Canadian drivers are accustomed to paying to cross bridges, but the proposal to toll two key highways into Toronto's centre would be a national first. Canada has historically shied away from charging to use the road. Even highways that were tolled, including the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia and several in Quebec, have gradually reverted to free use. But the rest of the world has been going the other way, led by the ground-breaking system in Singapore.
The Asian city-state is considered the gold standard by many transportation experts. Their congestion charge, introduced in 1975, varies according to time of day and traffic conditions. Depending on circumstance, drivers may pay the equivalent of up to $5.65 to access the central area. This approach has been coupled with aggressive transit building and measures to rein in the growth of private vehicles. Taxes can double the cost of buying a car, athough it reportedly remains a status symbol to drive. "Traffic volume has stayed below 1975 levels in spite of rapid growth in car population," states a 2015 report on Singapore's road-pricing system.
After a seven-month trial and a referendum, Stockholm brought in its congestion charge in 2007. Traffic in the Swedish city dropped on a key highway by 22 per cent the week after the charge was introduced. The price – which was raised for the first time at the start of this year – ranges as high as about $5.10 to enter or leave the central area, depending on location and time of day. The money raised has been earmarked for road and transit construction. Public opinion, which was barely in support of the proposal when the referendum was held, has solidified in favour since.
Greater Los Angeles
In 1995, toll and carpool lanes were installed in the median of a 16-kilometre stretch of California State Route 91. This route charges variable rates according to the time of day, with the goal of keeping traffic flowing. The rates range as high as $13.15 for the whole distance, or about 82 cents per kilometre, at the busiest time and are the highest for any U.S. toll road. According to a 2006 article in the trade publication Toll Road News, though, the highest tolls generated only a small amount of revenue and were primarily about encouraging people to drive at a different time.
The capital of Britain brought in a congestion charge in 2003, charging £5 ($8.40) for weekday access to the city core. The introduction was accompanied by a nearly 4-per-cent increase in the number of buses on the road and traffic levels dropped at least 15 per cent in the first month. A decade later, traffic remained 10 per cent lower than it had before the charge. But speeds have also trended down, which Transport for London says is the result of other changes to the road system, including improvements for safety. The fee has risen three times since 2003 and stands now at about $19.30.
Perhaps the most radical road-pricing idea now under way is in Oregon, where a pilot program is charging a per-mile fee for all driving, regardless of the road. The program, which is designed to get around declining fuel tax revenues as people buy more efficient vehicles, was authorized in 2015 by an act of state legislature and is capped at 5,000 vehicles. Each is equipped with a third-party device that measures their mileage. Distance is charged at a rate of 1.5 cents per mile and the corresponding gas tax is rebated. The nature of the system penalizes fuel-efficient vehicles, but their gas costs are also much lower.