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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.

  1. $86 million for the rest of 2017/18 and $135 million annually thereafter for the Port Mann bridge
  2. $34 million for the rest of 2017/18 and likely more than $120 million annually thereafter for the Golden Ears bridge. Because this bridge is owned by Translink, the government will have to negotiate a long-term solution.
  3. 180 people will lose their jobs
  4. The outstanding debt for the Port Mann Bridge is $3.6 billion; the outstanding debt for the Golden Ears Bridge is $1.1 billion. $4.7 billion will now be moved from self supporting debt to taxpayer supported debt.

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.


Media Statement


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.”

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Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca ​

14 Comments

  1. Rich-Reply
    September 1, 2017 at 11:48 am

    I agree, the tolls should not have been removed… they should have been reduced or constructed in a way that appeals to the daily commuter.

    When I phoned Treo to see if there was an “average commuter” package that I could pay monthly, the only thing that was offered was if I traveled something like 50+ trips over the bridge my future trips for that month would be free. I informed them that I only travel Mon-Fri twice a day and that travelling more times doesnt help.

    Someone should have put a system in place that allowed for things like:
    – If you travel over one way ($3), if you come back the same day the return trip is half price
    – If you travel over one way ($3) and come back within 2 hours then the return is FREE
    – If you travel over the bridge X consecutive trips then your trips are half price
    – If you travel over the bridge 30 times in one month, future trips in that month are half price

    I mean there are so many difference incentives that you could work out, but for some reason nothing like this was even thought of.

    Like everyone is saying, if they are removing the tolls it just means that they will be adding the cost somewhere else, and MUST be another “tax” that will bring in more money than the bridges if they were able to remove the tolls so quickly.

    What happens to the employees at Treo, I am sure they must have someone else in the works that will keep them around… highway tax (pay per KM to use the freeway)? so that you can charge EVERYONE even the people who are coming from Coquitlam. Trouble with this is that you are just going to congest the other side roads.

    Bad decision IMO. Should have just kept the tolls and make it more affordable or appealing.

  2. James Neuber-Reply
    August 29, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Mr. Weaver, you sold out to the devil in politics. Thanks for nothing !!! Now we all have to pay the price for your dumb decision.

  3. Kim Maandag-Reply
    August 29, 2017 at 6:58 am

    Dear Mr. Weaver… I’m glad to see that you take responsibility for the fact that the NDP is in government today. You are right, they could not be in government if it was not for the support of the Green party. However, that also means that they could not have eliminated the tolls on these bridges if they were not in government and the reason they are in government is because you put them there… Therefore the responsibility lies squarely on your shoulders.
    I lost all respect for the Green party when you made your bed with the NDP… You could have aligned yourself with the Liberal party… Or stayed independent, you had many choices but this is the choice you made. You are the government… so in fact you made this choice.
    It is also deeply disturbing, that the first controversial decision that the NDP makes, which was a clear and visible party platform, you immediately try to separate yourself from them. You cannot separate yourself from the NDP…you put them in government…it is your responsibility.

  4. Richard Wong-Reply
    August 26, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    The political reality is that Surrey is the most politically powerful part of the province and the NDP needs the votes from there to be re-elected. In fact, the NDP owes its new government to Surrey and they want the tolls r removed. End of story.

    It was entirely predictible that this would happen and any successful must look at the political calculus of a policy regardless of the financial accounting……memo to the Greens.

    • August 27, 2017 at 12:02 am

      The NDP did not win the last election. To be perfectly blunt, they owe their chance in government exclusively because the BC Greens signed a confidence and supply agreement with them. We continue to keep a close eye on their fiscal management. We are very unimpressed with this announcement.

  5. Kurtis-Reply
    August 26, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    These bridges were always tax payer supported debt and never self supporting. Don’t cloud the issues with false labels. They were single examples of user pay systems when the entire infrastructure everywhere else is toll free. I don’t agree with removing tolls but I think $3+ tolls is insane. Put a $0.50 toll on every single bridge, and register every car with their insurance. No one avoids the tolls, no one gets unfairly peanlized and the interior and the island don’t get stuck footing the bill for infrastructure spending that benefits them significantly less (they still benefit in the form of food and goods distributions from the lower mainland as well as industry stemming from this metro hub that helps their own economies).

    • August 27, 2017 at 12:04 am

      They were only built in the first place as they were to be self funded instead of taxpayer funded. Its the same with the Coquihalla (and many other roads and bridges around the world).

  6. Jurgen Hissen-Reply
    August 26, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Very glad to see you speak up on this terrible policy, Dr. Weaver.

    Please turn your words into actions. You can’t let the NDP run rough-shod all over your platform just to “keep promises” for which they have no mandate.

  7. Kristine Griffin-Reply
    August 26, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Well, Mr. Weaver. You made this bed with the NDP, now we all have to lie in it. I’m sure this is just the first of many NDP decisions we will all come to rue.
    Seriously, did you genuinely expect the NDP to make fiscally responsible decisions? Any respect for you or your party evaporated as soon as you became their junior partner.

  8. JPierre-Reply
    August 26, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Port Mann is part of the trans Canada; consequently I feel that removing tolls from this bridge is wholly justified. It is justified also in terms of bringing back traffic diverted by its tolls to this newer bridge and away from the Patullo for instance.

    • Jurgen Hissen-Reply
      August 26, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      JPierre,

      Why does “part of Trans Canada” mean there should be no tolls?
      Are the ferries also “part of Trans Canada”? If so, are you advocating for them also to be free?
      Should someone in Prince George be paying for a $3Billion bridge in the lower mainland?

      An alternative approach to balancing the traffic would be to toll the other bridges also.

  9. Philip Victor Allingham-Reply
    August 26, 2017 at 9:10 am

    These bridges were being underutilized, particularly the Golden Ears Bridge, because commuters could literally get around them by using the highly-congested Lougheed Highway and the Surrey Perimeter Highway. These longer routes involve consuming far more fuel and mean much longer commutes. Here on the Island, of course, this is a non-issue as we have our own commuting issues, but we are fooling ourselves if we believe that the debt associated with any public works project can be sequestered because tolls and fees will chip away at it: how many thousand years of tolls would have been required to pay for a bridge too few commuters were using? Tax-payers outside the Lower Mainland may not like this cancellation of the tolls, which were undoubtedly onerous for Maple Ridge commuters, but such infrastructure debt should be everybody’s problem.

  10. Brad Richert-Reply
    August 26, 2017 at 6:37 am

    The majority of the NDP platform was reckless. The Green Party turned its back against its supporters and handed this reckless party a blank cheque to form a reckless government and now is “disappointed” that their master is making good on its reckless promises?

    The NDP turned its back on good environmental policy throughout its tenure as official opposition just to get votes, so why would they change? The NDP is populist, not progressive and the reason they can now do whatever they like is because the Greens wanted their 10 minutes of power.

  11. Steven Meleski-Reply
    August 25, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    I am okay with bridge tolls……but how about a dollar, or half a dollar on toll on every major bridge in the Lower Mainland? Why are the people who cross the Port Mann or the Golden Ears the only ones paying their way??? All the bridges need maintenance, or will need to be rebuilt at some point in time. The people who can’t afford the high cost of housing in places closer to Vancouver, are pushed out to places like Abbotsford or Chilliwack….then they get reamed by bridge tolls. Why doesn’t everyone have to pay?

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