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Ford government proposed ban on tolls without waiting for results of internal study

Click to play video: 'Tolls to increase on Highway 407 ETR'
Tolls to increase on Highway 407 ETR
RELATED: Drivers using Highway 407 ETR will soon see tolls increase. The privately owned 108-kilometre stretch of roadway will have a new rate schedule take effect on Feb. 1, 2024. Ahmar Khan reports – Dec 29, 2023

Recently proposed legislation to ban new tolls on Ontario’s roads was drawn up before staff with the provincial government could finish studying the pros and cons of charging drivers to use certain routes, internal notes suggest.

New documents obtained by Global News through freedom of information laws indicate the province was in the midst of studying situations where tolling roads is beneficial and how other jurisdictions apply the charges to drivers before it introduced the Get It Done Act.

The omnibus law, which has been framed by opposition parties as political posturing, includes a proposal to ban new tolls on Ontario roads, freeze driver’s licence renewal costs and make carbon pricing a referendum issue.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made anti-tolling part of his policy stance before the 2022 election, when it removed tolls from Highway 412 and 418 before delivering a balanced budget, overriding a previous internal plan to wait.

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The new documents obtained by Global News suggest Ontario started studying tolls — including when they might be “appropriate and beneficial” — after recommendations from the auditor general.

The suggestion came because the auditor general complained the government’s tolling policies were “inconsistent.” The parliamentary watchdog advised the officials to look at how other places manage tolling to work out the best way to use the policy.

“Develop an information paper that includes the circumstances where tolling may be appropriate and beneficial to facilitate commerce and the movement of Ontarians,” the auditor general said to the Ministry of Transport.

According to documents, the province agreed to the study, which officials said would take some time to complete.

“The ministry anticipates completing the information paper that includes the circumstances where tolling may be appropriate and beneficial by the end of 2024,” the government’s response to the auditor general said.

Before the study was due to be completed, however, the government moved forward with a plan to ban tolls.

“At a time when the cost of living is higher than ever, we’ve been clear we are going to save people money,” a spokesperson for the Minister of Transportation said.

“As we’ve said before, all new provincial highways will not be tolled. We’ve already removed tolls on 412/418 and will continue to put money back in the pockets of hard-working Ontarians.”

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The Ford government did not respond to questions about whether or not the information note on the potential benefits of tolling was still being written or if it had ever been completed.

In 2021, Ontario completed a separate tolling study specifically into highways 407, 412 and 418.

The public and private portions of Highway 407 are still tolled. The Ford government has not committed to removing tolls from the portion of Highway 407 it operates, even as it plans to ban future charges.

On Monday, the government voted down an Ontario NDP motion that would have pushed to have trucks moved from Highway 401 to Highway 407.

The defeated motion asked the province to eliminate tolls for commercial truckers on the 407, a move the party believes would break some of the traffic log jams on the 401.

“I think it’s a win-win for everyone,” NDP Leader Marit Stiles said. “The tolls on 407 should be removed for truckers to encourage truckers to move the trucks over to the 407 and away from the 401.”

The NDP said it hopes the plan would lead to fewer heavy trucks contributing to traffic on the country’s busiest highway and save commuters time.

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