Gas tax revolt could lead to driving war

Imagine having to pay a tax to be stuck in the Colwood Crawl.

Imagine having to pay a tax to be stuck in the Colwood Crawl.

If B.C. Con-servative leader John Cummins’ gas tax revolt keeps gathering steam, a tax for driving in and out of town could be an unintended consequence.

Cummins has achieved remarkable political traction in the dog days of summer promoting his “Axe the Tax” revolt. He has artfully tapped into public outrage over a proposed two-cent-per-litre gas tax in Metro Vancouver to help pay for the proposed Evergreen rapid transit line to the suburbs.

Fighting gas taxes is a good place to start the revolution. Here in Victoria, motorists pay 39.67 cents per litre in a variety of taxes including transit levies and the carbon tax. Next year, it will be 41 cents.

The mounting public anger Cummins is fanning has profound implications for the governing Liberals who may soon be faced with the costly obligation of returning to the GST/PST tax regime. The challenge for the New Democrats is not insignificant since their leader, Adrian Dix, believes our fiscal challenges should be addressed by taxing banks and business out of B.C.

Cummins, for all his bluster, also comes to the table minus a magic bullet unless you consider belt tightening a workable solution in the face of ever mounting municipal and provincial infrastructure demands.

If gas tax hikes are no longer politically tenable, then what?

The gas-tax backlash has fuelled increased interest in a taxation regime that could have motorists here in Victoria and in Metro Vancouver praying for the good old days. It’s called “road pricing.” It’s also referred to as “congestion pricing.” Both are euphemisms for road tolls.

The theory is that ever increasing gas taxes do not discourage commuters from driving during peak hours. Rush hour traffic is the main reason costly highway improvements are needed. Applying variable tolls on congested arteries addresses the issue by charging more for travel during peak hours than off-peak hours.

I realized that highway tolls are a very real option when I read that they have the blessing of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, not to mention TransLink.

The chamber has been supportive of the Evergreen gas tax, but its president, John Winter, wants public transit officials to consider embracing a funding model that is more “flexible.”

“Given the projected growth in the region, it will be crucial to include road pricing in a direct traffic demand management system. Road pricing allows for an element of choice for businesses and commuters that does not exist in either the gas tax or vehicle levy systems,” Winter says.

That kind of endorsement from the Liberal-friendly business community is priceless for the political community seeking new sources of taxes.

But, what about the driving community? Road rage will have new meaning for commuters gridlocked in the Colwood Crawl when their “road pricing” toll transponders are picking their pockets while they are spinning their wheels.

The reason there are rush hours is pretty simple. Most folks have to start work at roughly the same time and they don’t have the luxury of “flexibility.” Making them pay for the luxury of crawling to and from work will add insult to injury.

If gas taxes evolve into driving taxes be prepared to see the gas tax revolt become a driving tax war. M

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