Is the removal of toll bridge fees worth it?
By Katie Czenczek, Staff Writer
People no longer have to pay a toll to cross the Port Mann bridge and Golden Ears bridge as of September 1.
Despite the Green Party’s criticism of the removal of toll bridge fees, BC premier John Horgan kept his election promise to eliminate the tolls.
“You shouldn’t have to pay tolls because of where you live,” Horgan said at a press conference, after listing examples of places in British Columbia where people do not pay toll fees for their infrastructure. This will directly affect commuters traveling from Surrey to Vancouver and from Maple Ridge to Surrey who often have to pay up to $1500 one way within a year, according to Horgan.
For Douglas College students, the impacts may seem nonexistent for those who use public transit regularly. However, those who travel from Surrey to the Coquitlam campus will be directly affected.
Sarah Morse, a Douglas College student, said she is glad the fees have been eliminated.
“For me, it’s a positive change as I have to take the Port Mann bridge to get to school, and paying [approximately $3] every time you cross does add up,” she said.
Revenue generated by the tolls was being used to pay off debt the province incurred to build the bridges. Without that revenue, the province will have to find money to pay the debt elsewhere, which drew criticism from some opposition politicians.
Shirley Bond, the BC Liberals’ finance critic, said she feels elimination of the tolls means people outside the Lower Mainland will be paying for bridges they won’t ever use.
“Transferring the debt from these bridge projects to the Province is essentially telling northern and interior British Columbians that their tax dollars will be subsidizing Metro Vancouver commuters,” Bond told Postmedia Network.
Marc Lee, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the tolls weren’t generating enough revenue to cover the debt.
“The current tolls in place were not enough to pay off the bridges anyway, resulting in the bridges losing money,” he said.
Instead, Lee offered an alternative solution. He suggested paying off the toll bridge fees using a kilometres-driven model that taxes people depending on how far they travel, instead of what bridge or highway they used to travel.
“It is unfair that a commuter from Surrey to Vancouver, who travels the same distance as someone from Coquitlam, gets charged $3.15 one way while travelling to work,” Lee said.
The Golden Ears bridge is owned by TransLink. Therefore, the government will have to negotiate with TransLink the terms upon which the bridge debt is expected to be paid off.