We need more tolls, not fewer

Item date: 
September 22, 2014
Item context: 

A rational take on bridge tolls and equity issues courtesy of McGill professor William Watson.


Where do homeless people park their cars? I’ve been wondering that ever since Quebec’s most famous separatist intellectual, Jean-François Lisée, charged last week that the federal government’s desire to use tolls to finance a new $5-billion bridge joining the south shore of the St. Lawrence to Montreal Island will make it a bridge for rich people only.
We have hefty parking charges in downtown Montreal. If you want to park downtown, you’ve got to put lots of coin (or a credit card) into a parking metre. I’m guessing homeless people can’t afford it. It must be hard on them having to park way outside downtown and walk in...
Not all Canadians own a car and among those who don’t, are most poor people. One thing about being poor is that you usually can’t afford a car. As a result, most people using the new bridge aren’t likely to be poor. They may not be mega-rich but they’ve got at least one major asset, even if they may still owe money on it. So dry your crocodile tears: Tolls will not be a tax on the poorest of the poor...
Critics of the federal government’s proposal say that if we do charge tolls on the new bridge, people who don’t want to pay them will switch to other bridges where tolls aren’t charged. That may well be true. But that just means there should be tolls on all our bridges.
Critics say that would be unfair. Really? In what way exactly is it unfair to have the people who use a service pay for it? By contrast, where’s the fairness in making people who don’t use a bridge pay for it?...
We don’t need fewer tolls, as the critics argue. We need more tolls. Most Canadian cities suffer from terrible traffic congestion. Road tolls at peak hours, which we now have the technology to charge, would help reduce and spread out traffic. Tolls on highways, many of which are in third-world shape (if that’s not an insult to the third world) would give us better highways.
None of this means we forget the homeless. But what kind of anti-poverty policy is it to give everyone, rich and less-rich alike, a free ride across a bridge?