Province can't duck role
in exorbitant 407 toll rates

Transportation: Charges are way out of line

Highway 407/ETR is fast becoming the highway we love to hate.

The temptation to avoid the QEW crawl toward Toronto with perhaps a hair-raising ride down the 427 or DVP is still almost irresistible.

So we admit the 407/ETR is a good product, although at times it can clog up as badly as the 401 along north Toronto or the QEW in Oakville.

But the trouble with good products is that demand always affects cost.

So, once again 407 International Inc., the consortium that owns the highway, has decided that it must raise its rates -- the fifth increase in three years for those who like to keep count.

Its reasoning: the 12 per cent rate increase which takes effect next month will help pay the $6 million construction cost of additional lanes between Pine Valley and Highway 27. The consortium has also announced it plans to add additional lanes between Highway 401 and Hurontario Street as well as a number of technical upgrades to its customer service operation.

The company boasts shamelessly that use of the 407 has increased by some 20,000 trips per day in the last year.

And there's the rub. It gives you the sense that 407 Inc. could probably pay for all its planned upgrades and still realize a small fortune in profit at the end of the day.

In fact, the dough those extra 20,000 trips per day alone must generate should eventually look after the expansion plans.

And that's not considering what the 407 Inc. must pull in on the 300,000 rides it was already clocking daily.

Our suspicion of papering over the gold mine increases when reading the sugar-sweet coating applied to the defence of the rate hike:

"More people are picking up their children from day care on time ..." You get the idea.

What we can't understand is why the province lets 407 Inc. get away with charging such exorbitant fees. They're so far out of line with toll highways the world over, it's laughable.

Come February it will cost a driver without a transponder about $24 for a round trip to Highway 400 from here. That's about 135 kilometres.

It costs about the same to drive the length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll highway, America's first superhighway, except that you get to drive for 672 kilometres.

That means it costs five times more to drive on the 407/ETR than it does on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

And that's why it's hard to go along with another increase. The province needs to take a look at this situation because, sooner or later, drivers are going to hold the government responsible for the ever-growing user fees.

There is coming a day when the province will no longer be able to hide behind excuses such as "the highway is privately owned," because it is a situation the province created. Every rate hike will bring that day of reckoning a little closer.

-- Casey Korstanje


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