Voluntary Toll Lanes Coming to QEW

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If you want to get where you're going faster from Mississauga on the busy Queen Elizabeth Way, you will soon be able to do so.

For a price.

According to a recent Toronto Star article, the provincial government recently announced details of a pilot project for high-occupancy toll (HOT - teehee!) lanes on a 15.5 km stretch of the highway. If you're willing to purchase a $180 permit, you can drive in the carpool lane.

That said, the lanes won't be open to every solo driver willing to fork over close to 200 bones for the privilege of a quicker commute. Initially, the number of permits will be limited to 500. Eventually, 1,000 permits will be available for purchase.

ServiceOntario will accept applications between Aug 1 and Aug 21 for the first phase of the pilot, which kicks off on Sept 15. The Star reports that only applicants accepted through a draw will be able to purchase a permit.

The HOT lanes will occupy space on both the east and westbound sides of the QEW and will run from Trafalgar in Oakville to Guelph Line in Burlington. They will be set up in existing high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes -- lanes that are currently only available for drivers carrying passengers.

Although the lanes won't take shape within Mississauga itself, they'll no doubt satisfy some local commuters who work or play in the west end and have to contend with almost daily gridlock.

"HOT lanes in general are a great idea. This specific implementation is a good first step," University of Toronto transportation expert Jonathan Hall told The Star.

Hall also told the newspaper that the model is effective because it gives motorists options while keeping roads free for lower-income drivers who would be seriously impacted by mandatory tolls.

That said, he told The Star that the initiative's impact on gridlock -- which the province is promising to alleviate with the pilot project -- will likely be "imperceptible," as the project will only divert a few hundred cars from the highway's three regular lanes.

"You're not going to notice this making traffic better on the free lanes. What you will notice is there's 500 to 1,000 people who got to skip traffic," he told The Star.

Other people remain skeptical of the move.

Andy Manahan, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, told The Star that the QEW HOT lanes could become just as congested during high traffic periods as free ones. He pointed out that the dynamic pricing systems used on some U.S. toll roads that use technology to increase prices during high traffic periods tend to yield better results.

That said, The Star reports that Bob Nichols, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, said that "a variety of technology will be tested during the pilot."

If you're a Mississauga driver who travels to Oakville or Burlington frequently and you want to apply for a permit, you can do so if you possess a valid licence plate and no outstanding fines. You must also drive a vehicle that is less than 6.5 metres long and weighs 4,500 kg or less. The permits will be valid for three month terms and the first term will run from Sept 15 to Dec 31.

You cannot lend or sell your pass, as it will be linked to your lincence and adhered to the rear and front windows of your car.

The pilot is expected to operate for two to four years.

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