In mid-December, Paul Dechene did a blog post on the modest boost City Council has made to the road repair budget. The $20 million or so that’s being dedicated in 2015 sounds like a lot of money, but not when you consider that according to a 2013 report Regina’s backlog on road repairs currently totals $261 million.
For decades now, around 80 per cent of Regina’s road budget has been directed to main arterials. These comprise about 20 per cent of the city’s 1000 kilometre road network, and they’re in relatively good shape. But the flip side is that for decades about 80 per cent of the city’s roads have received minimal maintenance. These roads are primarily in residential areas, and they’re the ones that are in desperate need of repair.
Coincidentally, in mid-December Andrew Coyne had a column in the Leader-Post where he discussed a proposal that’s being considered in Vancouver to introduce “mobility pricing” to help alleviate congestion on increasingly crowded roads.
If you read the column you’ll see that one initiative would involve a referendum to approve a .5 per cent increase in the provincial sales tax (to be collected in Metro Vancouver only) to finance further transit expansion. A second, longer term initiative, would introduce a comprehensive pricing system that would apply to all private and commercial vehicle traffic.
You can read more on mobility pricing in this Simon Fraser University report. The rationale behind it is to put a price on road use that would more accurately reflect the cost of building and maintaining roads. If that was done, motorists would still have the option of driving, but the cost they would incur would motivate them (as in other market situations) to act frugally to ensure they received the best value for their dollar. For many, public transit would become a much more economical option, and lead to a rise in transit use and a drop in private vehicle traffic.
The SFU report discusses different options for mobility pricing. One is tied to toll roads and bridges. These already exist in some places in Canada. A second involves an “area scheme” where motorists would face special charges for the privilege of driving in high congestion areas. Singapore and London are two cities that have such schemes now.
A third option is “full network pricing”. Down the road, that could involve transponders installed on all roadways, with GPS-equipped vehicles being assessed a fee for every kilometre traveled. A way would have to be found to protect privacy, but it would provide a mechanism for imposing market discipline on motorists to ensure they used the road network as economically as possible.
Not only would that reduce the amount of wear and tear on roads, and by extension the cost of maintaining them, the charge would also serve as a legit way to factor in transportation cost for individuals and businesses.
Yes, something may be on sale at the big box on the other side of town. But if you have to pay a fee reflective of the true cost of driving there and back, maybe you’ll decide to walk or cycle to the neighbourhood store and pick up the item there. Same with living in a remote subdivision or bedroom community that requires a long commute. The choice is yours, but you won’t be able to off-load part of your transportation cost on your fellow citizens/ratepayers if you do decide to drive.