The Province has an unsigned editorial in today’s paper arguing that tolls tax people unfairly for living in the suburbs.  I am, as you might guess, unconvinced.  First, as I’ve said before, I think it’s not really the best idea to talk about this issue in such morally-loaded language.  The point of the policy isn’t to punish anyone for anything.  The point of the policy is to generate revenue while changing people’s habits in a way that reduces the number on cars on the road.  “Fair” doesn’t really come into it at all.

That said, it’s worth engaging the Province‘s editors on their own terms and asking whether tolls really would be unfair to people in the suburbs.  The argument seems to turn on a contrast drawn in the last two paragraphs:

It’s easy, of course, for City of Vancouver residents such as Robertson to argue for road tolls. They’re fortunate to have reasonably good public transit, including the new Canada Line.

Folks in the ‘burbs are not so blessed. They don’t have any real alternative to the motor car. And they deserve better than to have their pockets constantly picked by opportunistic politicians.

It’s unfair to toll suburban roads, this line goes, because people in the suburbs don’t have good public transit.

But — and this is really important — we normally don’t think it’s unfair to ask people to face the consequences of their own actions.  No one tricked people living in the suburbs into thinking there was great public transit in Langley.  They knew that when they chose to live there, and they decided they wanted to live there anyway.  Now, I know what you’re going to say next.  People live in the suburbs because they can’t afford to live in the city!  That’s what the Province‘s editors insinuate when call city-dwellers “fortunate.”  It’s a cute thing to say, but it’s irrelevant.  Here’s why.

Everyone — no matter how much money that have — faces choices about how to spend their money.  Rich people, poor people, and everyone in between.  We all makes choices.  Some people choose to spend their money on the rent and mortgage payments required to live close to good public transit.

Other people choose to spend their money on other things.  By living in the suburbs, they save a lot of money with cheaper rent and lower mortgage payments.  That means they can afford a car, or even a second one.  It means they can afford to have two or three kids instead of one, and maybe it even means they can afford to send those kids to private school.  It means they can afford more and better vacations, and more and better toys.  When people choose to live in the suburbs, they’re implicitly saying that these things — some of them very worthwhile! — are more important to them than reducing their dependence on unsustainable ways of getting themselves around.  And that’s fine!  Not everyone has to value the same things in exactly the same way.  My point is that everyone here, on some level, made choices.  The people in the suburbs could have chosen to live in the city.  But they didn’t, because it would have meant they’d have to give up a lot of stuff they weren’t willing to give up.

People end up living where they live because of the choices they make — not dumb luck or “fortune.”  And there’s nothing unfair about asking people to deal with the consequences of choices they’ve made.