Today the BC NDP announced that they would be removing the tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges in Metro Vancouver effective September 1, 2017. While this may seem like a good idea at face value, it is profoundly troubling from a policy perspective.
In the 2017 election campaign the BC NDP announced that if elected they would scrap the tolls on these two bridges. The BC Liberals countered with a promise to limit tolls to $500/year. In their subsequent and bizarre throne speech this past summer they promised to remove this cap and eliminate the tolls entirely. The BC Greens were the only party to campaign on developing a rational tolling system through consultation with and municipalities across Metro Vancouver. We did not promise to eliminate the tolls.
Eliminating the tolls will come at a cost.
Increasing taxpayer supported debt is worrying. The Province’s borrowing rates are largely determined by our credit rating and overall taxpayer supported debt load. Increasing this debt load risks the potential of downgrading our credit rating which in term would increase borrowing rates on the entire provincial debt.
More than $250 million annually will now have to come from other sources. This is money that is desperately needed in health care, public education, and social services.
Eliminating tolls will increase congestion in Metro Vancouver as more people turn to their cars. It sends precisely the wrong message to commuters who may now opt out of public transit.
Finally, the introduction of user-pay systems to support the construction of major infrastructure projects is well established as an efficient means of advancing such projects in a timely fashion. When the infrastructure is paid off, the tolls are removed. This is how the Coquihalla highway was built in BC. In fact, those who have visited Quebec, Ontario, PEI, or Nova Scotia will have experienced tolling on various bridges and roads.
Today’s announcement fulfilled what can only be described as a desperate attempt by the BC NDP to pander to voters south of the Fraser. Their justification of fairness is shallow. Residents of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands or Haida Gwaii will point out that the BC Ferries are part of our highway system. A compelling case of fairness could be made to argue that all ferry fares should be eliminated (there are already no fares on the inland ferries in the Kootenays). Obviously this won’t happen.
How would the rest of BC react if the BC Green Party campaigned on eliminating the fares on all BC Ferries. I suggest that there would be outrage – and rightly so – in the face of this reckless approach to public policy.
Below is the media statement I released today on this topic.
Weaver statement on government’s decision to remove bridge tolls
For Immediate Release
August 25, 2017
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.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
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