Transit MSP style tax

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I’ve been listening to talk on the radio and reading news stories about tolls on bridges in the lower mainland. I’ve herd ideas like adding tolls on all the bridges to charge $1.00 a crossing. On the radio a few nights ago, the host was proposing ICBC collect a yearly fee instead from drivers which would mean no tolls for bridges.

The tolls on all bridges which might sound like a good idea to only collect money from those who uses bridges will result in millions of dollars of infrastructure changes for each of the 15 bridges in the lower mainland to have the ability to toll cars. That is a massive upfront investment. That kind of investment has a short life span as we have seen on the Golden Ears bridge which is already in need of millions of dollars to upgrade/replace current tolling systems.

Another problem with tolling bridges is how unfair it is for motorist who only need to travel a short distance to work that live near a bridge. A trip from Surrey to Coquitlam can be as short as 5km from home to work yet the person that crosses the bridge is paying a toll which drivers who live in Coquitlam that commute to Vancouver do not have to pay. Those drivers get a free drive over the rest of the freeway which billions was spent on to upgrade. Same for drivers from Langley who travel only to Surrey. They travel on the same new billion dollar freeway upgrades but because they don’t cross the bridge they pay nothing extra.

The ICBC idea of collecting a few hundred dollars from drivers is a better plan but still not the best plan. Most drivers take bridges but not all. The idea does not address low income and fix income people. A grandmother who drives only 2km a day to go to the store that will never see a bridge is going to be hit with the same fee as someone that drives over 4 bridges a day on a 30km commute.

I am proposing a better solution. A MSP style tax on individuals and businesses. If you make less than 30,000 a year in income, you get subsidized. A fee scaled by income starting at $50.00 a month for people in the 30k to 60k income range and a higher rate as income increases would go into a new provincial transportation fund. This fund is used ONLY for transportation needs of the province. A highway here, a bridge there. But more import this also pays into transit to cover the user fee portion so effectively Translink and BC Transit become free to use. Additionally, the ferries could see a portion of this as well to reduce the cost of fares. The business portion of this tax would have many different models to account for the different uses businesses put on the transportation network. A hair barber wouldn’t be taxed nearly at the same rate as a trucking company.

The net benefit of this is the reduction of cars on the roads as the cost of transit is zero. People will use it more often. Those that still drive should see reduced congestion because of the free transit and because drivers will use the best bridge for them. Not spending an extra half hour or more trying to avoid a toll bridge. The Golden Ears and Port Mann will be utilized more. Low income people and fixed income people will be covered so it will be no barrier to them. Poor and homeless people will be able to use transit. And the costs of tolling and the cost of fare collection for transit would be removed. Fare collection is nothing cheap for Translink. The gate system built is way over budget. To address issues with disabled people requires a considerable increase in staff. The policing operations just to catch evaders is expensive. And now with gates it’s an inconvenience to users and disabled people. Most of the assaults on drivers are related to fare issues.

Photo Credit:  Jerry Meaden
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