter the zone, they are charged by way of transponders or automatic number plate recognition cameras. Motorists can pay their bills in advance via internet or mail. Revenues are usually earmarked for transit and other transportation infrastructure. Three of the more prominent global cities that have implemented priced zones are London, Stockholm and Milan. Interestingly enough, Stockholm’s Congestion Tax is the focal point of the city’s goal to become a fossil-free city within the next 40 years.[6]

Fully Priced Road Networks

Fully priced networks (FPN) charge for the use of a region’s entire road network, or all major highways and arterial roads. By limiting the number of non-priced roads, they tend to be more equitable since everyone pays – just as with the current system where everyone does not pay. While the only multi-vehicle FPN is Singapore’s Electronic Pricing System, systems that only price heavy trucks exist in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Successful pilot projects have been undertaken in Portland (Oregon), Puget Sound (Washington) and Eindhoven (Holland). Traffic modelling exercises have also been undertaken at the national level in England and through American universities (University of Iowa, University of Delaware) and transportation commissions.

Lessons Learned

There is considerable evidence to indicate that road pricing can generate multiple benefits for users, providers, non-users and for the natural environment. What follows is a brief summary of the experiences of jurisdictions that have implemented road pricing instruments, discussed under the road pricing sub- headings above.

Priced Highways

The private company that now operates the 407 ETR has invested $200 million in upgrades since 1999. The highway boasts an accident rate that is half that of other provincial highways. Though the price per kilometre has increased to just over 21 cents during peak hours, the number of vehicle trips has also increased due to population and employment growth in the corridor, combined with the highway’s reduced congestion, increased time savings and better overall service.[7] An independent study of the 407 ETR found that motorists saved 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually plus 3 litres of gasoline and 33 minutes of time per trip when compared to drivers using Highway 7, a 6-lane public road with multiple intersections and traffic lights.[8]

Trip times can decrease substantially for those who opt for HOT lanes while opening up capacity for those who choose to remain in the general lanes. However, while there is anecdotal evidence to suggest HOT lanes can decrease emissions,[9] the fact that capacity is actually increased suggests there may be no net change in emissions. Further, studies have demonstrated that GHG and CAC reductions and new transit monies from HOT lanes are very limited when compared with those achieved through more comprehensively priced zones and networks.[10] Since general lane capacity is not removed from the highways where they exist and net revenues are generally earmarked for transit, HOT lanes tend to gain public support more readily than other road pricing options.[11]

Priced Zones

Most motorists who enter the London Congestion Charge (LCC) zone on weekdays between 7:00 and 18:00 pay a fiat rate equivalent to CDN$12.30[12] to enter the zone – an area encompassing about 41 square kilometers[13] in Central London. With the addition of 300 new buses to its fleet at the time the congestion charge was launched, there has been a traffic reduction of 25 per cent (70,000 less vehicles/day) to the central business district with no corresponding decline in overall trip numbers – 50 to 60 per cent of the former trips shifted to transit and cycling increased by 90 per cent. In the more residential western zone, there was an initial 19 per cent traffic reduction (30,000 fewer vehicles) but it has returned to pre-LCC levels largely due to development, utility projects and capacity reductions. These traffic reductions, combined with other policies related to green vehicles and low-emission zones, resulted in a 16 per cent decline in GHG emissions across the entire LCC zone. Emissions of NOx (nitrogen oxides) and PM10 (particulate matter less than ten microns in diameter) also decreased by 8 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.[14]

To date, the Stockholm Congestion Tax has decreased GHG emissions by 25,000 metric tonnes, 12 per cent of which is due to a sharp escalation in the alternative vehicle fieet (from 3 to 15 per cent)[15] and a surge in cycling (15 per cent).[16] There has also been an improvement in air quality. With a goal of reducing traffic a further 30 per cent and achieving a 75 per cent modal share for transit (up from 60 per cent today), some of the revenues are being invested in a new suburban tramline, commuter train tunnel, ring road and a bypass tunnel. With 75 per cent of Stockholm residents willing to make a personal sacrifice to mitigate climate change and use a mix of travel modes for their daily needs, the city is on the right path to meet its “fossil-free” objective.[17]

Fully Priced Road Networks

In 1975, Singapore introduced a London-styled cordon area system or Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) and in 1998 replaced this system with its current electronic road pricing system. Congestion initially fell by 45 per cent under the ALS, and fell a further 15 per cent once the full electronic pricing system was in place.[18] Accident rates declined by 25 per cent. As a result, average speeds almost doubled from 18 km/hour to 34 km/hour while transit use increased by 20 per cent. This caused capacity and delay problems due to bus overloading so a state-wide mass rapid transit (heavy rail) system was built in 1982, seven years after the implementation of the cordon area system. Today, out of a total of 7.7 million daily trips, 50 per cent of commuters use transit, 36 per cent travel by car and 12 per cent use taxis.[19]

The ALS has resulted in a reduction of 176,400 pounds of CO2 and 22 pounds of particulate matter.[20] Recent figures since the full electronic pricing system replaced the ALS put CO2 reductions at 80 per cent. External studies have suggested, however, that a proper cost-benefit analysis was not undertaken, air quality determinants were not adequately controlled for and the monitoring period was not long enough.[21]

Implications for Ontario

There is considerable uncertainty as to what extent the “lessons learned” described in the previous section would have application in Ontario. The land use patterns, densities and cultural exposure to these road pricing systems may be unique to these jurisdictions. Many of the examples deal with predominantly high density urban forms and, as such, would only have application in larger Ontario centres where realistic transit alternatives exist. Based on 2006 Census data, Ontario’s population is expected to grow by nearly 5 million by 2036, from 13 million in 2008 to almost 18 million by 2036. Projected to be the fastest growing region of the province, an additional 3.1 million people are forecast for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone, where such transit alternatives will be available.[22]

The government has set in place plans that have the potential to reduce GHGs associated with personal transportation. The current initiatives in these plans, if implemented fully, will improve access to public transit and result in fewer vehicle kilometers travelled (VKT) per capita. However, it has been noted that the population increases noted above will likely lead to an increase in total VKTs – and GHGs – due to an increase in the total number of drivers.[23]

The ECO agrees that a more aggressive transit modal share target – the proportion of trips taken by transit – must be the cornerstone of any serious effort to reduce GHGs associated with personal transportation. In the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, for example, modelling done by Metrolinx indicates that by 2031 there will be a transit modal share of 24.2 per cent.[24] Metrolinx estimates that this will increase to 26.2 percent if the recommendations in The Big Move are fully implemented.[25] The Pembina Institute has concluded that it should be possible to increase Metrolinx’s transit modal share target to a 10 per cent improvement by 2031 (to 34.2 per cent) through the introduction of such measures as a regional fuel tax, a cap on the number of parking spaces and the introduction of road tolls (including more HOT lanes and congestion charges)[26]. The ECO agrees that a more aggressive transit model share target by 2031 is challenging but achievable.

Metrolinx is required to produce an investment strategy by 2013 on options to finance future transit expansion. The analysis will include a review of what other major cities around the world are doing – including the role that road pricing may play – to fund transit. In light of the recent announcement of funding delays of $4 billion to Metrolinx’s plans, the need to accelerate the delivery date for this options report is obvious. Further, the Metrolinx report would be wise to consider in its terms of reference a requirement to measure the GHG reduction potential of improving transit’s modal share target by 2031.

Recommendation :

The ECO recommends that Metrolinx develop planning scenarios and interim dates to achieve a more ambitious transit modal share target for 2031.

Previous section: Monitoring, Reporting and Verification Priorities
Next section: Pricing Carbon in the Economy


  1. Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report – 2009 (Volume One): Rethinking Energy Conservation in Ontario, 33.
  2. Road pricing actually harkens back to the days of Socrates and kings and queens when the construction and upkeep of roads was paid for by those who travelled on them. The British brought the toll road idea to Ontario in the early 1800s and for over a century all roads here were built and maintained by private entrepreneurs who charged for their use. Yonge Street, Dundas, Kingston Road and Lakeshore Road were all tolled but by 1926 all had become public roads. Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Footpaths to Freeways: The Story of Ontario’s Roads, 1984.
  3. Approximately 200 highway kilometers are tolled in Canada including Ontario’s 407 Electronic Toll Road and Nova Scotia’s Highway 104 Toll Highway. Sixteen bridges and one tunnel also have tolls.
  4. United States Department of Transportation, Transportation’s Role in Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gases – Volume 1: Synthe- sis Report (April 2010), 3-18.
  5. R.W. Groneman, New York State Thruway Authority, Telephone conversation with Martin Collier, April 6, 2010.
  6. Martin Collier, 2010, personal communication.
  7. Imad Nassereddine, “407ETR: Gaining User Acceptance,” Transport Futures 2009 Road Pricing and Public Acceptance Workshop (Toronto, Ontario), November 12, 2009.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ken Buckeye, Minnesota Department of Transportation, e-mail correspondence with Martin Collier, March 30, 2010.
  10. Patrick Decorla-Souza, “Gaining Public Acceptance for Road Pricing: Experience in the United States,” Transport Futures 2009 Road Pricing and Public Acceptance Workshop (Toronto, Ontario), November 12, 2009.
  11. Ken Buckeye, “Road Pricing Experience in Minnesota, USA,” Transport Futures 2009 Road Pricing and Public Acceptance Workshop (Toronto, Ontario), November 12, 2009.
  12. The basic central zone levy will increase to $15.40 CDN in December 2010.
  13. For reference, 41 km2 represents about six per cent of Toronto’s current size. The former City of Toronto was just over double this size at 97.15 km2.
  14. Transport for London, “Eliminating Gridlock with Intelligent Traffic Systems,” Presentation to Urban Transportation Summit (Toronto, Ontario), March 3, 2010.
  15. Alternative vehicles also receive parking fee exemptions.
  16. Cycling may have increased due to a combination of the congestion tax, new infrastructure, economic cycles and/or weather patterns.
  17. Gunnar Söderholm, “The Stockholm Congestion Tax: A Case Study,” Presentation to Transport Futures 2009 Road Pricing and Public Acceptance Workshop (Toronto, Ontario), November 12, 2009.
  18. Martin Collier, A Scan of Road Pricing Options, Prepared for the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, May 19, 2010.
  19. Eddie Lim, (2006) Electronic Road Pricing: Singapore’s Experience,; and Eddie Lim Sing Loong, (undated) Electronic Road Pricing: The Singapore Way (May 20, 2010)
  20. Environmental Defense Fund, Singapore: A Pioneer in Taming Traffic (2007), (May 20, 2010).
  21. A.T.H. Chin (1996), “Containing air pollution and traffic congestion: Transport policy and the environment in Singapore,” Atmospheric Environment 30 (5), 787–801.
  22. Ontario Ministry of Finance, 2009. Ontario Population Projections, 2008-2036, Queen’s Printer, Ontario.
  23. Cherise Burda, et al., Driving Down Carbon: Reducing GHG Emissions from the Personal Transportation Sector in Ontario, Pembina Institute (2010).
  24. Metrolinx, The Big Move Modelling Backgrounder, December 2008, 8. Metrolinx indicates that the current transit mode split is 18 per cent.
  25. Ibid.
  26. See supra note 93, 25.

Citing This Article:
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2010. Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2009/2010: Broadening Ontario's Climate Change Policy Agenda. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. pp. 18-22

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