Media Release – Winning the Battle with Traffic Congestion: Why inner city and rush-hour traffic pricing makes sense

Press Release, Transportation, Frontier Centre

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released Winning the Battle with Traffic Congestion: The benefits of accurate transport pricing by transport engineer and consultant Stuart Donovan.

The study looks at the problem of congestion in Canada’s major cities and the possible remedies for gridlock. The study’s author notes that the traditional approaches — such as increasing the capacity by building wider, faster roads or providing more public transit — has its own built-in limits: As Canada’s cities and towns have developed and grown in size, it is increasingly costly and impractical to expand existing road networks.  
The core problem is that all travel at all times is treated the same, notes the study’s author, Stuart Donovan.
“Travelling at peak times, when capacity is constrained, currently costs the same as travelling during off-peak periods, when spare capacity exists,” writes Donovan. “ Canada’s transport systems are stuck using a 1950s approach to pricing that simply does not create good outcomes.”
As an alternative, and drawing on experiments in Stockholm, Sweden, Donovan suggests accurate pricing signals can help reduce congestion and in a “mode neutral” manner which doesn’t favour one mode of transportation over another.
In the case of Stockholm, that city successfully implemented a time-of-use pricing scheme since 2006. Stockholm’s time-of-use pricing scheme applied a charge on vehicles travelling into the city centre on weekdays between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The charges vary by time of day. For example:
  •  Between 6:30 and 7 a.m., a congestion charge per vehicle of C$1.31 applies;
  • Between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., a congestion charge of $1.97 applies;
  • The highest charge of $2.62 occurs between 7:30-8:30 a.m. and again between 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.—the busiest part of the rush-hour.
The result was that traffic was reduced by 20 per cent to 25 per cent overall, with greater reductions experienced in peak periods; also, congestion queues were reduced by 30 per cent to 50 per cent, although they mainly disappeared within the central city.
Surveys also detected increasing public support for the congestion charge over the duration of the trial, which saw the 40 per cent support at the start of the trial increase to 53 per cent at the referendum, after which the scheme was implemented permanently. 
The overall economic benefits of the congestion charge had a payback period of only four years. This is considerably faster than comparable investments in transport infrastructure, which (because of their large capital costs) tend to have payback periods of 25 to 30 years.
“The Stockholm experience with accurate transport pricing has been an unparalleled success by almost any measure,” notes Donovan. “Canadian government agencies would do well to emulate their Swedish counterparts and implement accurate transport pricing, rather than persisting with expensive transport infrastructure that will not beat congestion or deliver free-flowing roads.”
Download a copy of the Winning the Battle with Traffic Congestion: The benefits of accurate transport pricing here.
For more information and to arrange an interview with the study’s author, media should contact:

Stuart Donovan
  • Victoria (8-11 August):         250-360-1560
  • Seattle (11-14 August):        206-226-9179
  • Portland (14-16 August):       503-929-4004
  • Vancouver (16-18 August):    Skype only. User name is: stuart_donovan
  • E-mail:                     
Mark Milke
Research Director
Frontier Centre for Public Policy