Government officials have abruptly cancelled a comprehensive study into the benefits of using tolls, congestion charges, parking levies and other "urban transportation pricing mechanisms" to help reduce pollution in Canada's largest cities and pay for more public transport.
The study, which had been commissioned this week by Transport Canada, was to have examined "how pricing can be used as a tool to induce greater efficiency and sustainability in urban transportation," according to a request for tender document. A government spokesman told the Globe and Mail Saturday that the government did not wish to push forward with the study.
The study will "inform future federal policy and funding decisions relating to infrastructure. In doing so, the study could facilitate emissions reductions and help with environmental, economical, and social improvements," the document states.
Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton were the cities to be involved in the study.
The review would have come on the eve of a federal election campaign in which environmental issues, including a proposed carbon tax, will be among the key issues.
Road pricing - essentially forcing drivers to pay tolls or a London-style fee to enter the city centre - has become popular in many cities around the world. In 2003, London introduced its congestion fee of £8 daily for each vehicle entering the city centre, prompting an immediate 30-per-cent drop in traffic coming into the city.
Singapore, Milan and Stockholm have introduced similar fees.
In Canada, Montreal is considering a system of regional toll roads, Vancouver's urban transit authority has announced plans for a new toll bridge and Metrolinx, an Ontario transportation agency, is looking into tolls on some highways.
But these types of fees have also run into opposition. A plan by the City of New York to implement a congestion fee for parts of Manhattan was shot down recently by the state legislature, and a move to establish two congestion fees in Manchester, England, has faced local criticism. Recent studies of the London fee have also shown that congestion in the city remains a problem.
Congestion charges may not be viable in big Canadian cities because there are no feasible public-transit alternatives, according to Mario Iacobacci, director of research for the Conference Board of Canada. "A congestion charge that cannot change travel behaviour will be perceived as nothing but a tax grab," Mr. Iacobacci said in a report released in May.
He cited several factors that will have to be in place before effective road pricing will work. Those factors include feasible public transit, a low-cost plan that can be implemented easily, little opposition from businesses and "a powerful political champion."
The Transport Canada document said road pricing has not been widely implemented in Canada. It noted that in addition to tolls and congestion charges, transportation pricing strategies can also include parking stall taxes, fuel taxes and car-sharing plans.
"Though a number of analyses and reports have been undertaken and written, there has not yet been a thorough assessment of the potential for, and implications of, such measures in Canada," the document said. "A better understanding of urban transportation pricing in Canada will prove invaluable to cities, provinces, and other stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of more sustainable transportation practices."