Governance & Politics
August 25, 2017

The Green Position on Toll Removal

Here’s Andrew Weaver’s release on today’s announcement:
Weaver statement on government’s decision to remove bridge tolls
VICTORIA, BC – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green caucus, issued the following statement today in response to the government’s removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges.
“It’s unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with this reckless policy,” said Weaver.
“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern. However, this policy is high cost and low impact. There are lots of good, high return-on-investments decisions that government can make, such as education, student housing and child care. It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt. Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs.
“Tolls are an excellent policy tool to manage transport demand. Transport demand management reduces pollution and emissions, alleviates congestion and helps pay for costly infrastructure. That’s why, at the negotiating table when preparing our Confidence and Supply Agreement, we ensured that a commitment was included to work with the Mayors’ Council consultation process to find a more fair and equitable way of funding transit for the long-term. We look forward to that commitment being met so that British Columbians can have an evidence-based, truly fair approach to this file.”
 
As one commentator noted, the NDP may well have won the election as a consequence of their promise to remove tolls on the Port Mann.  It may have secured the needed ridings, particularly South of the Fraser.
But Weaver’s points are good – and deserving of a major policy debate in the House, particularly with respect to the implications for future decisions on road pricing.

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“The B.C. government is getting rid of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges starting Sept. 1, Premier John Horgan has announced.”
The Premier and assorted ministers articulated the reasons they’re getting rid of tolls – effectively on all existing and new road-and-bridge projects:

  • Reduce costs for drivers
  • Reduce congestion
  • Reduce impediments to movement across the region

You can do one or two of those goals; you can’t, over time, do them all.  Less visible cost per trip, the more incentive to drive.  The more incentive to drive, the greater the likelihood of congestion.  And hence more impediment to movement – unless, of course, the belief is that we’ll build and widen more bridges and roads, which will all be ‘free’, thus continuing the fruitless cycle.
Three other impacts:

  • This is the end of the public-private partnership for funding infrastructure that requires a cash flow generated by the infrastructure funded.  (In other words, a perpetual money-machine, where debt to build infrastructure created more cash flow to generate more debt to build more infrastructure.)
  • Good luck to the ‘Mobility Pricing Independent Commission’ set up by the Mayors’ Council to explore the feasibility of road pricing.  The NDP decision today reinforces the notion that no senior government will accept a proposal that would require them to spend political capital to impose a visible charge on road users.
  • Though the government didn’t say so, I’m sure one of their goals would be to reduce sprawl in the Lower Mainland.  But as of today, that goal not only got so much harder, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an uptick in housing costs east of the Port Mann.
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Yet another case (like New York and initially Stockholm) where senior governments oppose city’s instituting road tolls.

Especially (but not exclusively) conservative or Republican representatives of suburban districts.

Kathleen Wynne stopping John Tory’s plan for tolls on DVP, Gardiner | Toronto Star
Last month, Toronto council overwhelmingly backed Tory’s move to impose road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, two of the region’s busiest arteries, and use the proceeds for transit. …
But both Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath are opposed to Toronto being allowed to toll its highways, meaning Wynne might have paid for it politically next year.
Inside the Liberal caucus it has been as explosive an issue as the rising hydro bills that the government, which trails  …
While Tory has a lot of support for tolling at city hall, he faced criticism from suburban councillors, worried that their constituents would be collateral damage.
Mayors from outside Toronto have also derided city council’s proposal.
Durham Region chair Roger Anderson blasted the proposal as “a short-sighted solution to Toronto’s problem
They’re literally taxing the 905 to pay for Toronto’s problems,” Anderson noted last fall.
Oshawa Mayor John Henry has also voiced his opposition.
“There’s just no more money that people have left anymore.

So few cities in the world have instituted regional tolling or congestion charges, regardless of the fact that they are user pay, that they are a market-based approach to pricing scarcity, and that they work!  Surely these are features that are very attractive to free-enterprise and market-oriented politicians.  Lots of options for privatization there too.  And yet …
Even though there is no way the provincial government in B.C. will allow a conclusion about the best way to regionally toll anytime soon, the necessity of such a mechanism becomes inevitable with the tolling of a new Massey and replacement Pattullo bridges.  No way can only South of the Fraser be the only part of the region to be tolled.
But when the debate begins, there will be strident objections: what about those who don’t drive over bridges, or don’t drive at all?  Why should only car and truck drivers pay if the value of the road system benefits all?
So here’s another possibility: In the name of equality, the Liberals might actually remove all tolls and require the revenues be made up by a combination of local and provincial sources.  No referendum, of course.

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