ARE ROAD TOLLS A GOOD IDEA?

There is general agreement that both in Canada and the United States, the infra-structure for public transit is a mess – deteriorating, decaying, dangerous. There is no argument that it needs to be fixed. The problem is the cost? Where will the money – probably billions of dollars- come from?

Montreal’s city government thinks it has the answer. Road tolls. The plan would require vehicles coming toward the city to pay a toll of about $3 (except in evenings and on weekends). The tolls would bring in up to $450 million per year and this money would all go toward improving public transit in Montreal and throughout the region.

By discouraging people from driving, these electronic tolls would also have the effect of reducing smog and greenhouse gases and making traffic more fluid.

This would work with cameras taking pictures of license plates, and then billing the vehicle’s owners by  mail.

Some polls show wide public support for such tolls so long as the money goes to transit.

Some critics point out that this whole plan will have a negative effect on Montreal because it will discourage some people from coming into the city for business or entertainment.

Which is why some critics want instead to ask the Quebec government to increase the special transit tax on gas, which hasn’t changed since it was introduced in 1996, when gas cost 61.8 cents a gallon (now $1.40) This higher tax would be dedicated to public transit.

Interestingly, just a week ago a bill passed one of two legislative chambers in California that would allow transit authorities of Los Angeles County to ask voters to impose a tax of nine cents per gallon on gas. Two-thirds of the revenue would go to public transit. As an add-on to existing taxes, the tax would require no fancy new equipment, no new bureaucracy, no head aches. Although tax prices are high enough as it is, in both Canada and the U.S we pay far less for gas than Britain or Europe.

One Montreal city official said if anyone can come up with something better than tolls, he’d be happy to support it.

Would you support road tolls for your region?

Would you prefer a new tax on gas to be dedicated to the improvement of public transit?

Is there some other way to go?

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2 Comments »

  1. 1
    dez Says:

    Toll roads seem to be an East Coast thing. I am not aware of any on this side of the Rockies.

    On the other hand, I like the concept of it. Instead of making everyone pay for the road, just make the people who use it pay for it.

    This is going to be an important issue soon. How much will it cost to pave a highway when asphalt isn’t cheap anymore? (You knew that stuff was made out of oil, right?)

  2. 2

    This is a good question. I like the 407 toll road through Toronto, I use it all the time to avoid the more crowded sections of the 401. I save time, spend some cash, everyone’s happy.

    The problem with crumbling city infrastructures across Canada is more to do with political will than available cash. Municipal governments have short-changed basic infrastructure maintenance, for which there is little public thanks, in favour of grandiose public projects which build legacies that councilors can point to come election time.

    My take on this is that toll roads are a fine idea, but the problem of allocating the new revenue remains. Giving a large pot of cash to any city bureaucracy is likely a bad idea given the record of most councils to waste tax dollars on vanity projects or propping up insolvent theatre groups etc. What would help to ensure the improvement in infrastructure would be a measure along the lines of the Californian ‘Proposition’ votes, which can bind the government of the day to a fixed funding commitment in return for the ability to raise cash through taxes.

    If it were possible to achieve the result of forcing the funds to improve the infrastructure, I’d be in favour. If it were a case of tolls but no accountability, I’d suggest that is only half a solution and would not support it.


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