There are consequences to having no bridge tolls, say Islanders

By Evan Ceretti

Jan. 28, 2016

Scott Annear supervises 40 freight-trucks on a daily basis, making sure they get on and off the Island according to plan.

The general manager of Morley Annear Ltd, a trucking company based in Montaque, depends on the bridge and the Wood Island ferry.

So he has mixed feelings after hearing Senator Percy Downe’s plan to have tolls abolished on the Confederation Bridge.

It might save the company money, but cost him more as a taxpayer.

He sees how a toll-free bridge could be beneficial for his company.

“Save me… I wouldn’t know where to start what that would save me.”

His main concern, however, is wondering who’s going to pay for the maintenance of the bridge whether it’s coming from tolls or tax dollars.

It would be nice going back and forth for free, but there are hidden costs, said Annear.

“We’re going to pay for it either way. Who’s paying for the maintenance of it?”

Downe has been pushing for people to be able to come and go as they please, without having to pay any tolls.

Downe shared his ideas and research with Holland College’s journalism students during a presentation on Jan. 25.

He has contacted the three Island political parties to share his research regarding bridge tolls and hopes Island MLAs pass a resolution during their next sitting.

Montreal’s Champlain Bridge will be free for all to use. The rules have changed, but only for Quebec, said Downe.

“Why are we paying when others are getting it for free?

The Confederation Bridge was built to last for 100 years and the firm that built it gets 100 per cent of the tolls, said Downe.

It cost over $1 billion to build in 1997. The toll was initially $35 for a car it has and been increasing steadily. On Jan. 1, the tolls increased to $46.

As for removing tolls only for Islanders, Downe said that’s not really an option. He wants to see the same rules nationally.

“It has to be consistent.”

Jim Sentence is a professor in the economics department at UPEI. He agrees with Downe, the decision to remove bridge tolls should be consistent nationally. Islanders getting a free ride might not be so easy, he said.

“Justifying it to the rest of the country would be difficult.”

Travelling here as a tourist would be a lot easier and cheaper with no bridge tolls, said Sentence.

Having no bridge tolls could increase the number of tourists visiting the Island, but there could also be consequences. Tourists may have traditionally stayed here long enough to justify the costs of leaving.

“More short-term [visitors] opposed to long-term.”

Sentance said the Island’s retail sector could be hurt due to lower or removed bridge tolls.

“You might see people shopping off Island.”