Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Question For Andrew Coyne

OK, I accept the argument, tolls are the answer to our traffic woes.

Question, who can afford to pay them? Andrew points out that commuters are driving longer and longer distances to get from home to work. What he does not look at is why we do so. As an individual with a 150 km round trip, which takes two or more hours a day, he fails to ask why do I subject myself to it?

I do so because of the cost of housing, or rather the cost of living. I cannot afford to live where I work, or work where I live. And lest anyone think that I'm living beyond my means, if a 1479 square foot, 3 bedroom 1 1/2 bathroom home is beyond my means, then damn near everyone is beyond their means. And I know I'm not alone in this.

The average "middle-income" family is stretched. We hear it all the time. I believe it, because I live it. My savings are awful and every paycheque is squeezed of every last penny. I don't have extra money to pay road tolls. My managers (who also live in Cambridge) pay the 407 fees, I do not. But even they suffer the sticker shock of a few hundred a month in tolls. But they also get managers salaries. I do not.

There's also the matter of the effect such a toll system would have. If it is less economical to commute long distances, then this will increase the value of homes in the larger cities, and decrease the value of homes in outlying areas. So as tolls go up, my home value will drop, while house prices will rise even further closer to the city. It will squeeze my financial situation even more. To meet these rising costs I have to cut expenses elsewhere. I've already given up golf, skiing, travel and other luxuries. To meet increasing costs I'll have to cut into our next biggest budget, our grocery bill. So long fresh fruits and vegetables, daddy has to afford his drive to work.

We have a social structure where wages and home prices are unequal across regions. People react to this by working where the wages are high and living where the home costs are lower. Which leads to increased congestion on our intracity roads (and correspondingly on our intercity roads).

So to Andrew Coyne, how does the middle class pay for these road tolls? Is there a carrot to go with your stick? Or are we just going to be beaten further into debt and financial insolvency?

1 comment:

Ken Breadner said...

The problem I have with road tolls--and remember, I don't drive--is that gas taxes were supposed to fill that function. Instead they seem to be going...where, exactly?
I can't help but wonder if they're going, in part, to pay for all the superfluous government. I mean, you've got three local governments for what is essentially one city, plus a regional government to govern anything the other three governments forgot to govern.
And those gas prices are another issue entirely. As they go up, commuting--even without tolls--becomes less and less economical, leading to the same catch-22 you wrote about.
The only solution is fast and attractive and affordable public transit. (And yeah, anything fast and attractive probably isn't affordable.) We're talking endlessly about LRT around here. My wife is all for it, but she says their vision is not wide enough. She wants to see a local system from Elmira to Ainslie that integrates seamlessly with a line direct to downtown Toronto. Customize from there. Can we afford to build such a thing? I don't know. Can we afford NOT to?