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Cities Conference Opens in Edmonton

With talk of charging drivers to pay for roads, Western cities explore big ideas for how to pay for critical infrastructure

Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. Email Tim

Jun 23, 2014

by Tim Querengesser

As humanity migrates en masse from the country to the city we increasingly find ourselves with more in common in Canada. While Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal remain wildly different, they are also converging upon the same needs and problems. The biggest is infrastructure. How can our growing cities pay for new bits and maintain the already existing ones before they crumble? Where will the money come from?

Recently, mayors from B.C.’s cities near unanimously agreed to present the province with a proposal that would see $7.5 billion invested in roads, public transit, bridges and other pressing needs. They proposed money be partly sourced from the province’s carbon tax. That carbon tax is, however, legally directed to cutting corporate and income taxes. B.C. Premier Christy Clark killed the proposal on that point alone.

But mayors from Metro Vancouver are going further in their quest for revenue to invest in infrastructure. Road pricing – including tolls and levies – for public road infrastructure is back on the table, but in a much more holistic way. Imagine tolls or fees for using not just a bridge here or a highway there, but everywhere – employing a transponder to bill you for how you use roads. “You’d pay for the way you use the road network the same way you pay to use the cellphone network,” says Andrew Coyne, who advocated for the plan on CBC’s 180 on Sunday. “If you were in a hurry, you’d be more willing to pay for the roads that are more expensive or more direct. If you were less pressed for time you might take a less pricey route. People might say, ‘Should I take the car at all.’”

Coyne argues pricing all trips introduces a price incentive to change behavior (as well as raise revenues) rather than the current time incentive – paying for ‘free’ roads by sitting in gridlock.

Road pricing and many other ideas will be floating about in Edmonton this week, as City Age, a conference of planners and urban thinkers, gets underway. Some of the most dynamic changes and ideas are coming out of Canada’s Western cities. Check back here for updates on what they are.

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