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HOT idea could cut gridlock

Lone drivers would pay toll to travel in carpool lanes

Revenue to fund 100-kilometre bus rapid transit network


GO Transit vice-chairman Gordon Chong has a HOT idea that could fund a new $1 billion transit network while providing roads to relieve congestion throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

Chong is advocating the creation of High Occupancy Toll roads as a means to create a 100-kilometre, trans-GTA bus rapid transit network. Pioneered in California 10 years ago, the HOT concept lets drivers who are alone in their cars pay a toll to drive in free-flowing carpool lanes.

“You take the High Occupancy Tolling concept and use it for bus rapid transit to start across the GTA — we have a proposal that is sitting, waiting for funding — and actually solve the problem of congestion,” said Chong. “My real objective is to relieve congestion and move the mass public transit idea.”

As it was initially proposed, GO’s rapid transit system would feature new construction of roads and highways for buses only.

The roads would generally mirror highways like the 403, 407 and 401.

The road system would connect Oakville to Pickering across the north side of Toronto, featuring stops in major employment centres, such as the airport, York University and Scarborough Town Centre.

As Chong sees it, trucks and cars could use the new “busways” if they were willing to pay a toll. The province — or perhaps the still-to-be created Greater Toronto Transportation Authority — could use the money from the tolls to cover construction costs of the BRT.

“It’s a very good idea,” said Rod McPhail, director of transportation planning for the City of Toronto. “I think you have to find creative ways of paying for infrastructure.”

But the Canadian Automobile Association poured cold water on the idea. “The CAA is opposed to any toll roads,” said Faye Lyons, the association’s political affairs specialist. “The fact that (Ontario motorists) are paying $7 billion annually to the province and the federal government in gas taxes and in our opinion, the two levels of government that are collecting the money and should be returning it through road expansion.”

The Ontario Trucking Association was lukewarm to the idea. Spokeswoman Rebecca Torn said her association is generally opposed to tolls unless there are other, free alternative roadways nearby.

Carpool lanes allow vehicles with two or three passengers to travel in reserved lanes. Toronto has used the concept in some locations, such as Eglinton Ave. and Bay St.

The use of the HOT lanes is policed through cameras and transponders, much like Highway 407.

California launched the HOT idea about 10 years ago. In that time, it was found that while almost all regular commuters pay HOT tolls at some time few use the lanes all the time.

Other jurisdictions that have HOT lanes or are constructing them, include: Dallas, Houston, Denver, Minneapolis, Ft. Lauderdale, Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C.