Trending in Business: To Toll or Not to Toll?

By Grant T. Smith

On the first day of September, the tolls were removed from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. I had a reaction to this, but thought that before I issued a proclamation I should speak to a few people.  


Much to my (tongue in cheek) surprise, and with rare exception, I got three reactions:

  • People who live in Surrey and Langley were supportive of the change as it directly impacts their pocket books.
  • People who live downtown were against the change, as they end up paying greater taxes to support their friends from Surrey.
  • People living on Vancouver Island and in the interior seem to think they already pay too much tax to support the Lower Mainland and that the tolls should stay intact.


My perception is that each of these responses is far too tied to the direct impact on the individual. None of the responses are focused on policy, or the best approach for managing the collective resources of our communities. I hear Bilal wondering if this is the official start of my campaign for the leadership of an unnamed party – if only it were that easy to get rid of me!


Over the past month, I saw a number of reported facts about the tolls:

  • Commercial vehicles could save up to $4,500 per year
  • Commuters who travel twice a day on weekdays would save around $1,500 per year
  • The government expects to spend $132 million in costs to remove the tolls
  • The leaders of both the Green and the Liberals have condemned the action, which was a campaign promise of the NDP


I struggle with the best answer to the issue. However, the framework for the discussion is: should we adopt a user pay approach for infrastructure? And if so: what should be the strategic basis for implementation?


I believe that clarity for the long-term is required in order to allow a free market to establish and grow.  When one chooses to buy a home in areas where housing prices are reduced due to a significant commute, buyers need to understand the costs of the commute to plan accordingly. The toll or no toll decision will also impact housing prices. Presumably, this month, Surrey has become more desirable to buyers who would work in Burnaby or Vancouver but live south of the Fraser.


My strategic objective is to support the move away from privately-owned vehicles for short-distance commutes and to encourage the use of more responsible travel choices. Accordingly, the choice to drive a car over a bridge in the Lower Mainland, perhaps any bridge in the Lower Mainland, should result in a small toll (even ‘microtoll’, if you want to sound all current and avant-garde).


Let me go one further – could we use phone apps to applaud HOV use of cars? Could we develop a system that waives the toll for high occupancy vehicles, or even generates credits for this type of use?


We need to develop a user pay model that promotes the choices that will move BC forward.