COLUMN: Contempt for local drivers took toll on BC Liberals

COLUMN: Contempt for local drivers took toll on BC Liberals

Hopefully, a better way of having users pay for services is ahead, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz

Premier John Horgan announced Friday that tolls would be removed from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, effective Sept. 1.

This fulfills a key election promise made by the NDP – one that likely made the difference between winning and losing. They picked up four seats in North Surrey and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows – and a fifth one in North Delta. There is no doubt the toll pledge was a key factor in some voters switching loyalties from the BC Liberals to the NDP.

Many of the “chattering classes,” particularly those in Vancouver, call the decision foolish. They’ve been joined by the NDP kingmaker, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who also opposes the decision. They show both their ignorance of the situation faced by people who have no choice but to use the two bridges, and their thinly disguised contempt for people who live in what they call “the ‘burbs.”

While, in 2009, there was some logic in tolling the Golden Ears Bridge, there was no justification for tolling the Port Mann three years later.

Golden Ears was built by TransLink, which could not afford to carry the debt by itself. It provided a vastly improved service over the previous archaic ferry link. Unfortunately, the toll was too high, and traffic levels have never been close to projections.

The Port Mann tolls should never have been imposed as they were. When then-premier Gordon Campbell announced that Highway 1 would be upgraded from Vancouver to Langley, it was to be a P3 project, with the private sector paying for it and being paid back through tolls. However, the tolls were only imposed on bridge users – not on all users of the improved highway.

Yet the government was unable to find a private-sector partner, so it set up its own corporation, TI Corporation. Thus, as Horgan points out, the bridge is simply more provincial debt, like other capital projects.

Campbell, successor Christy Clark, then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon and subsequent minister Todd Stone all failed to see the inequity of charging tolls on just one bridge.

When Stone was asked this year about the fairness of tolling policy, which stated there had to be a free alternative, it was obvious the BC Liberals were giving the collective finger to bridge users. They were also ignoring the severe impact on free crossings, most notably the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges.

Coupled with other decisions that levied more and more taxes on working people, the tolls grew into a major annoyance. It took time for the BC Liberals to realize that. When they did, just before the election, they were only prepared to half the toll.

Congratulations to the NDP for understanding the unfair burden these tolls have placed on bridge users. Hopefully, this will lead to a better way of having users pay for the transportation services they consume.

Something will be needed to help pay for the Pattullo replacement, which must be started soon. In the meantime, fairness in road and bridge use has returned – after a long absence.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com