By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published December 10, 2009
this blog entry has been updated
It's amazing that these arguments about highway tolls are not being made more strongly and publicly. The main counter-argument has already come up in the comments to yesterday's RTH article: it is "unfair" to put a price on roads when there isn't viable transit.
Of course, this is not actually an argument against tolls per se, but just an argument about what a fair price is. This discussion is also really about who should pay for highways, since as a society we're already paying the full cost through our taxes.
The best tactic is to set the price at a level that ensures smooth traffic flow (even during rush hour), and then simultaneously make a massive investment in improving transit.
It would also be useful to tell motorists explicitly what the real cost of our roads is, so they don't feel it is free or that they are being over-charged.
Incredibly, many motorists still believe that fuel taxes actually subsidize other government services!
Then there's the billions of dollars lost to the economy mentioned in the OECD report. This should be added into the cost as well.
The most disingenuous argument is that we should wait until we have a superb public transit system that goes everywhere before making it any more expensive or inconvenient to drive.
Of course, these same people would howl about the huge tax increases required to build the transit system, and complain it is unfair that they should pay since they don't use it (cue HSR's chronic under-funding).
In yesterday's Globe there's an article about some technology that will make pay-as-you drive insurance, parking and tolls much more efficient to implement.
The risk analysis would be based on driving record, as well as where and when the motorist drives. The risk per km is presumably lower on a freeway than in downtown Toronto. This is really much more intelligent, and makes the market in insurance more efficient (and fairer).
Anything that shifts the fixed costs of driving to incremental per km (or per hour) costs will be helpful.
Kamal Hassan, the CEO of Skymeter, gave some good arguments for a toll system during the live blog [live blog transcript formatted for clarity]:
Hassan: The smartest way to allocate any scarce resource is by pricing. Roads during rush hour are a scarce resource. Right now we allocate them by lining up ... a very inefficient way of doing so. The people willing to sit the longest in traffic are the ones who get that scarce road space.
Globe and Mail: Are we talking about toll roads? They aren't exactly the most popular thing these days...
Hassan: Yes, the principle is tolling. Yes, it's similar to the 407. I remember how when the 407 started all sorts of people said they hated it. Now they use it ... because getting where you're going in 15 minutes rather than 45 minutes is worth a few dollars.
Toll roads are not popular when the private sector takes money away from the citizens. With Skymeter, it is just as possible for drivers to pay for the roads ... and for that money to be used to reduce your taxes.
Update: The link to the Transport Canada study was updated.
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