We Can’t Get There from Here: Why Pricing Congestion is Critical to Beating It


Traffic Costs Us. Pricing Congestion is the Missing Piece of our Urban Mobility Puzzle.
Traffic congestion costs Canadians. It slows economic productivity, raises the price of consumer goods, damages health, creates pollution, and lowers quality of life. Rapidly growing urban populations hasten the need for urgent solutions. Reducing traffic congestion requires two actions (1) creating more transportation choices and (2) shifting transportation incentives. Many Canadians cities focus efforts on the first approach, but incentives remain the missing piece of the puzzle. This is the gap filled by congestion pricing. Attaching a fee to driving, for example in traffic hot spots at peak times, increases urban mobility by encouraging more informed transportation choices, while making all other transportation investments work better. Canada should begin exploring congestion pricing policies now with temporary and transparent urban pilot projects supported by all levels of government.

Four Recommendations

#1: Major Canadian cities should implement congestion pricing pilot projects, customized to their local context

Well-designed pilot projects can demonstrate the concrete benefits of congestion pricing while providing important learning opportunities about different approaches. Municipalities are experts in their local contexts and should play a key role in designing congestion pricing trials.

#2: Provincial governments should initiate, enable, or facilitate congestion pricing pilot projects

Not all roads are city owned and operated. Furthermore, not all municipalities have the jurisdiction to implement congestion pricing. Provincial involvement may be necessary to get pilot projects up and running. Provinces can also play an important coordination role, especially in urban areas that include multiple municipal governments.

#3: The federal government should help fund pilot projects

Federal funding to establish pilot projects would generate benefits for Canadians well beyond individual cities. The evaluation of these projects would lead to valuable lessons learned about congestion pricing policy design and implementation that could be scaled out to cities across the country. Additionally, the cross-Canada benefit of efficient goods movement would reach Canadians from coast-to-coast.

#4: Governments should carefully evaluate the performance of pilot projects, communicate the results broadly, and incorporate lessons learned into future mobility policies

Careful pilot project monitoring, data collection, and knowledge sharing will inform smart congestion pricing policy development across the country. Communicating results in a clear, transparent, and timely way can help build public support for new and innovative approaches to beating traffic.

Read the Report

Ideas for Canada’s Biggest Cities

Metro Vancouver

Metro Vancouver’s traffic congestion challenge is shaped by numerous factors: a constrained geography bounded by mountains and ocean, polycentric travel patterns with multiple hubs of activity, and a complex governance structure. Applying variable pricing (i.e. a fee aligned with peak traffic times) to each of the region’s water crossings would target traffic in key driving arteries and reduce regional congestion.

Check out the Metro Vancouver Infographic


Calgary’s traffic challenge is characterized by low-density neighbourhoods, long-distance commutes, and more localized congestion problems. In this context, HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes—particularly on new roads where carpool lanes (HOV) are planned—could be a practical approach to reducing congestion in key locations while maintaining choice for drivers.

Check out the Calgary Infographic

The Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area

Traffic in the GTHA involves drivers travelling between multiple hubs in multiple directions in the context of a relatively unconstrained geography. Converting existing carpool (HOV) lanes into HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes or building new HOT-lane capacity on the provincially owned 400-series of highways could be a practical approach for reducing congestion in the broader area.

Check out the GTHA Infographic

Greater Montreal

Greater Montreal’s relatively widespread congestion is characterized by extensive commuting to and from the central island. This natural cordon (the downtown island) as well as an existing toll on the Autoroute 25 bridge and potentially new toll on the federally-owned Champlain Bridge, make zone-based pricing a practical option. This would involve applying harmonized pricing on all bridges into the city, reducing congestion into, out of, and around the downtown.

Check out the Greater Montreal Infographic

Check out our Congestion Pricing Events