OUR VIEW: For Whom the Road Tolls?

It’s a simple fact of life – freeways are not free. They cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

With municipalities in BC facing a $10 billion infrastructure deficit, there are serious questions about how to pay for the network of major roads and bridges in Metro Vancouver.

A growing population will place more demand on the road network, and many existing routes are nearing the end of their lifespan and will need either major repairs or replacement.

Renewed investment in public transit is one option that would reduce the growth in demand for road capacity, but transit investments are also very expensive. Higher property taxes is another option, but one that could be politically explosive. This leaves one option remaining – some form of user charges or tolls.

A patchwork system of tolls is already being introduced. The new Golden Ears Bridge linking Langley with Pitt Meadows is tolled. The new Port Mann Bridge will be tolled, as will the new Patullo Bridge.  When the Knight St. Bridge and the Massey Tunnel need major repairs or replacement, the new crossings will probably be tolled.

However, no tolls are charged on other major bridges and highways such as the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the Pitt River Bridge, the Alex Fraser Bridge, and both bridges over Burrard Inlet.

What is emerging is a transport system that is profoundly unfair. Motorists from south of the Fraser River will be charged hefty tolls, while those from Coquitlam and the North Shore will drive toll-free. Meanwhile, transit users pay a toll every time they board a bus or SkyTrain.

A system-wide toll would charge the users of all major regional routes. The revenues would be channeled into a single fund to pay for the maintenance, repair and replacement of bridges and highways throughout the network. Across the network the tolls could fluctuate based on daily traffic patterns. The most heavily used routes (and peak demand times) could be priced higher than routes with lower demand.

Efficient goods movement is critical for the economy because time in transport adds to the price of goods without adding extra value. Commercial vehicle only lanes could be priced at premium levels, and many companies would be willing to pay premium tolls if it meant their trucks would spend less time stuck in traffic.

System tolls are already used in many countries, such as Portugal, where an electronic tolling system called the Via Verde (Green Road) covers all the major routes in the country. Congestion charges are tolls applied to traffic entering the more congested downtown areas. Singapore introduced the world’s first congestion pricing scheme in 1975. Now congestion charges are widespread, with well-known examples in Bergen, Stockholm, Shanghai and London.

The one-off approach to tolling also helps to facilitate the privatization of our highway network because most public private partnership (P3) models seek to recover construction and operating costs by imposing tolls on new bridges and highway projects.

The Golden Ears Bridge is an example of this kind of privatization. Opened in mid-2009, traffic volumes have been lower than expected. This case illustrates there can be problems of leakage where alternate non-tolled routes exist.

According to TransLink figures, the Golden Ears Bridge is not meeting its revenue targets. While daily traffic volumes have slowly increased in recent months, they remain significantly below TransLinks’s original estimates. As a result, TransLink increased the tolls on the new bridge on July 15, 2010 to capture additional revenue.

Under the terms of the P3 agreement, the payments due to the private company that built and operates the bridge will step up to $4 million per month this year and rise to $4.8 million per month in 2015. If the number of vehicle trips over the bridge continues to lag behind the estimated traffic volumes, TransLink will have to keep raising the tolls to keep up with the P3 payment schedule.

Under a traditional public financing model, big infrastructure projects benefit from lower operating costs and lower government borrowing costs. These costs are predictable and can be amortized over 25 or 30 years. If traffic volumes don’t meet pre-construction projections, the government doesn’t have to hike tolls.

A system-wide toll makes sense. It is the best means to finance the necessary maintenance, repairs and replacement of our highway network. It will also treat all users fairly, allow price signals to regulate demand, and keep our highway infrastructure in public hands, which ultimately saves money for taxpayers.

Road Rage

I feel we should be moving towards a system where business taxes pay for the roads, and personal taxes pay for public transit. Any personal use of these "corporate" roadways during "peak periods" would then constitute any necessary recovery charges. Obviously, today our system has been built to satisfy the automobile so, there would need to be a transitional period where a share of the corporate tax will be required to build up our public transport. I think, in this "transitional" period we should be charging the fossil fuel suppliers a LARGE royalty on the extraction of these "resources" ( oil/gas/coal/hydro ).

Road and Bridge tolls

I think taxpayers pay more than enough taxes for roads and bridges, subways, etc. I think corporations should be coughing up more money for Cdn. infrastructure as they use these transit ways also.

Bridge Tolls

I believe road tolls are to help finance events like the Olympics - which will take at least a decade to pay for - an event that was a party for the rich and the corporate. Civic, provincial and federal taxpayers easily pay 25 to 35 percent of their income to either civic, provincial or federal coffers. We don't need to pay more everywhere we turn. We will be like France was before the Revoloution - the serfs had to give a portion of their crops for taxes and were even pulled off working their land to work on roads or help with restoration work on palace grounds. Finally they had enough. Is this where we are heading?


1. an electronic toll both sends the ticket to your home or could be attached to your annual insurance when you go to renew. No need to slow down and throw coins in a bucket. 2. In the instance of accessing the North Shore, there are only two ways to do it in a car, so a toll on either crossing could not possibly increase 'cut through' traffic to residential neighbourhoods. 3. Tolls actually can reduce single occupant vehicle travel, but they don't automatically achieve this. In this case there is a good likelihood that they would because there is an increasingly viable transit option that could become more attractive as user fees for the bridges are implemented.

let's be consistent

User fees must be applied evenly if at all. I am in favour of users fees. I would gladly pay for the public services I use as long as I don't have to pay for the ones I don't.

We don't need "Made in America" solutions

I hate toll roads. They increase gas consumption as cars slow down, idle and then speed up again and only net 60 to 70% back to highway maintenance. If we are serious about green solutions... raise the gas tax! Consumption taxes will change behaviour... who can afford to smoke cigarettes anymore? The infrastructure for collecting gas taxes is in place and this is the most efficient solution. Tolls don't reduce automobile travel, they just change traffic patterns and shift highway traffic into residential neighbourhoods. Give your head a shake!

Who funds the roads now?

I think it is the property taxes which pay for the roads - whether the owner drives a car or not. (Equally true for schools and other services provided by the city.) The real issue is how to get more money to cities where most of us live, to meet these infrastructure costs. If there are to be tolls anywhere, they should be everywhere! That would be most fair to everyone in the region. It would also mean the individual toll cost would be much less.

IT does't really matter what

IT does't really matter what we say, we have no choice, we will pay weather we like it or not, all the money will go to renovating city hall, or another bycicle lane, and we will all pay, there is no HONESTY, in polotics, or the law, we will pay, and pay, and pay,at the top it says that the email address will be kept private,this is not true, it will be abused,i garantee it, there is no such thing as privacy anymore, we will be abussed and we will have to pay for it.


The provincial government should get the money from gasoline taxes that go to the Federal Government. I thought that was for infrastructure, but we get a tiny amount back. We are taxed enough and 2 billion more taxes have been transfered to us from business due to the HST. In Vancouver every year more taxes are taken from business and added to residences. I for one am sick of being taxed to death. Alberta is looking more and more like a pretty good alternative to living in this debt-ridden, out-of control-spending province.

Think Again City

You bunch are nuts. There are enough taxes. Absolutely no way any tolls for the north shore - we already pay for transportation infrastructure through gas taxes - where is the political will to force the feds to stop screwing us on this. I thought Think City was supposed to be progressive? Is this where Vision Vancouver gets it's nutty ideas from?

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