For whom the toll rises
'One road for the rich and one for the poor'

Chinta Puxley
The Hamilton Spectator

Highway 407 tolls will rise 12 per cent in February, the fifth such increase in three years.

Opposition politicians say another toll increase on Highway 407 is creating a two-tier transportation system.

The company that owns the toll highway is increasing rates 12 per cent -- the fifth increase in three years. Starting Feb. 1, it will cost between 12 and 13 cents a kilometre, depending on the time of day. That's up from between four to 10 cents a kilometre it cost to drive the highway in 1999.

The toll increase has outraged critics and highway users who say the government backtracked on a promise to limit toll increases.

"It's a two-tier transportation system," said David Christopherson, NDP MPP for Hamilton West. "There is one road for the rich and another for the poor. It's a luxury to take the 407 and it wasn't conceived that way. "

Christopherson, who was an NDP cabinet minister when the toll highway was first conceived, said it should never have been privatized. He said his government planned to remove the tolls once the highway was paid for.

Instead, he said a private corporation has been given free rein to raise tolls as long as traffic volume doesn't decrease.

"This has been a scam from the get-go," Christopherson said.

Contrary to the government's initial claim, there is nothing in the 407's contract that limits the company's ability to increase tolls. A government media "backgrounder," dated April 1999, said tolls could be increased annually by 2 per cent plus inflation for 15 years.

"This would mean that tolls could increase by about three cents per kilometre over the first 15 years," the document states.

But Ryan Bailey, spokesperson for Transportation Minister Norm Sterling, said that document wasn't "as complete as it could have been." It didn't mention the company can increase tolls on the highway as long as traffic volume doesn't drop.

The new increase means that as of Feb. 1, the cost for light vehicles will be 12.95 cents a kilometre during peak hours -- weekdays between 6 and 10 a.m. and between 3 and 7 p.m. -- and 12.1 cents a kilometre off peak. The old fee was 11.5 cents, any time. Light vehicles without a transponder also pay $3.30 per trip for a non-transponder fee, up from $2.65.

Brad Clark, former Transportation Minister and Stoney Creek MPP, did not return phone calls yesterday.

Dominic Agostino, Liberal MPP for Hamilton East, said the government backed down on its promise to protect consumers when they first sold the 407 for $3.1 billion in May 1999.

"The Tories have basically given this company a licence to print money," he said. "It's a bad deal for drivers."

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