With all the talk of the impending Port Mann tolls, the concept of fair tolling has been hitting the airwaves recently. This alternative would have $1 tolls on all the bridges instead of $3 tolls on two. While it is by no means perfectly equitable, it is certainly a large improvement over the current policy which promises to divert traffic, and charge some residents upwards of $1500 a year.
However, some are calling for a more high tech solution, with the abolishment of bridge tolls and the introduction of road pricing. This idea has some local Mayors enthused, including Dianne Watts and Peter Fassbender, as it promises to ensure full equity among the region’s drivers. Even former councillor and blogging guru Gordon Price has become an advocate of such a system. Theoretically, under a regional road pricing scheme, cars would be billed by distance, with variable charge rates based on time and route – for example, a higher charge at rush hour on Hwy 99.
However, in pursuing the idealistic option, they’ve lost sight of its implementability. Comprehensive road pricing schemes such as this do not exist – anywhere. A proposal to develop such a system in Oregon wound up in the trash bin. The simple reason? It would require a GPS tracking device to be installed in all private vehicles.
For the system to function, everyone would need to participate. There would be no choice to opt-in. While such a system might fly in Britain, Vancouverites are already on edge about the intrusion of CCTV in public space. Even if it could be designed to make your route information anonymous, or discarded at the end of every day, it is still a non-starter. We are much too averse to anything bordering on Big Brother, and this, dear Mayors, is ringing the alarm bell.
It is for this precise reason that the Mayors need to snap back to reality and focus on the pragmatic approach. The only option we have to improve the status quo is to pursue comprehensive fair tolling on all major crossings.