TORONTO—Ontario has opened Canada’s first High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, providing some 500 permit holders with the privilege of commuting in what was previously a lane dedicated to High Occupancy Vehicle traffic.
In announcing the Sept. 15 launch — amidst criticism from the transportation advocacy group Transport Futures — the province said in a media statement that the goals of the new program were to improve traffic flow, maximize highway capacity and help manage congestion.
The HOT lanes cover 16.5 kilometres of the QEW in both directions from Trafalgar Road in Oakville to Guelph Line in Burlington, Ont. Vehicles with two or more occupants can still travel in the lanes for free, while drivers of single-occupant vehicles can apply to purchase a permit. No existing general purpose lanes have been removed and drivers are not required to pay to use any lanes on the QEW that they are currently allowed to use for free. A random draw was used to allocate 500 permits for the first term which runs from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31, 2016. Permit applications and renewals for the next term, Jan. 1 to March 31, 2017, open on Nov. 1, 2016 and can be submitted at Ontario.ca/HOTLanes. This pilot project will run for up to four years. Permits cost $180 for a three-month term and are renewable for a maximum of two terms.
Transport Futures issued a media release the day of the launch panning the plan.
"We're surprised that the government has chosen such a low-tech approach when it comes to Canada's first HOT lanes project," says Martin Collier, the group's founder. "Although there is 20 years of U.S. experience that could have been replicated here, the province has chosen to launch a pilot project that is lukewarm at best."
Collier says that there are many problems with the HOT pilot, but the flat $60 per month permit price may be the worst.
"Road tolling of any type must be priced properly to provide the proper signal to drivers so they consider using GO Transit and other sustainable modes," he says.
Commuting five days per week between Oakville and Burlington, drivers using their HOT permit in two directions will spend a maximum of $3 per day in comparison to a return GO Presto fare of $6.44, noted Transport Futures. Even with the HOT price, travelling by car costs a maximum of 47 per cent of a GO Presto fare. In addition to receiving the benefits of the faster trip in the HOT lane, participating drivers don't need to look for parking or wait at the GO station.
"While we understand that the province was concerned about driver participation rates during the pilot, the per-trip price should be at least equal to the GO Presto fare," says Collier in the media statement.
A 15.5-kilometre stretch of dedicated HOT lanes with electronic tolling in both directions on Highway 427 will open in 2021, from south of Highway 409 to north of Rutherford Road.
As part of the pilot, Ontario issued a Request for Information for innovative technologies to support tolling, compliance and performance monitoring of HOT lanes.