TORONTO – The Wynne government will launch a pilot project by the summer of 2016 on the QEW to test the feasibility of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in Ontario.
The province has eyed a section of the highway between Trafalgar Road in Oakville and Guelph Line in Burlington to test the plan.
“This is what I’ll call another weapon in the arsenal that we have with respect to being creative to fight congestion in the region,” said Steve Del Duca during a press conference in Toronto Monday morning.
Del Duca said the existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on the QEW will be converted into HOT lanes while still allowing two or more occupants of a vehicle to ride for free.
Single occupant drivers will then be given the option to purchase a monthly permit to use them.
“It’ll be a limited number of permits released over time, probably not all at once, when the pilot begins,” Del Duca said, with an estimated 1,000 to be given out.
“And that’s so the people at MTO can monitor what the flow will look like on the QEW.”
VIDEO: Del Duca compares Ontario’s HOT project to one in Utah
The province has not yet released a price plan for the HOT lanes but Del Duca said they are leaning towards dynamic pricing where motorists pay more depending on the traffic conditions.
“Dynamic pricing, when you’re talking about an electronic HOT system, is an option for the system, for the ministry to be able to adjust the actual toll rates depending on what’s happening both on the HOT and the general purpose lanes,” said Del Duca.
“And that helps overall traffic flow. So, it’s on a regular basis that the tolls can move up and down in order to either encourage or discourage use.”
Upon learning the news, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) launched a petition calling on the province to halt its plan because it lacks detail and will increase gridlock.
“Minister Del Duca said he would apply lessons from the Pan Am Games when designing new High Occupancy Toll lanes,” said CTF Ontario Director Christine Van Geyn.
“The lesson from those lanes was that they were an enormous waste of $3.2 million in taxpayer money and caused gridlock traffic.”
The group claims the pilot project is being placed on a stretch of highway that is used by motorists from two of the highest income suburban cities in the province.
“This pilot project is clearly a plan to squeeze money out of those most likely to pay, so they can then claim the project as a success and then move it to other jurisdictions where commuters are less able to pay a toll and where there are no existing HOV lanes to convert,” said Van Geyn.
Del Duca said general purpose lanes will not be reduced and existing HOV lanes will be used for the pilot project.
“It’s only in those cases, where as an individual driver, who wants to use the HOT, which today is an HOV, that you’ll be required to pay,” he said.
The province also plans to implement HOT lanes on the Highway 427 extension from south of Highway 409 to north of Rutherford Road in York Region when it opens in 2021.
“These are lanes that we, as all Ontarians, have paid for through our taxes and to ask for us to pay twice for it is simply a cash grab by this government,” Christine Van Geyn, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“The purpose of a pilot project is to test ‘real world conditions.’ How is it a ‘real world condition’ to artificially suppress and supply by issuing only a thousand permits to drive on this road? On top of that, they’ve put the pilot project in a section of highway between two of the most high income cities in Ontario.”
VIDEO: No lanes disappearing, QEW’s HOV lanes will be converted to HOT: Del Duca
Del Duca said Ontario loses billions of dollars each year due to congestion and the goal is to give drivers another option to get to their destination faster.
“There’s a lot of science behind this but we want to make sure we’re education motorists, we’re giving them more options, and we’re rolling this out which makes sense,” Del Duca said.
Del Duca said an update on the pilot project with more precise pricing details will be released by the spring.
With files from Mark McAllister