Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tolling in Metro Vancouver

This afternoon, the Province will be announcing the toll rates for the new Port Mann Bridge. The original plan was for the toll to be around the $3 per crossing range with some viability based on the time-of-day. It is widely expected that the Province will announce a reduced toll for the first year or so until the bridge is 100% in service. I received a few calls from the media about my views on tolls and the South of Fraser perspective.

Most people I’ve talked to who live in Langley and Surrey realize that tolling is needed to pay for infrastructure, but they feel that as a sub-region we are being unfairly tolled while the rest of the region gets a “free ride”. Why for example are both the new Golden Ears Bridge and Port Mann Bridge tolled, while the new Pitt River Bridge is “free”? It is also likely that the new Pattullo Bridge will be tolled as well. As bridges are the most expensive pieces of transportation infrastructure per kilometre in Metro Vancouver and benefit the whole region, it would be fairer if all Provincially and TransLink owned crossed became tolled. This would allow for a lower toll at all crossings (instead of the Port Mann and Golden Ears costing $3 per trip, all crossing in Metro Vancouver would cost $1 to $1.50 per trip.) This money could be used to pay for the improvement of our transportation system in Metro Vancouver. Besides helping pay for infrastructure, tolling also helps manage demand.

Throughout North America and the world, variable tolling is used to give people cues on when is the best time to travel. For example in Seattle, the SR 520 Bridge costs $3.59 during peak periods, $2.31 mid-day, and is free at night and the early morning. Variable tolling has been shown to reduce congestion and this must be parts of any tolling program in Metro Vancouver. Of course the real issue with transportation in the South of Fraser is giving people an alternative to driving.

While the Province has promised that there will be bus service across the Port Mann when it opens, there will be no money to build the transit network to connect to this new rapid bus service. Also, the Port Mann bus will only go through Walnut Grove and Fraser Heights, and won’t actually give transportation choice to the majority of people in the South of Fraser. Regional tolling must go hand-in-hand with investment in public transit otherwise tolling will be seen as nothing more than a cash grab.

Tolling is good transportation policy to pay for infrastructure and managing demand, but only when investment is concurrently made in public transit.

1 comment:

Daryl said...

The new Port Mann Bridge is a far more expensive $3.3 billion bridge, whereas the Pitt River bridge (AND interchange) cost less than $200 million.

At $2.50, the Port Mann tolls were anticipated to bring in $450 million a year []

As much as it seems like it's disadvantageous for the South of Fraser to have a Pitt River Bridge that is free, I think you can see why. Plus, if the Pitt River Bridge were tolled, there are no other free alternatives to it. Don't you think that would place Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows at a HUGE disadvantage like the one you seem to think that the South Fraser region has?