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Financing of the road network | The big slip

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(Quebec) Contrary to what former Minister of Transport François Bonnardel recently affirmed, it is not “in 15-20 years” that we will have to find new ways of paying for our roads. The fund financing the road network and public transport is already in deficit, learned The Press. Without a new tax, all Quebecers are called upon with tax money, a step back from the user-pay principle.

“We are already using large sums of general taxes to pay the bill. It’s a terrible signal to send since we’re moving away from the user-pay principle, and I don’t think many people are interested in starting to dig a hole of 500 million to 1 billion a year in the coffers of the State”, affirms Samuel Pagé-Plouffe, coordinator of the TRANSIT Alliance, which campaigns for better financing of public transit.

Florence Junca-Adenot, associate professor in the department of urban and tourism studies at UQAM and former president of the Agence métropolitaine de transport, believes the same thing. “The Land Transport Network Fund is in deficit. We have already seen it coming for eight years and the government knows it very well since it launched a project on financing in the last mandate, ”says the expert, who participated in the reflection of the Ministry of Transport.

The user pays

Created in 2010 by the Charest government “in accordance with the user-pays principle”, the Fund was to be self-financed to pay for road infrastructure and public transit assistance programs. Its revenue comes mainly from registration and driving license fees and a tax of 19.2 cents on a liter of gasoline sold – a figure that has not changed since 2013.


INFOGRAPHIC LA PRESSE / SOURCE: ANNUAL REPORTS OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTS OF QUÉBEC

However, incomes are not indexed and stagnate, due to the increased energy efficiency of vehicles and a greater proportion of electric vehicles. On the other hand, expenses are rising. They have thus gone from 1.7 billion to 2.8 billion per year in 10 years. And that’s without taking into account the massive investments that will have to be made in public transit over the next few years to fight against climate change.


INFOGRAPHIC LA PRESSE / SOURCE: ANNUAL REPORTS OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTS OF QUÉBEC

The simplest, says Florence Junca-Adenot, would be, in the short term, to increase the tax on gasoline, which is based on the number of kilometers traveled and the consumption of the vehicle. We should “at least keep up with inflation”. Otherwise, Quebec could raise the price of registrations or introduce a kilometric contribution. But one thing is certain: “not making motorists pay is making everyone pay through taxes,” says Ms.me Junca-Adenot.

Known problem

The problem is known to the Legault government. In an information document on the project on the financing of mobility launched by Minister François Bonnardel in January 2019, we can read that an “imbalance could arise” due to expenditure being greater than income.


PHOTO EDOUARD PLANTE-FRÉCHETTE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

François Bonnardel, Minister of Public Security and former Minister of Transport

But, despite a regional tour with 18 stops, 240 “sustainable mobility partners” met and 58 briefs, no decision was made before the general elections of 2022.

The subject is sensitive. The CAQ government is cautious and does not want to be accused of raising taxes. During the election campaign, Premier François Legault ridiculed Québec solidaire by attaching the “orange tax” label to his proposal to make buyers of polluting vehicles pay more.

In October, Mr. Legault was panned by a report from the Montreal Journal which reported that the Ministry of Transport had launched a call for tenders to study different ways of charging motorists, including a “kilometre contribution” – i.e. billing according to the number of kilometers traveled – or “additional rights linked to emissions”, according to the polluter pays principle.

To lower the pressure, Mr. Bonnardel promised that nothing would be done in the next term. “We do not intend to add new taxes in the next few years,” he said, while postponing the reflection until later. “We project ourselves in 15-20 years by saying to ourselves: if we have a target of 100% green vehicles in 2035, how are we going to finance our new infrastructures”, he said.

In the next four years, unlike the orange tax, we do not intend to add new taxes, not at all. None.

François Bonnardel, former Minister of Transport, in an interview with TVA Nouvelles, last October

But without a new tax, taxpayers will have to pay, even those who don’t have a car. From 2019, the Ministry of Transport had to pay 180 million into the Land Transport Network Fund (FORT) to make up for its shortfall. That year, spending was up 6.7%, while gas tax revenues fell 1.8%.

1.8 billion

The scenario amplified the following year due to the pandemic, which starved transport companies. In 2020, the Ministry of Transport paid 1.8 billion into the FORT to make up for its annual overrun and subsidize emergency programs to enable them to balance their budget.

In 2021-2022, the additional payment was $7.66 billion, in particular to compensate for the application of a new accounting standard ($5.7 billion) and for a large transfer of funds to the Société de transport de Montréal (1. 1 billion).

The TRANSIT Alliance has been deploring for years the too great importance given to investments in roads in the FORT, compared to public transport. It closely monitors the amounts spent in the Fund.

A study published this year by the organization shows that “the FORT surpluses accumulated until 2017-2018”, but that they were then “resorbed over the space of three years” due to repeated deficits. . “New sources of funding will be more than necessary to make up for this shortfall,” notes the organization.

This is also the opinion of Florence Junca-Adenot. “We have to think about new sources of funding for our roads, but also to deal with everything that is in the government’s sustainable mobility policy. The financing project carried out analyzes and evaluations. There was no recommendation before the elections, but there, it will have to come out. Decisions will have to be made,” she said.

Ideas to finance our roads

There are several ways to tax car use more to fund our transportation infrastructure. The organization TRANSIT produced a portrait of the situation on this subject this year, and the Ministère des Transports also launched a study. Overview.

Cord toll


PHOTO BOB STRONG, REUTERS ARCHIVES

Vehicles pass under a camera toll system in Stockholm, capital of Sweden, in 2007.

Cordon tolls tax access to a restricted area for motorists – a town centre, for example. It was introduced in the cities of Singapore (1975), London (2003), Stockholm (2006) and New York (2021). It has the advantage of reducing congestion and pollution in the targeted area, but is expensive to set up.

Gasoline tax hike


PHOTO DAVID BOILY, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

The provincial fuel tax of 19.2¢/L has not been increased since 2013.

The provincial fuel tax of 19.2¢/L has not been increased since 2013. According to expert Florence Junca-Adenot, it should be “at least indexed”. It finances a large part of the Land Transportation Network Fund, but its revenues are directly linked to the quantity of gasoline sold each year. TRANSIT underlines the threat of “the erosion of the tax notably due to new, more eco-efficient vehicles and the increase in sales of electric vehicles”.

Road toll


PHOTO IVANOH DEMERS, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Highway 25 bridge toll, between Laval and Montreal

Road tolls can be installed anywhere on the road network or on new transport infrastructure, for example the A25 bridge or the A30 bridge, to finance their construction and maintenance. However, it has high implementation costs, notes TRANSIT, and is expensive to administer: on average, between 16% and 60% of revenues.

Kilometer tax


PHOTO HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Congestion on the Decarie Expressway in Montreal

The principle of the kilometer tax is simple: motorists are charged for each kilometer travelled. The Metropolitan Community of Montreal (CMM), for example, is studying the idea of ​​a kilometer tax to finance public transport. It applies the user-pays principle to motorists who have an electric vehicle, they who do not have to pay for the gasoline tax. “Even if the electric vehicle does not emit GHGs, it contributes to road congestion”, notes Florence Junca-Adenot. Depending on the technology used, annual costs are estimated at between 4% and 10% of revenues, according to TRANSIT.

Additional duty related to emissions


PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

The Quebec government charges owners of “luxury vehicles” more each time they renew their registration.

The Quebec government already charges owners of “luxury vehicles” more each time they renew their registration. They must pay 1% of the value of the vehicle exceeding $40,000 each year. Quebec could use pollutant emissions from vehicles as a criterion. This is what is being studied by the Ministry of Transport, as reported The Journal of Montreal.

Land capture


PHOTO ROBERT SKINNER, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

A building located near a metro station increases in value when compared to another building located further away.

This way of taxing is more “local”, says Florence Junca-Adenot. It would allow transport agencies or cities to levy a “land grab” on property owners located near public transport projects. For example, a building located near a metro station increases in value when compared to another building located further away.



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