Sunday, 8 May 2016


Last week I was driving along the 407 toll highway across the top of the city, zooming along and trying to keep up with the slowpokes dawdling along at 130km an hour, when I decided to save a couple of bucks and jog down Young Street to the 401, a distance of just under 9km, and then continue my eastward journey.  This journey should take 9 to 16 minutes according to Google Maps.  It took me more than 30 minutes. Gridlock all the way.  No accidents.  Just frustrating gridlock.

An out-of-town friend of ours frequently refers to the 401 highway as 'the bowels of satan' and worse they are frequently constipated for days on end. Getting up to 50km per hour across the top of the city on the 401 can be considered a good day.  

So, why the big difference between the 407 cruising along 30 mph over the limit and the 401 just above a slow jog? The same question for most of the GTA's city streets. The answer is as simple as the solution.  GTA streets and highways have simply exceeded capacity and the result is permanent gridlock.  Basic laws of physics apply.  

There is no more space to build additional roads and toll systems only advantage the rich by driving the poorer folks off the road and padding government coffers, etc.

What most people don't understand is that it only takes a small incremental increase over intended capacity to produce the gridlock effect.  Conversely, one only needs to introduce a relatively small decrease in the number of cars on the road at any given time to get traffic flowing again.  This TTC page (section 'Unlocking Gridlock') provides an excellent visualization.

The solution, whatever it is, needs to be fair, quick and easy to implement ideally at no or minimal cost and easy and inexpensive to enforce. My proposal fulfills each of these criteria.

All licence plates (apart from vanity plates) end with three numbers and the last number will be one of ten digits, 0 to 9, and each month (with the exception of February) have thirty or thirty-one days. So, if your licence plate ends in a 1 you will not be allowed to drive your car anywhere in the GTA, south of the 407, on the 1st, 11th, or 21st of the month. If your licence plate ends in a 2 the rule applies to you on the 2nd, 12th and 22nd of the month and so on.  Owners of vanity plates would not be allowed on the roads the same as those ending with a 1.

This simple system would immediately take ten percent of all private cars off the GTA roads. Traffic would instantly start flowing again at reasonable speeds. Yes, there would be slight inconveniences to work around but the benefits far exceed this cost.  

The map below shows the approximate extents of the program with the 407 highway as the north and west boundaries and Brock Road in Pickering to the east.

Here are my thoughts:

1.   The current cost of traffic gridlock to Toronto commuters has been estimated at between $7billion to $11billion annually. That frees up all that money to be used productively in the economy. Include the rest of the GTA and you can probably double that number.

2.   The mental health of the city would improve appreciably (reduction in road rage). Torontonians might actually start being polite to each other again. The average commute time in Toronto in 2014 was 63.6 minutes - that equates to 426 hours per month.  

3.   Taking 10% of the vehicles off the road would reduce the pressure on emergency services by at least the same percentage and probably more. Another $billion or two?  Lives saved due to faster response times of emergency vehicles - who knows?

4.   Taking 10% of the vehicles off the road would reduce road wear and tear by an appreciable amount, probably in the order of 5%-7%.

5.   It would force more commuters to occasionally take public transit, thereby increasing its efficiency and tilting it towards profitability. Presently, each TTC fair is subsidized by different levels of government to the tune of 26% of actual cost (2014 numbers). Increasing ridership by 7% would reduce the subsidy cost to 21%.

6.  The rules would apply to non-traditional taxi services (those without commercial plates) thereby giving traditional taxi drivers a leg up.

7.   Car sharing services such as Zip car and non-traditional taxi services such as Uber would be exempt if they purchased commercial plates.

8.   There would be a real impetus to promote car pooling, bike riding and alternate forms of commuting.  After all, it's only two or three days per month (one of the three days will probably fall on a weekend).

9.   Those that currently car commute from locales such as Barrie or Burlington would not be allowed to drive any further south or west than the 407, thereby encouraging these individuals to use GO trains or buses, etc. This in turn would alleviate congestion on the 400 and QEW highways and other major north/south arteries.

10.  Out-of-country and out-of-province drivers would be exempt as would commercial vehicles.

11.  Because this plan affects both municipal and provincial roads it would require the support of both levels of government.

12.   The plan would be easy to implement and test for a month or two because there are no special infrastructure requirements.

13.  One of the significant side benefits of the plan is an immediate and significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, the only 'losers' in this plan are the oil companies.

14.  There might be initial feelings of inconvenience but once the system is implemented people will get used to marking their calendars with the three no-drive-days each month; sort of like remembering to put the garbage out.

15.  Companies can help by implementing work-from-home programs for employees three days per month where this is practical.

16.  To be effective there would need to be strict enforcement by police or traffic cameras with deterrent penalties.  The best deterrence from rule breakers would be shaming by fellow drivers; anyone who can read a calendar will know if you're breaking the law.

17.  Other systems such as toll routes, rush hour tolls, etc. are expensive to implement and do not alleviate the congestion that goes from dawn to dusk in Toronto.

18.  The system would be in effect from 6:30am to 9:00pm.  This window can be fine-tuned over time once the basic principle is proven.

19.  Custom plates could be issued for handicap and special purpose vehicles.

20.   The final and key part of my plan, without it there is no hope of longterm success, is that on those months with 31 days none of these rules apply and it will be an emphatic reminder of why a system like this had to be implemented in the first place! 

I welcome your feedback and other beneficial ideas on how this solution can be promoted.