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Ontario’s Tow Zone Pilot: Safer and Faster Clearance of Highway Incidents


Collisions and breakdowns along major freeways can result in partial or full closures for extended periods of time. This creates significant queues and delays that often contribute to secondary collisions and impacts to the movement of people and goods.

As noted in the 2023 Ontario Budget: Building a Strong Ontario, congestion in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) currently costs the economy more than $11 billion in lost productivity. Highways in the GTHA are among the busiest in North America, carrying an Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT) volume of 450,000 vehicles. Therefore, collisions and other incidents impacting traffic have a tangible impact to the economy. For example, a two-hour delay where all lanes are closed can result in an economic impact of $1M to $2M (Source: MTO Traffic Office).

Providing towing and recovery services on high-speed provincial highways can be dangerous. To ensure safe and faster clearance there is a need to ensure that towing and recovery operators providing services on provincial highways are properly trained, equipped, and integrated with other emergency response entities.

Following extensive collaboration between MTO, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and industry stakeholders, MTO launched a Tow Zone Pilot (TZP) on December 13, 2021, that introduced four (4) restricted towing zones on sections of provincial highways in the GTA where only authorized towing companies are allowed to provide towing and recovery services. The primary goals of the pilot are to enhance safety, reduce clearance times, and support the safe and efficient movement of people and goods on some of North America’s busiest highways.

The pilot includes equipment, performance and storage requirements that are designed to improve safety, response, and clearance times, and ensure customer protection.

The pilot is planned for a duration of up to four (4) years and to date has been performing well. To measure program performance the pilot team carries out extensive data analysis to ensure that the goals and objectives of the pilot are being achieved.

During the first fiscal year of the program (April 1, 2022, to March 31, 2023), more than 31,000 tow-related incidents were serviced, and MTO staff have made concerted efforts to progressively improve performance in areas identified as Key Performance Indicators. As a result, response and clearance times have progressively improved and currently meet target parameters on average more than 85% of the time. Customer complaints are another important indicator of performance; they amount to less than 1% of total incidents. The pilot has provided additional benefits including better and more integrated towing and recovery services during severe winter weather events.

As part of MTO’s commitment towards continuous improvement, the TZP is reviewed, and adjustments are made on an on-going basis in alignment with the goals and objectives of the program. MTO continues to work in partnership with the OPP, industry partners, insurance companies, municipalities, and other stakeholders to build on the successes of the pilot.

Conference Paper Details

Session title:
Graham, Tyler
Traffic operations and management