The Ontario lottery corporation recently started advertising its newest scratch-and-win lottery: tickets cost $30 (the highest price among its lotteries), and the top prize is a cool $2.5 million.
Now, if you want an indication of how bad traffic is in the GTA, consider that Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca announced a lottery of his own on Thursday: tickets cost $180 each, though you only pay if you win. The prize? One of 1,000 permits to drive in an uncongested highway lane for 16 kilometres between Burlington and Oakville.
The ad copy writes itself: Imagine the freedom of cruising at upwards of 100 km/h past all the other suckers muddling along in the regular old loser lanes of the QEW. Of course, it’s the same freedom already available to anyone who carpools or otherwise carries even a single passenger in their car. But imagine winning the freedom to do it alone in your own road-hogging, gas-guzzling living room on wheels. If you dislike people, then this is the prize for you: you don’t have to put up with their company, and you can laugh at them as you speed past their non-prize-winning cars. JACKPOT.
As a lottery, it makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. Boost people’s spirits, give them hope. I’m not sure it makes all that much sense in any other way — at least not in the pilot form just announced.
It pains me to say so, as someone who has long suggested tolls or congestion pricing should be implemented. Part of me wants to say, “Well, at least it’s a start.” Maybe it is. It’s just a pilot project preparing the launch of high-occupancy toll lanes across the province, with 15.5 kilometres of electronic toll lanes rolling out on the 427 opening in 2021. But, for now, this one doesn’t look particularly like progress.
In the years I’ve been writing about and reading about and arguing about road pricing, there are usually two justifications given for wanting to do it: one is to raise money, and the other is to meaningfully change driver behaviour to cut the amount of traffic. I think both are worthy goals. Not every advocate of pricing likes both justifications: there are those who say tolls should be revenue neutral and just function in a way that keeps traffic moving smoothly, there are others who say the main reason you want them is to fund public transit. But those are the two main goals, even if some people reject one or the other.
This pilot project, as announced, seems unlikely to accomplish either of those goals.
I mean, certainly, it will raise some revenue. One thousand permits, $180 each: there’s $180,000 in revenue over three months. But for a government with more than $130 billion in total existing income, this is among the least effective cash grabs imaginable. It’ll take them more than 13 years to generate enough revenue from this project at this price to pay off a single winner of their new scratch-and-win lottery.
And it is hard to see exactly how the program is supposed to change driver behaviour. The “high occupancy” part — the part that’s already been in place for a while — makes sense: people who want to get to work faster can share rides, and presumably some do, and will. OK.
The “toll” part’s contribution to cutting congestion, under the lottery-permit system, is less clear. The lucky few drivers who win permits get to speed along — perhaps they’ll drive more, and more often, to take advantage of their luck. Call in sick to the office and just cruise back and forth between Oakville Place and Burlington Mall all day, luxuriating in the unobstructed movement.
The other schmucks? Well, nothing at all changes for them, does it? One thousand fewer cars in their lanes will hardly make them move faster (this stretch of highway handles over 180,000 vehicles a day). The toll-permit charges that those without permits do not pay will do nothing to make them change their minds about driving. How could it? They’ll just muddle along as they have until now.
The nature of pilot projects is you monitor them and see how things go. Fair enough. The province will try out their new system, and presumably will make changes when they see if it works or not. Perhaps it’ll turn out to be wrong. But I expect it to be nothing more than a novel new lottery, which in making a smoother drive a prize, ensures GTA traffic will remain as bad as ever for the foreseeable future.
Source: The Toronto Star