As municipalities grasp the challenges, financial shortfalls, and meeting transportation infrastructure needs, the debate is occurring on addressing these concerns.
In an era where many cities are failing consistently to address climate action, finance, health and urban sprawl issues. Congestion pricing offers a solution to many of Winnipeg’s needs.
So what is Congestion pricing?
The best definition of it comes from the US Department of Transportation (UDOT), citing its “a way of harnessing the power of the market to reduce the waste associated with traffic congestion.”
What types of Congestion pricing strategies?
UDOT offers four methods.
1. Variably priced lanes: Separate variable toll lanes.
2. Variable tolls on all roadways can induce rush-hour toll-free facilities or bridges and roads
3. Corridor/zone-based charges: Vehicles driving in a congested city are charged fixed or variable rates.
4. System/area-based charges: A system where all roads on a network or area are charged per mile can be based on congestion.
Why Congestion pricing?
Winnipeg is facing many challenges, including financial (heavy reliance on property taxes, population (the city is aiming to reach the one million population mark by 2035), and the climate crisis (Winnipeg released its climate action plan in 2018).
Meanwhile, suburban sprawl is putting tremendous pressure on our cities. Residents commute from satellite communities and use city services without adequately paying for them.
Combining all the above factors and the climate crisis advances the need for making congestion pricing a solution for our environmental and financial markets.
Other cities have adopted this policy. London, England, implemented a 5 pound/day congestion pricing policy in 2003 to address automobile congestion. Analysts said London’s solution was successful financially (with a net income of 238 Euros), while improving infrastructure for sustainable transportation modes (public transit and cycling), roads, and road safety. Congestion fell by 30%, while between 2000 and 2013, transportation modes shifted towards cycling and public transportation.
What method would work best in Winnipeg when seeing the success happen in London? A mixture could work.
For example, a zone-based charge could be applied to Winnipeg’s most congested areas (Kenaston Boulevard, Portage Avenue between Arlington Street to Main Street) during rush hour (lets say $6.00 a day). It’s the ultimate in a driver’s deterrence should they attempt to go into these hot zones during rush hour period (morning 7 am to 9 am; afternoon 3:30 to 5:30 pm).
How should the revenue be spent?
Winnipeg could for example allocate most of its congestion pricing revenue to make the transportation system more climate-resilient (40% towards public transportation and 30% towards active transportation infrastructure). The remainder should go to city reserves (15%), education on road safety (10%), and the remaining 5% to support cycling theft prevention.
I am sure that many people would not be happy with a congestion pricing regime in this city. I am sure some would say that congestion pricing is a communist takeover. However, I challenge those who say this to look at our backyard. Look at the shape of our city’s roads. Potholes, potholes, and more potholes. It seems like it’s a Winnipeg right of passage every spring. It’s a glaring faux pas that many of us do not realize until we finally wake up that perhaps it’s not just how we build our roads but also how we get around and the type of vehicles that we drive around that has caused this problem. As ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman famously once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing with no result”. Well, we have done that for too long. Snow falls, potholes come, fill the hole, drive your pickup truck or SUV over it, winter comes again, repeat the cycle.
We break the cycle of insanity and look and congestion pricing. A few years ago, carbon pricing was a far-fetched idea in mainstream media, and it’s now a part of Canadian tax policy. Its twin cousin, congestion pricing, should become a part of municipal and provincial financial policy to save Winnipeg from many concerns.