Not All Taxes Are Created Equal

When it comes to taxes, not all of them are created equal.

Take, for example, the controversial tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. They have become flavour of the month for politicians eager to expand transportation infrastructure without having to increase overall taxation to pay for it. 

Yet when you compare tolls to Metro Vancouver’s much-maligned gas tax, they can only be described as an inefficient and costly way to raise money.

If you support tolling all of our region’s bridges, better be prepared to spend millions of dollars to install the necessary equipment at every crossing. Then layer on the need for the requisite bureaucracy to collect it.

While you are at it, don’t forget that out-of-province vehicle and truck drivers essentially remain exempt from paying their fair share. Toll collectors have admitted that due to a lack of reciprocal agreements with other jurisdictions, they are powerless to collect tolls from anyone registered with a non-British Columbia licence plate.

By comparison, the region’s gas tax looks light a shining star.

For starters, this tax is collected at the pump by private gas station operators. There is no need to set up costly call centres, dispute mechanisms or having to check your credit card each month for questionable toll charges.

With the exception of a small percentage of residents filling up their tanks across the border, local road users can’t avoid paying the tax.

The gas tax also has the built-in advantage of equitably charging those of us who use our roads more frequently. Drive less, get charged less.

Despite what appears to be the fiscal fairness of the gas tax, there remains a vocal group of civic politicians who advocate for more tolls on even more bridges.

Politicians south of the Fraser River have been the most vocal. They are demanding that tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges be lowered in favour of implementing small tolls on all bridges.

The argument is that if every bridge has a nominal toll, then all drivers will be treated equally — regardless of where they live. More importantly, TransLink would be able to secure the funds they desperately need to expand transit service.

While there is no doubt a region-wide tolling system would generate loads of money, it is hard to dispute the fact it is a costly and inefficient way to collect taxes.

Raising the gas tax may not be politically popular for local politicians, but if they were making evidence-based decisions, it would clearly be the only viable option.