David M. Russell

Decongesting our hip pockets

In Commentary on July 12, 2009 at 3:44 am

Still haven’t met anyone who likes traffic jams. Haven’t been looking hard but just can’t recall a single person who has a good word for traffic congestion. So, when politicians start taking about new and improved ways of getting traffic to flow faster, the concept has appeal. Until you realise that it will cost money to achieve.

The idea that is gaining a lot of traction around the word currently is an innocent-sounding concept called ‘road pricing’. Harmless enough, you think? Trust me, nothing’s harmless when a politician has his hand in your wallet. The underpinning of this latest scheme is that hoary old chestnut: user pays.

It goes like this – charge those who use roads at peak times a fee. This will act as an incentive to make them think about driving at different times and, perhaps, encourage them to use public transport instead.

Now, at face value, that seems like a reasonable stance. But, hey, haven’t all these drivers suffering stress attacks because they’re getting later by the minute already paid for the right to use these clogged roads? Haven’t they paid their taxes? Haven’t they paid registration and licensing fees – on top of their other taxes – just for the privilege of sitting in smog-laden frustration every working day of their lives? Makes user pays sound a lot more like double-dipping by the government, doesn’t it?

Frankly, the whole thing smacks of a cynical government ploy. They argue that roads and bridges should now be built by the private sector and paid-for by tolls. But, hey, don’t we pay all these taxes to government so they can supply us with essential infrastructure? Isn’t that how our system works? Why do we have to pay twice?

As one bureaucrat put it the other day: ‘If you give it to them for free, it’s no wonder they’ll clog the health system and clog our roads with congestion and pollution’. Excuse me! That’s why we pay taxes – to get roads and hospitals and all the other things governments promise us during election campaigns. For them to turn around and start imposing a new series of punitive taxes (call them charges, fees, whatever) is outrageous and we should protest loudly. Doubt it will do us much good but it’s better than letting them rape us and pretend it’s for our own good.

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