User-Pay For Rural Road Upkeep?

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A Prairie-based public policy think tank suggests it’s time for rural municipalities to consider identifying their roads’ heaviest users and assessing them appropriately to pay for the roads’ upkeep.

“Using the ‘exceptional user pays’ principle, particularly heavy road users can be assessed for the disproportionate road damage their activities create and be charged accordingly,” the Frontier Centre for Public Policy said July 13.

“The solution works because a very small number of heavy users can create a disproportionate amount of road damage; charging them spares local taxpayers.”

“This solution,” study co-author David Seymour said in FCPP’s release, “eliminates the need for political wrangling between small cities and towns and higher levels of government over who should pay for road maintenance.”

It’s a given in the rural West that fewer grain delivery points and fewer kilometres of rural rail amount to more grain hauled longer distances by truck.

The study, however, grants that rural municipalities “already apply de facto user charges for roads in the form of property taxes that are loosely correlated with usage,” given that farmers make up the majority of rural Prairie populations.

“Well over 50 per cent of rural municipalities’ total costs are attributable to their roads, as these assets are their core competency-business specialization,” the study says.

“Based on these facts, farmers pay the lion’s share of their property taxes to finance the benefits of the transportation infrastructure services they receive. In effect, an existing road’s cost recovery is no different from a user-pays charge, so a de facto user charge is already in place.”

But currently, the study said, “Canadian road funding does not universally adopt user-pays practices in cases where road maintenance costs arise from identifiable exacerbator sources,” a term which refers to roads’ so-called “exceptional users.”

The study, titled Getting a Better Bang for the Pothole Buck, was written by Larry Mitchell, an FCPP senior fellow and consultant on local government, based in New Zealand; and by David Seymour, a senior policy analyst at the FCPP’s Regina office.

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