From HOV to HOT lanes – Tolls are coming, warns Premier Kathleen Wynne

Toronto, July 24 (CINEWS) Traffic gridlock in the Golden Horseshoe region and the GTA is old news, the bad news is that the worst has yet to come and relief still seems light years away. A dramatic infrastructural expansion is the need of the hour but the funding requirements are staggering. Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne this week reminded drivers who’ve been getting accustomed to using the free high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in place for the PanAm Games to get around town speedily that they should also get used to the idea of paying tolls in the near future.HOT1
The province carved out 235 kilometres of HOV lanes for the PanAm Games in order to facilitate the movement of athletes and fans from one venue to another thus bypassing highway gridlock. The HOV lanes will be around until the end of the ParaPan Am Games later in August. While HOV lanes serves a practical short-term purpose, it is being studied by experts who will write reports touting the advantages of establishing HOV lanes permanently.
Having HOV lanes is expected to change driving habits over time. GO Buses report they’re shaving off an average of 15 minutes on each run and probably thousands of dollars in fuel cost given they don’t spend time stuck in traffic. Many more driver’s will start to carpool if it means spending less time in traffic day in and day out or opt to ride the GO.
Statistics Canada reports the average time spent commuting to and from work nationwide increased from 54 minutes in 1992 to 63 minutes in 2005, which works out to a staggering 32 working days spent sitting in traffic. In Toronto and Montreal, it’s now up to nearly 80 minutes a day. For one in four Canadians, the two-way commute takes more than 90 minutes.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) estimated in 2006 that commuters using HOV lanes on Highways 403 and 404 were saving 14–17 minutes per trip. Carpooling was found to have increased and the average rush hour speed on the HOV lanes is 100 kms, compared to 60 kms in general-traffic lanes on Highway 403.
Charging motorists using HOV lanes a toll could raise millions of dollars which could then be ploughed back into the infrastructural expansion.
However, such a plan could well run into plenty of opposition from many motorists who’ve experienced even worse congestion on highways with HOV lanes. Other opposition would come from taxpayers who believe that their taxes have already paid for the building of these highways and paying to use the same highways would be unacceptable.
Will this controversial issue cost the Ontario Liberals in the next elections? It depends if the PC party could come up with a strategy to alleviate the woes of motorists and solve traffic gridlock without tolls on HOV lanes. So far PC leader Patrick Brown remains non-committal on the issue. Meanwhile the issue of HOV lanes will continue to divide motorists and those using public transit. It will divide politicians as to how best to solve the traffic congestion that has staggering costs in lost productivity the social cost of having motorists spend more time in traffic and less time with their families.

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