Editorial — Taxes, tolls lead to behaviour changes

Higher gas taxes aren't good for the local economy, and would seem to be a self-defeating measure.

TransLink’s annual report, released last week just before the Easter long weekend, makes for some fascinating reading.

Gas tax revenue actually declined in 2011, falling $12 million from the $324 million collected in 2010. While there is no evidence that people are driving significantly less, it is obvious that many are doing their best to avoid the TransLink tax.

That’s why some people travel to the U.S. to gas up, often with a number of jerry cans. Others head to Abbotsford or Mission, where gas prices are lower because there is no TransLink tax.

TransLink just boosted the gas tax by two cents a litre, but the net effect may be to turn a trickle of tax evaders into a much larger stream. The mayors who backed the higher gas tax claim that another $40 million will be raised. It is quite likely that this target will not be met. While some drivers will continue to fill up in Metro Vancouver, many others will not.

When the higher gas taxes are  combined with the higher limits for bringing back U.S. goods duty-free, which go into effect on June 1, this tax boost may do little other than drive more shoppers across the border. This is hardly good for the local economy, and would seem to be a self-defeating measure.

Transit ridership in 2011 was at record levels, with ridership up 8.6 per cent. This is likely due, at least in part, to widened use of U-Passes by university students. Another factor was the Vancouver Canucks’ extended playoff run. While transit fares collected totalled $444 million, one wonders how much more would be collected if all riders were made to pay fares, and if fines were actually collected.

Golden Ears Bridge tolls collected totalled $33.7 million, almost 11 per cent less than TransLink had expected to collect. The bridge continues to be lightly-used, and TransLink’s brief experiment last year with lower tolls at certain times didn’t seem to attract much additional traffic.

Overall Golden Ears traffic was up, which seems to indicate that more people are using it as a travel alternative. The higher traffic levels may also be related to more economic activity.

It will be interesting to see how the bridge use changes when the new Port Mann Bridge opens. Tolls on the two will be similar, but the Golden Ears may get more use by people who have thus far avoided tolls by using the Port Mann.

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