By Evan Presement
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca announced Monday that the province of Ontario will be introducing the first HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes in the summer of 2016.
“We will be launching an HOT pilot project on the QEW between Trafalgar Rd and Guelph Line that will become operational in summer 2016,” Del Duca said, adding that roughly 1000 permits will be issued to drivers in the research stage of the program.
The drivers will pay a toll to travel in existing HOV lanes to account for the fact that there’s only one person in the car.
HOV lanes converted in to HOT lanes will remain free for those with two or more people in the car and for those who have ‘green license plates’.
No existing general-purpose lanes will be removed from the highways, and single occupant drivers will have to pay a monthly fee to use the service, he said.
The minister said that there are 13 jurisdictions that currently use the HOT lanes. He mentioned Israel, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Seattle as places that have found them to be successful.
“[HOT lanes] have been effective at managing congestion by giving people options and incentives to change the way that they commute,” he said. “This is another weapon in the arsenal that we have with respect to being creative to fight congestion in this region.”
The transportation minister mentioned Utah as the jurisdiction that best exemplifies how the province is going to use the lanes. Del Duca said Utah’s system uses a monthly charge of around $50, and said he will announce pricing in the spring.
The first long-term HOT lanes will come in 2021 on Highway 427 from south of Highway 409 to Rutherford Rd in York Region.
“Well-managed HOT lanes can improve congestion for all drivers on the highway, which will improve travel times for everyone,” Del Duca said. “By providing more options, we are helping to manage congestion, which will help keep this region moving.”
While Del Duca paints an extremely optimistic picture, many have raised concerns regarding the lanes.
During the question period after the announcement, reporters asked if allowing single-person vehicles in the lanes was contradictory to the message being delivered by the Liberal government regarding climate change. Many also asked if this was going to discourage carpooling in the province.
The NDP has already spoken out against the idea, calling the HOT lanes ‘Lexus lanes’, insinuating that only the wealthy will be able to use them.
PC leader Patrick Brown has said that Ontario shouldn’t be taxing existing roadways.
Despite the concerns, Del Duca insists that HOT lanes are the right choice.
“Anything that we can do to be creative, to alleviate congestion on our highways, helps,” he said. “It helps improve quality of life.”