Toronto Traffic Problems
Toronto, which is the provincial capital of Ontario, is one of the fastest growing cities in the globe, and has an estimated population of around 2.8 million inhabitants. It is ranked top as Canada’s largest city and the fourth largest city worldwide, and has experienced rapid growth and development which has turned it into a center of focus for researchers who conduct developmental studies and demographics studies, among others. The high population and rapid development in Toronto has largely been accompanied with problems such as traffic congestion and stagnation, the most notable of which is the mounting gridlock that threatens to grind it to a halt in the near future. The political gridlock that affect government operations is one of the top factors, which have not only resulted in failure to resolve the congestion issue, but also exacerbated it. This paper intends to scrutinize the root causes of the traffic situation, including an analysis of both the political and economic factors. The paper further analyzes the measures undertaken by boththe government and the private sector in order to rectify this problem.
Toronto has continually hit the headlines due to its transportation problems, the most notable being the traffic congestion that affects almost all the major routes across the city. The high levels of traffic challenges in this region, have caused both academic and government interest groups to conduct researches to find out the causes and propose solutions of the menace. Recent government estimates reveal that the present traffic crisis results in a loss of $11 billion from Toronto’s economy annually, which is a rise from the $ 3 billion estimation that was projected in 2006 (Transport Canada, 2006). The huge loss comes from the huge number of drivers who are usually stuck in the traffic jam every day, leading to time wastage as they would be spending these productive hours in the office or with their families back home (Cox, 2004).
Various studies reveal that the city of Toronto is actually experiencing increasing problems of congestion, and the role that the government has played in an attempt to prevent further improvement and even worsen the situation. One of the major roles of the government in worsening the traffic situation in this city is the political stalemate that exists between the Liberals and the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). Nevertheless, very little information exists, to provide a clear indication of the measures that the government, or private investors have undertaken to ease traffic congestion in Toronto. This paper will explore the traffic congestion problem facing Toronto, with the objective of investigating the role played by political gridlock in the failed attempt at resolving the problem. The paper will further analyze how the disparities among political parties and major political figures have led to the escalation of the problem. In order to achieve the set objective, the paper will assess data from different primary and secondary sources so as to compile this study, which is split into three sections. The first section gives a brief overview of the city of Toronto, highlighting its recent developments. The second part gives an analysis of the transportation and traffic congestion challenges while the third section provide some potential practical and viable solutions to the problem.
Background to the Study
Toronto hosts some of the world’s most coveted transport infrastructures, and these include the Toronto Pearson International, Billy Bishop Toronto, Buttonville and Downsview Airports (Daniel, 2011). Additionally, the city is served with many provincial and express highways, including the Highway 401, that has been highly praised for being the most travelled upon road in the whole of America, Allen roads Don Valley Parkway as well as Gardiner Expressway. The construction of these road systems employ an architectural design known as a concession road system, which was introduced by the colonial masters to ease access to their farms, most of which were subdivided into 100-acre plots (TomTom, 2012). The government of Toronto or the larger Ontario has never undertaken any significant measures to transform these designs or even enhance them to meet the needs of the rapidly growing population of the city. As a municipal government, Toronto is headed by a mayor and is served by a forty four-member council.Despite its attractive road and air transport systems, the city lacks enough transportation system, hence the continuous growth of traffic congestion within theregion and beyond.
According to research findings, Toronto is rated among the three worst cities affected by traffic congestions in the entire Western Hemisphere, the other two being Vancouver and Montreal which are both located in Canada (TomTom, 2012). Today, Toronto’s population currently stands at an estimated 2.8 million inhabitants, which is triple the number of residents who lived in the city in 1950. When taking into consideration the population of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the figure further increases because this greater area hosts nearly 6 million people. As the provincial capital of Ontario, Toronto has been termed as one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and this has been attributed to the high immigration of foreigners intoCanada who prefer it as a favorite destination. Like numerous other large cities in the world, such as Buenos Aires, and New Delhi, Toronto currently faces massive traffic challenges partly due to the huge population and poor urban planning as well as governance issues (Tom, 2012).
As Cox (2004) correctly points out, the Government of McGuinty opines that construction of more roads can only increase the traffic levels in the roads, hence exacerbating the congestion, rather than reducing it. One of the solutions that planners had initially proposed to resolve the traffic menace was the construction of more roads and increasing the number of operational transits. Unfortunately, many researchers conducting surveys on other cities across North America have revealed that such measures cannot solve the problem (Wood, 2012). This is due to the fact that even though construction of new highways and introduction of new transit systems may initially help to ease traffic and enhance smoother transportation, it ultimately attracts more commuters into driving in the long run. This perpetuates the traffic problem and drive it into a perennial vicious cycle.
Given the current situation of the city, two facts are inevitable for Toronto. Firstly, the population of the city will keep on growing at a steady pace and secondly, the city has currently no plans, whatsoever, to deal with the current problems of the traffic congestion and improve the situation. This portends a much worse scenario for Toronto in the near future, which can also be deduced from the research reports. The Smart Growth Panel of Central Ontario approximates that nearly every motorist in the city will spend more of their commuting time on the road by up to 30 percent during peak traffic hours, and this will mostly affect those within the region of Golden Horseshoe. The same statistic also predict an escalation of the situation to over 70% by 2030. This has called for the urgent need by the government to halt the political gridlock that has continually affected the relations and discussions between the federal and the local government (Wood, 2012).
The stalemate was as a result of disjointed efforts from different factions of the government, with the then Federal Minister for transport, David Collenette, listing the Toronto transport system as a top priority. Ever since, the federal government began lobbying and disbursing funds, beginning with the $600 million dollars that was disbursed by the federal government to fund the SHIP (Strategic Highway Infrastructure Program) and an additional $2 billion that was released two years later.
On the other hand, the City councilor, Olivia Chow, opposed such massive highway and road constructions, and lobbied, instead, for an alternative transportation provision, and she cited that the most viable solution for the Toronto transportation would be to increase the lanes for bikes and Light Rail Transit (LRT). The City Hall, in contrast were tabling two different proposals which were already ongoing. This entailed considering charging individuals for congestion, through an initiative whereby the government monitors and charges drivers depending on the frequency of the trips they made to the Central Business District and other prioritized centers. The pricing system is similar to that implemented by other cities including Stockholm and London (Maria, Eliasson, Hugosson, and Karin, 2012).
Similarly, the Toronto Airport systems, have also faced increased congestion over the years due to many factors. The first factor that has been blamed for for the dramatic increase in congestion for this mode is the rapid growing population of air transport users, which has led to subsequent rise in demand for an increase in aircrafts and staffs (Daniel, 2011). To arrest the problem of congestion, every airport under the Canada National Airport System carried out expansion programs to increase their sizes and operations to the optimum level. Despite this effort, there is still fear of looming danger of traffic congestion that is expected to rise by 2030. Daniel (2011), states that congestion pricing has been proposed as one of the most viable solutions to curb this problem.
The Historical Cost of Traffic Congestion
There have been wrangles within the Toronto government with regards to the most optimal solutions for the current traffic problems in the region, which weere inherited from previous leadership regimes. In 2003, the costs of traffic congestion began skyrocketing, and spiralled out of the control of out of both the city planners and the government. This was attributed to the most reliable route in Toronto which by then was the Toll route 407, made a huge loss of 20 million dollars within four months (Egbuna, 2003) as the prices of fuel and gas hit 70% higher. To exacerbate the situation for the motorists, the insurance companies raised their rates to the maximum hence necessitating the government to unite and operate together to charter amicable solutions (Chowdhury, Santen, and Schadschneider,2000).
Like air transport travellers, thousands of people lose up to four hours on a weekly basis owing to traffic congestion on Toronto’s major roads. The time lost would have been spent engaging in more productive work, or bonding with their families, instead of being stuck in the middle of the highways during the peak hours of the day. In addition, research has also indicated that congestion results indelays in arriving at work, school, hospital or other appointments on time, a factor that may lead to the loss of business opportunity or earn others punitive measures. Furthermore, the wasted fuel emitted while the vehicles are caught up in traffic jam have increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Traffic congestion have also reduced the capacity to deliver emergency services and this is mainly due to the bumper-to-bumper traffic jams that make it impossible for ambulances and fire-extinguisher trucks to pass through and deliver urgently needed services.
Causes of the Congestion
Increased ownership and utilization of vehicles
The high number of vehicle owners has become a significant cause of increased traffic congestion, not only in Toronto, but also in many other cities across the globe. Nevertheless, the situation has been exacerbated in Toronto due to the fact that nearly seventy percent of the entire population with vehicles drive themselves to work. To make matters worse, non-motorists, such as cyclists and pedestrians also compete for the little space on the roads, and this increases the stress levels beyond control (Chowdhury et al., 2000). Another problem that fuels congestion is the small number of passengers per vehicle, and this is mainly because while the ordinary vehicles often carry between four and eight passengers only reports indicate that majority of the city’y cars carry only one or two people at any given time, as opposed to the public transport, which can ferry up to over forty passengers per trip. Despite this, majority of the people still prefer their private vehicles over public transport because, the government has neglected the public transport systems, with buses over 15 years old still transporting passengers. According to Chowdhury et al., (2000), this makes it uncomfortable for many people to use the public means of transport.
Poor planning by both the federal and the local government has also contributed to the current state of traffic congestion in Toronto. Just like in every other country around the world, the government has a bigger responsibility, than its citizens and private investors to ensure that, it avails sufficient social amenities that meet the demands of its growing population. Despite being aware of this, the Canadian government, and the local government of Toronto have both failed to meet the expectations of their citizens an compelled them to bear the cost of their poor planning (Helbing,2001). For instance, the political impasse within the government has prevented the civil engineers to design the best passes for pedestrians and cyclists, forcing these groups to share the congested roads with the motorists. In addition, this stalemate has resulted in the construction of poor roads, some of which do not link up with the main roads hence leading to wastage of capital, space and other resources that are invested in the construction.
Even though there are some political leaders in the local government, who support alternative methods of decongestion, and oppose the construction of too many roads and highways, the municipality has continued to build various passes through thoroughfares, which despite utilizing the public space fails to solve the problem at hand. In addition, poor planning within the government spheres has resulted in poor positioning of road signs in places they are not supposed to be hence increasing congestion as opposed to easing the flow of traffic (Helbing,2001).
Research within the government operations also reveals that the dispute between the different political factions has raised the corruption levels within the government leading to higher levels of embezzlement of funds that had been reserved for improving traffic conditions within the city. This also causes a lapse in the implementation of laws by the government, inequality in the implementation and inadequacy in administration of justice to the criminal offenders, which not only stagnates the improvement of congestion in Toronto, but also exacerbates the situation, because motorists grow more unaware of the laws they ought to follow (Gilles, and Turner, 2011).
One of the most palpable reasons for the high traffic congestion in Toronto is the large number of private cars that owners utilize to commute to work, which transport only two people on an average basis. The cheapest way to reduce the congestion problem that is caused by this issue is to encourage people to use public means of transport, which carry up to twenty times more people at the same time in comparison to the normal cars. The result of this will be decongestion and reduced air pollution because of fewer vehicles on the road and in addition, people will save more money as they will not have to fuel their unused personal vehicles. The government can do this by discouraging the use of private cars, through imposing additional taxes for each car driven or parked within the city (Gilles, and Turner, 2011).
The second solution to this particular cause of traffic in Toronto is to improve the conditions of public transport systems. The TTC has failed to improve the conditions of transits within the city and has also not brought in new transit systems into operation. In addition, the commission has also let the old means of transport continue operating in deplorable conditions, hence making it uncomfortable for the passengers using them (Jonas, 2009). In retrospect, the TTC has to replace the old infrastructure with new ones, and also service those that are still capable of offering comfort to passengers during operations. This will help to lure the private car owners into choosing the public transport systems, hence reducing traffic congestion in the process.
Thirdly, it is imperative for the government to work on improving the transport systems within the city, an initiative that demands massive funding and good planning. Recent findings of many studies indicate that the current transport infrastructure is not just inadequate, but also insufficient to accommodate the rapidly growing pollution hence the need for government involvement. To handle these challenges, the government needs to consider providing alternative means of transport, which may include subways, that run under the roads. In addition, there is need to design the infrastructure in a manner that will discourage the use of private cars within priority areas, such as central business districts. In view of this, the government of Toronto and Canada as a whole can borrow a leaf from cities such as Stockholm and London, that have already implemented an automated billing systems (Maria, et al., 2012). Such systems employ technologies such as GPS, vehicle ID systems and cameras to locate every vehicle and automatically charge owners additional fees for access and parking whenever the enter into the city center.
More has to be done if the objective of decongesting the traffic in Toronto, and in other cities of Canada, is to be
attained. The following are some of the proposed recommendations that each stakeholder can uphold in order to achieve the greater goal. Firstly, the government must resolve its differences and stop the political stalemate that is currently acting as an obstacle to the implementation of any viable plans of decongesting the city transport systems. It can only achieve this by using the differences between the political parties as an instrument of collect diverse ideas to forge a lasting solution, as opposed to fighting against each other.
Secondly, the government ought work as one team in order to come up with the needed plans for enforcing major projects such as construction of subways and billing systems. These are high cost projects that can take long to implement, and can thus not be implemented based on political orientation solely. Moreover, the government needs to co-operate within itself to reduce the ongoing graft and corrupt activities that prevent proper implementation of legislation that is meant to protect the roads, road users and enhance safety of the public, while at the same time easing traffic flow.
Without doubt, this paper has shown that Toronto faces a massive traffic congestion problem within Toronto, and this has made it be ranked as one of the worst cities in North America. The paper further identified and discussed multiple reasons for this, including high population, increase in vehicle ownership and use as well as poor planning and implementation. In addition, there are consequences, that the city suffers because of this congestion and these include the loss of billions of dollars from the economy as well as disruption of people’s schedules andincreased pollution. The last two sections of the paper have highlighted some of the solutions that can be implemented to remedy the situation, in addition to pointing out some of the actions that different stakeholders need to take to avert the same. It is the hope of every Toronto citizen that the government shall halt the ongoing political impasse and take necessary measures to change the traffic congestion situation facing the city of Toronto.
Borjesson, Maria, Jonas Eliasson, Muriel B. Hugosson, andKarin Brundell-Freij (2012). The Stockholm congestion charges5 years on. Effects, acceptability and lessons learnt. Transport Policy 20: 1-12.
Chowdhury, D., Santen, L., and Schadschneider,A. (2000). Statistical Physics of Vehicular Traffic and Some Related Systems. Phys. Rep., 329:199–329.
Cox, W. (2004). How transportation Policy in Toronto is making things worse. Fraser Forum: Fraser Institute.
Daniel, J. I. (2011). Congestion pricing of Canadian airports. Department of EconomicsUniversity of Delaware.
Duranton, Gilles, and Matthew A. Turner (2011). The FundamentalLaw of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities.American Economic Review 101, 6: 2616-2652.
Egbuna, J. (2003). Urban Gridlock: Solving the Congestion problem in Canada’s largest-state. Corporate Knights.
Eliasson, Jonas (2009). A cost-benefit analysis of the Stockholmcongestion charging system. Transportation ResearchPart A: Policy and Practice 43,4: 468-480.Leape, Jonathan (2006). The London Congestion Charge.Journal of Economic Perspectives 20,4: 157-76.
Helbing,D. (2001). Traffic and related self-driven many-particle systems. Rev. Mod. Phys., 73(4):1067–1141.
TomTom (2012). North American Congestion Index. Tom-Tom international BV. http://www.tomtom.com/lib/doc/congestionindex/2012-0704-TomTom-Congestion-index-2012Qlnamerica-mi.pdf
Transport Canada (2006). The cost of Urban Congestion inCanada. Government of Canada, http://www.adec-inc.ca/pdf/02-rapport/cong-canada-ang.pdf
Wood, J. (2012). Canadian cities can look to London and Stockholm for traffic solutions. Fraser Forum: Fraser institute.