Now that the government has abandoned private financing of the Port Mann, it’s time to make the bigger but equally sensible leap and abandon the concept of a cost recovery project toll.
I’m all for tolling. Unless you are a fan of the queues inevitably created by what can only be described as our current Bolshevik approach to tranportation planning, you should know that tolls and other vehicle-related charges are essential if we are ever to have an efficient road system. Offer something valuable for free and chances are there won’t be enough to go around.
But it isn’t tolling for the sole purpose of paying for some (though interestingly not all) new bridges and roads that will bring some logic and discipline to the use of our road system. We desperately need a more systematic and fundamentally fairer approach.
The more systematic part is putting smaller, but more widely applied tolls throughout any corridor where major improvements are needed and made. It makes no sense to charge a $3 toll to cross the Port Mann and nothing to cross the neighbouring Patullo bridge. It is a sure way to ensure that the Patullo will always be overcrowded and the Port Mann relatively underused. Better to charge both bridges (and the Alex Fraser and new Golden Ears bridge) the same $1.50 or $2.00 toll during peak periods and little or nothing off-peak. The objective should be to encourage people to reduce peak period trips — not just shift trips from one bridge to another.
The fairer part is treating all corridors in the region the same. When we invest $2 billion to build the Canada Line, with the express purpose of reducing vehicular traffic and congestion in the Richmond/Vancouver corridor, we should put in tolls on the Oak, Knight and Arthur Laing bridges to pay for it (and encourage more people to take advantage of the new Line). And of course the same principle (and tolls) should be applied to Sea-to-Sky, a soon-to-be major suburban corridor thanks in large part to the excessive highway improvements that are being made there.
Marc would rightfully argue that first we should think more carefully about what new transportation infrastructure we build. The track record of this government certainly supports that. But once the decisions have been made to go ahead, there are sensible ways to finance the investments and sensible ways to pay for them. On those albeit secondary but still very important matters ,we are only half-way there.