Economists call it the “missing piece of our urban mobility puzzle.”

Canadians don’t just need more transportation choices to help ease traffic congestion. They need an incentive to adopt them.

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, a non-partisan think tank of economists and academics, says that incentive is “pricing congestion” – attaching a cost to driving on clogged roads during peak times.

One way to do that is to implement High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on major roads and bridges. High occupancy vehicles can use them, along with anyone else willing to pay the toll.

The toll could vary based on the time of day. The idea is you can pay a price to continue your existing driving habits, or adopt other habits like carpooling and off-peak driving.

“In Ottawa the average commuter losses 22 minutes a day to congestion,” points out Stewart Elgie, the Sustainable Prosperity Chair with the University of Ottawa’s Institute for the Environment, and a member of the Ecofiscal Commission. “Would you pay a few bucks to get that time back?”

Elgie says HOT lanes have proven popular and successful in several major U.S. cities. He’d like to see a pilot project in Ottawa. The existing HOV lanes and dedicated bus lanes on Highway 417 could be converted to HOT lanes. The bus lanes will become available when the Confederation Line LRT opens in 2018.

The provincial government is currently looking at how to implement toll lanes. “While the exact locations of future HOT lanes are still under study, we hope to be able to provide an update to our implementation plan by the end of the year,” announced Ontario Transportation Minister Steve Del Duca in Toronto.