We have all heard about how Canada has a major infrastructure deficit, which has been making the news an awful lot lately.
CBC Special Report: The Big Fix
There's no single way to deal with this, but there's one thing that everyone can agree on: Something needs to be done now - waiting is no longer an option, not if Canada is expected to remain on its feet through these troubled times.
According to the below article, Torontonians spend 80 minutes of commuting round trip per day (40 minutes each way):
80 minutes. By world standards, this is epic in terms of commute length, and it's poised to get a lot worse (it's already worse than New York and LA). Highway 401 between Highways 400 and 404 in Toronto is already the busiest stretch of freeway on the globe at over 500,000 vehicles per day. The fact that a Canadian city as achieved this status is not only embarrassing, but is very telling about much Canada's transport infrastructure management is becoming a failure of epic proportions.
As such, here's a few ideas I came up for Highways and Transit:
Super Express Lanes
I've been thinking for a little while now of suggesting "super express" lanes with very wide exit spacing - on the order of every 50-80km (50km spacing would bypass a lot of the urban commuter traffic in the biggest of cities) with direct access to other PRIMARY freeways. If only there was the room in the 401 RoW... , which there isn't.
While this option would easily provide corridors for long-distance intercity traffic, especially for long-distance truck shipping, which connects most of North America to the backbone of the world economy, trans-oceanic shipping. However, the access from the departure and to the end destination could be a problem in terms of way finding, and could lead to these lanes being underutilized, while the non-express lanes are jammed.
Semi-Toll Express Lanes Or Semi-Toll Expressways
This idea consists of a a set of express lanes where long-distance non-commuter traffic is allowed access without paying a toll (i.e. traffic that travels more than 50km or 100km along the highway, depending on the size of the commuter shed), while daily commuters are charged a toll according to traffic volume (expensive during peak hours and either low rate or no toll during non-peak hours).
I partially got this idea from when the City of London in Ontario considered
charging a toll on an off-ramp from the 401 for garbage trucks to the road that leads to its landfill, while through traffic on the 401 would have been unaffected.
Tolling could be done by 407-style sensor/licence plate camera gantries, with tolls priced according to traffic volume. The intent of the tolls would be to fund the additional infrastructure maintenance or expansion, be it road or transit, that is caused by the daily urban commuter demand. In this case, the infrastructure demand for the non-commuter, long-distance traffic could still be funded by fuel taxes. Now, imagine if this was applied to the express lanes of the 401 across the GTA - those simply passing through or those who orginated from/and or are destined to areas outside of the commuter shed would not pay a toll, while those who are proceeding from one point to another that is under the "tolling" distance (be it 50km or 100km trip length from entry to exit) would be charged a toll during peak hours.
In theory, this could be imposed on general freeways too, which would dissuade unnecessary short-distance travel on the freeway, unless if you want to pay for it.
Is this controversial? Certainly. Of course, this is only an option as there are
other ways, some of which have been discussed here before. However, as has been said many times, the way infrastructure is managed in Canada needs to change.
Universal Toll Transponders
With all the toll highways scattered across Canada and the US, there should be a transponder that would be good for use on all toll highways in Canada and the US, and possibly even for paid parking lots and garages too, which would really cut down on the need for toll booths.
On the other hand, governments need to stop subsidizing ineffective transit
strategies (no more meandering bus routes just to serve a few houses, meanwhile they should be running direct access to major shopping centres, institutions and major employers) while providing incentive for transit to get urban commuters to their destination, at minimum, as fast as if they drove, be it by express bus (BRT), LRT, subway, heavy trail or ferry. Speaking of bus systems, there are many cases where cities would be better off running smaller buses at more frequent intervals (5-15 minutes), than say, running a 40 footer once every 30-60 minutes that only ends up getting a few riders - this would move the bigger buses to busier routes where they are actually needed.
Disabled persons could be accommodated by something like Halifax's Acess-A-Bus (they serve up to 1km from the nearest fixed bus route) or Thunder Bay's HAGI transit service. These services would allow general transit service to keeps its meandering to a minimum - to major commercial centres, malls, and major employment centres and plan the system to serve the rest of the urban area to within a 5 minute walking distance. Where possible, mid-block walkways should be built to allow for improved access to straighter bus routes, while keeping through car traffic out of local side streets. If it's cheaper to expropriate and knock down a house to improve pedestrian transit access, than to meander a bus around, then so be it - Knock the house down!
Transit Authorities May Need New Business Model
I'm not trying to promote WestJet, but I seriously wonder how urban transit
would fare if it was run under a WestJet-style business model (point-to-point
express bus system with bus lanes where warranted with neighbourhood shuttle buses for local residential/business/industrial subdivisions that fan out from each terminal or transfer point, and for heavy-demand runs, LRT and/or subway or heavy rail, and fast ferries for cities with significant water access).
Quote from an October 21, 2003 article "Westjet Profit Takes Flight" on www.airliners.net
"Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had predicted WestJet, one of few airlines to remain profitable following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, would earn 38 cents a share."
full article is here:
More explanation of WestJet's business model (it's a long read, otherwise I suggest looking at the abstract):
Financial Comparisons Across Different Business Models in the Canadian Airline Industry
This sound very controversial, but one needs to wonder if a transit authority adopted similar principles to WestJet, ones that can be applied to mass transit (i.e. you can have the point-to-point system for express buses, but without the need for baggage checks), and if so, this may provide an option to get commuters that can switch to transit onto transit.
Altogether, there are many more ideas out there. So, let the discussion begin.