Thursday, April 10, 2008

Funding Ottawa's transit plans, part three: Gas taxes

New York's idea of charging cars to enter a certain district of the city, which I wrote about earlier this month, came up again in the media, this time in a story about ideas for public-transit funding in Montreal. A story in the Montreal Gazette explores the recent proposal to put a toll on all bridges entering Montreal Island, but the auther of the column--Henry Aubin--argues that it's not appropriate in Montreal's context.
Yes, I know, tolls work very well in London, lessening congestion in the financial district while raising plenty of money. And, yes, tolls might soon achieve similar success in Manhattan, where the city council is asking the state legislature to approve a fee of $8 on cars entering a zone below 60th St.

But all cities are not the same. London and New York are world centres for finance, business and entertainment. Many people need access to those centres - for networking, for status, for stylish living. And those kinds of people won't feel the pinch.

Montreal isn't like that. Businesses and entertainment venues are already moving off the island in pursuit of the population, which grew three times as fast in off-island suburbs as on the island between 2001 and 2006. Tolls would only accelerate this trend. Tremblay's would only harm Montreal Island's already precarious finances.

Instead, Aubin argues that a gas tax would be more appropriate as a charge that reflects the stated goals of funding public transportation and reducing greenhouse gases.

A tax on all motorists - regardless of where they drive - would be environmentally fitting. Cars contribute to climate change wherever they are, not just in the Montreal region.

The amount of the tax would automatically reflect each vehicle's fuel inefficiency. An SUV requires more gas than a Prius, for example.

No new bureaucracy would be necessary, unlike with tolls. Existing revenue personnel could handle an add-on tax.

I'm not sure how popular a new tax would be ho matter how or why it's put in place. Aubin, however, brings up the "unabashed" carbon tax in British Columbia as an instance where the tax works well, and that could be a positive model for Ontario to look into.

No comments: