Pay as you go for mo­torists

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc - Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

If you want to go into a bar where the band is play­ing, you have to pay the cover charge - even if you’re just pass­ing through.

At least, that seems to be the way the prov­ince of New Brunswick is look­ing at it.

That prov­ince, fac­ing a large deficit, is look­ing at es­tab­lish­ing toll booths to raise any­where from $43 mil­lion to $60 mil­lion. There are three dif­fer­ent op­tions, but the one that the rest of the At­lantic provinces might find in­ter­est­ing is New Brunswick’s Op­tion 2, which would see toll booths set up at sev­eral of New Brunswick’s bor­der points, charg­ing $40 roundtrip for trucks and $10 round-trip for cars.

Some of those fees will be re­cov­ered from New Brunswick­ers, but many, un­der the bor­der toll gate pro­posal, would be for ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing New Brunswick and then head­ing else­where.

I guess it’s handy be­ing a prov­ince that’s also a trans­porta­tion choke-point — you can tax peo­ple head­ing for neigh­bour­ing provinces, with­out ever hav­ing to worry about those neigh­bours re­turn­ing the favour.

The beauty? A large pro­por­tion of the ones do­ing the pay­ing aren’t even among your vot­ers, and you can ar­gue that it’s just your way of re­cov­er­ing the costs for dam­age done to your high­ways by the peo­ple driv­ing through.

It’s not so sweet for ev­ery­one else.

In 2014-15, 95,552 com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles crossed into or out of New­found­land and Labrador on Marine At­lantic. (So, 47,776 round-trips.) If just two-thirds of those ve­hi­cles were com­ing from Cen­tral Canada, there would be $1.27 mil­lion in ad­di­tional toll costs, costs that would im­me­di­ately trans­fer to New­found­land cus­tomers. (You can hardly ex­pect truck­ing com­pa­nies to just ab­sorb the costs — heck, just look at the num­ber of busi­nesses that put a fuel price sur­charge in place when gas and diesel prices went up; and, while you’re at it, the num­ber of those keep­ing sur­charges in place de­spite the pre­cip­i­tous fall in fuel costs.)

Prince Ed­ward Is­land? Well, the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge is the main route onto the is­land, but its oper­a­tors don’t re­lease truck traf­fic num­bers. An es­ti­mate in a Trans­port Canada truck­ing study done in 2006 sug­gested 320,000 trucks used the bridge round-trip - which seems high. If that es­ti­mate is right, the new tolls would add, well, mil­lions and mil­lions to the tab for P.E.I res­i­dents.

Some New Brunswick­ers have made com­par­isons to tolls charged on the Con­fed­er­a­tion Bridge and the Cobe­quid Pass toll high­way: well, yes and no. Both of those tolls were put in place to re­cover spe­cific pri­vate sec­tor costs for build­ing and main­tain­ing trans­porta­tion as­sets. New Brunswick’s move is sim­ply an ef­fort to col­lect rev­enue. It is, by def­i­ni­tion, a money grab.

It might also make for some in­ter­est­ing traf­fic changes: if you’re a truck driver go­ing from Hal­i­fax to P.E.I., it might be worth your while to avoid the $40 toll on the ma­jor high­way, and sim­ply tool into New Brunswick on the fright­en­ingly nar­row New Brunswick Route 970 — a lovely lit­tle road, for sure, but a fright­en­ing piece of high­way to meet a trac­tor-trailer on.

And imag­ine if other provinces took up the toll­booth torch: if you’re a Haligo­nian buy­ing man­u­fac­tured prod­ucts from On­tario, you might be fac­ing an On­tario toll, a Que­bec toll, a New Brunswick toll and maybe even a home-grown Nova Sco­tian toll as well.

It’s an imag­i­na­tive way to play pass-the-bucks - ex­cept for the provinces, like New­found­land and Labrador, P.E.I. and, to a de­gree, Nova Sco­tia - at the end of the line.

East­ern Pas­sages

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