Since this is, once again, Tom-Tom week in the media, we’ve got to respond again.

From their release:

The traditional responses to congestion, such as building new roads or widening existing ones are no longer proving to be effective. Real time traffic information can help drivers find the quickest shortcut on their journey, and assist governments to make smarter decisions to improve traffic flow for their cities,” said Harold Goddijn, CEO of TomTom.

The Traffic Index is the only global measurement of traffic congestion comparing travel times during non-congested hours with travel times in peak hours experienced by passenger vehicles. The Index takes into account both local roads and highways. The top seven most congested cities in Canada ranked by overall Congestion level in 2013 were:

  1. Vancouver
  2. Toronto
  3. Ottawa
  4. Montreal
  5. Calgary
  6. Quebec
  7. Edmonton

when the Amsterdam-based GPS makers released their biannual survey on the most congested cities.

Seriously?  TransLink, the Feds and the Province have spent – what? – $5 to $10 billion on new and widened roads and bridges in Metro, meant to address congestion – and it got worse?

One would have to conclude, as Tom Tom suggests, that road expansion is ‘no longer effective’ – if that wasn’t so transparently in their self-interest. (Better buy a Tom Tom box for real-time traffic information!)

Here’s the problem with Tom Tom: it measures the difference between the posted speed limit and actual speed, and concludes that that constitutes congestion. But that’s not ‘stuck in congestion,’ it just means slower.

The dangerous assumption is that cars should be able to drive everywhere all the time at the maximum speed allowed.  A system like that, in addition to being outrageously expensive and likely impossible, destroys the idea of the city itself: as a place of exchange and interaction for many different modes of travel, of spaces that require slower movement to be livable and safe. Particularly some of those secondary routes.

Then there’s the question of the sample. If it only includes Tom Tom users, it’s likely atypical drivers who need assistance.  What is the difference between the driving patterns of Tom Tom users and the others?  Without knowing that, it’s hard to know how their analysis is reflective of the norm.

Mainly, though, this report should be considered promotional advertising, and treated with caution.

For those who find the Tom Tom drums quicken their pulses, however, they’d do better by picking up Andrew Coyne’s column today: Toll roads the only solution to traffic congestion.  It allows them to indulge in a bit of transit-bashing, some free-market fundamentalism while still having to face the music.  (It may have a good beat but they probably won’t want to dance to it.)

… the idea that simply adding another subway or light rapid transit line is going to cure congestion, or even make much of a dent in it, is pure fantasy.

TOMTOM_graphic_r2

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Have a look at that TomTom table again, this time for Europe. Among the worst congested cities on the list you will find some of those with the most admired transit systems. … Paris, London, Vienna and Berlin all have worse congestion problems than Toronto. Yet they are blessed with transit networks of a scope and quality that Canadian cities can only dream of. …

If cities are serious about congestion, there’s only one real solution: replace the time-price of driving with an economic price, one that allocates scarce road space to those who put the highest value on the roads rather than those who put the lowest value on their time.

Besides being much quicker to implement, road tolls have the added advantage of instantly making transit more competitive: not by subsidizing transit, but by taking the subsidy out of private car use. But so long as the roads remain unpriced, congestion will remain a serious and growing problem, and all the transit in the world isn’t going to fix it.

Alas, the very thing that make tolls work — their transparency — make them anathema to politicians. Why ask drivers to pay the real costs of using the roads, when you can promise grand far-off transit schemes you won’t be around to use and that someone else will pay for?

Or why not just say to hell with it all and tell ’em to buy a Tom Tom box.

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UPDATE: How Tolls Could Help Prevent a U.S. Transportation Crisis