COLUMN: Not just a bell that could be tolling for thee

All well and good I say, so long as the cyclists pay the same toll as motor vehicles...

COLUMN: Not just a bell that could be tolling for thee

On the front of a Vancouver daily last week, the headline screamed “TOLL THEM ALL?” in question to a call by various municipalities, and I’m sure a pile of bike riders throughout Metro Vancouver, to toll all bridges and roads in the region.

All well and good I say, so long as the cyclists pay the same toll as motor vehicles. After all, their use of road infrastructure is equal to that of a car, albeit with a considerably lighter footprint.

However, the motorist and all commercial and service vehicles which supply food and other products, already pay a hefty premium to use Metro’s roads and bridges – more than 45 cents per litre in fuel taxes alone.

However, I’m not here to battle bicycle use (I think our fall/winter/spring weather does that nicely enough), rather I question why motorists are singled out as the seemingly only source of revenue to provide rapid transit.

If I want a new car or truck, I have to buy it, and pay for its operation. Thus, should not transit users be required to pony up the funds necessary – spread over countless years, based on “affordable” fares – to provide their rides?

If you want transit then you should be willing, or required as drivers are through gas taxes, to pay a rider fee that contributes not only to the operation, but acquisition, of the transit vehicles.

After all, drivers are already contributing for something they’re not using, so why shouldn’t those actually using transit pay a substantial fee as well?

The argument of course, is that the aim of transit is to get people out of cars. For many that works when there is transit available.

Back almost half a century ago, I lived in Vancouver’s West End. I had a car, and it stayed parked most of the time because it was quicker, easier and far cheaper to either walk, take a cab or ride the bus. Most trips were no more than a few blocks, and finding a parking spot on the street was then, and still is today, akin to locating the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Let’s also be clear, I’m not against tolls or transit. I don’t mind contributing to the new Port Mann (though fortunately I rarely cross it), and I do remember tolls on the Lion’s Gate and (then) Deas Island Tunnel.

And for anyone who has travelled to the central Interior, who can forget the $10 tab to cross the Coquihalla.

What I have learned, and Surrey/New Westminster is learning on the Patullo Bridge, is that people will do their damnedest to avoid paying tolls.

The Coq is a prime example, where often you would see four-wheelers pull off at the Falls Lake exit, traverse the pipeline route and, circuitously, bypass the toll booths.

On the southeast side, enterprising drivers with time to spare could also divert well before the Great Bear Snowshed onto the long abandoned KVR right-of-way and eventually emerge at Coquihalla Lakes just north of the toll plaza.

A long, arduous but extremely scenic way of tax avoidance. How do I know?

Because I took both routes on a number of occasions, not so much because I couldn’t afford the fee but as a matter of principle. Back then, I didn’t value time as much as I do now. And by the way, both routes are still there though they were gated or made impassable not too long after the toll avoidance antics were realized.

The point however, is that people will try to circumnavigate tolling stations, which means that all those well-meaning, but money-grabbing, Metro municipal politicians who want “tolls on everything” may find their residential streets clogged with frustrated commuters who already believe they are contributing enough “to the greater good.”