The economics of traffic
The Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development today released their new "OECD Territorial Reviews: Toronto, Canada" report and it is the perfect backdrop for an important upcoming event on road pricing which will feature a discussion on how we should pay for our province’s crumbling infrastructure. Information on the event follows. First the OECD report, a summary copy of which is available online.
The report finds that traffic congestion in the Toronto region costs Canada $3.3 B in lost productivity a year, the results of urban sprawl and decades of under-investment in public transit. It highlights the fact that the Toronto region is challenged by recent developments, with a mixed economic performance. GDP per capita and GDP growth rates are below the Canadian average. Toronto has had lower annual economic and labor productivity growth than the average of OECD metropolitan regions over the ten year period reviewed; 1995-2005.
The conclusion? The Toronto region’s current economic development model is under pressure and consequently the review recommends a new agenda for sustainable competitiveness, in order to enhance productivity. This agenda could focus on innovation, cultural diversity and infrastructure, and apply a green lense to policies. This could solve challenges such as mixed scores on innovation output indicators, under-utilization of immigrants’ skills and relatively underdeveloped public transport infrastructure.
Relevant to helping forward the cause of enhanced investments in cycling and active transportation in the GTA is that 71 per cent of commuters are still dependent on the automobile – one of the highest rates of car use among cities in the organization’s 30 member countries. Further, the study found that Toronto has poorly integrated regional transit services and relatively underdeveloped public transport infrastructure [Chap. 1.2.3].
The result is air pollution and impaired productivity. To curb traffic jams the report suggests considering toll lanes, congestion charges, local fuel and parking taxes – all measures currently in place in many countries where cycling is a vital part of the healthy transportation equation.
There are five key recommendations including incentives for reducing car use and a "green overlay" for the Toronto region:
- Boost innovation, by focusing on niches, university-firms linkages and cluster development and by phasing out subsidies [Chap. 2.1].
- Addressing obstacles to the acknowledgement of foreign skills, for example by bridging education programs and internships [Chap. 2.2].
- Tackle transportation challenges by creating incentives for reducing car use, access to additional revenue sources, longer term funding commitments by federal government for investment [Chap. 2.3].
- Apply a green overlay to the Toronto region’s competitiveness agenda [Chap. 2.4].
- Intensify strategic planning at the level of the Toronto region [Chap. 3.2].
We hope that federal and provincial governments are listening particularly as these are concerns raised by our country’s mayors who have long been calling for a national transit strategy. While we agree with this request, we would respectfully request that it be amended to include a broader transportation strategy which highlights active transportation and more specifically, cycling, as a solution to many of the problems plaguing our planet: pollution, congestion and obesity. Metrolinx’s Green Paper on Active Transportation has taken some important steps in this regard and we hope that the OECD report brings an enhanced focus to these strategies.
In comparison to our friends south of the border, Canada is lagging in the kind of legislative, funding and programmatic supports necessary to encourage and implement cycling programs and initiatives. An example of innovation and bold leadership is New York city’s comprehensive 2030 plan. In December 2006 Mayor Bloomberg asked citizen’s to generate ideas for achieving 10 goals for the city’s sustainable future. The plan features six broad areas, including Transportation -- where there are 16 suggestions -- promoting and facilitating cycling by completing the city’s 1800 mile cycling master plan. By the end of 2009 New York will have added 200 miles of bike lanes in targeted areas across the city.
Key to the ongoing discussion about active transportation planning is a discussion on the various mechanisms we need to put in place to pay for people powered solutions. An important opportunity to discuss options and solutions is an upcoming conference in Toronto hosted by Transport Futures, to look at the question of road pricing. This will be an important opportunity to look at funding options and I highly recommend that you attend.
Here are some highlights of the event – and if you hurry, Ontario Bike Summit registrants will receive a 10% discount!
Transport Futures 2009: Road Pricing & Public Acceptance Workshops
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 (8:30am to 5:30pm) OR Friday, Nov. 13, 2009 (1:00pm to 5:30pm)
Metropolitan Hotel, Toronto, Ontario
Can changing the way we pay for our roads encourage multi-modal transportation choices, decrease traffic congestion, improve air quality and generate dedicated revenues for renewing aging infrastructure? International research and experience has shown that putting a visual price tag on roads, like we do with other public utilities, can motivate sustainable transport choices while ensuring that road users pay more directly for multi-billion-dollar transportation plans and infrastructure – including transit, cycling and pedestrian facilities. But how do governments charge a user fee for roads when mentioning the words “toll” or “congestion charge” or “tax” raises a multitude of public concerns and opinions?
Be sure to join us at Transport Futures 2009 where, with the help of European and North American experts, we will delve deeper into public acceptance issues and provide recommendations for and against road pricing. Speakers include:
• Gunnar Söderholm, City of Stockholm, Sweden
• Andrew Price, Halcrow Consulting, United Kingdom
• Ferry Smith, Royal Dutch (Automobile) Touring Club, The Netherlands
• Patrick DeCorla-Souza, Federal Highway Administration, USA
• Ken Buckeye, Minnesota Department of Transportation, USA
• Robin Lindsey, University of Alberta, Canada
• Imad Nassereddine, 407 ETR, Canada
Seating is limited. Visit http://www.transportfutures.ca/ for our exciting program and registration information. Questions? Email [email protected] for more information or to receive your special Ontario Bike Summit discount code. Offer expires on November 10, 2009.
I wish participants all success for a productive conference!
Yours in safe cycling,
Founder, Share the Road Cycling Coalition