Thursday, August 22, 2013

History of Road Pricing in Metro Vancouver

Next week, I'll be releasing an important report about the future of our transportation system in Metro Vancouver. In the meantime, I though I'd tease you with a section that didn't make it into the final version.

There has always been the recognition in British Columbia that major transportation projects should be paid for with a combination of general tax revenue and user-fees, based on the premise that those who get the most benefit from a transportation project should pay a portion of that cost directly. It was recognized that general tax revenue alone should not and could not pay for the entire cost of these massive projects, leading to the introduction of tolls. Tolls were first implemented on the Depression-era public works project, the Pattullo Bridge, at its opening in 1937. In the 1950s, the Province entered a period of large-scale highway expansion, with tolls paying for much of this infrastructure. During this time, tolls were in place on the Lions Gate Bridge, Oak Street Bridge, Second Narrows Bridge, and the George Massey Tunnel. Tolls were eventually removed from all road facilities in the province by the late 1960s and it wasn’t until the Coquihalla Highway opened in 1986 that tolls were once used to pay for a significant road facility.

In the 2000s, it was recognized that there would be significant cost to renew road infrastructure in the region and that tolls would likely play a part in future funding. In 2003, the province introduced a new tolling policy stating that tolls would only be used for major projects and only when a reasonable, free alternative route is available. The new Port Mann Bridge was the first facility to be tolled under this new policy.

In the 1999, TransLink was formed with the mandate to build and maintain road facilities of regional significance (not under provincial control) and was granted the ability to toll its facilities. The Golden Ears Bridge was the first toll facility built by TransLink. There is currently tension between the Province and TransLink as some of the free alternative routes used to justify the Port Mann toll may be subject to tolling by TransLink.

Tolling can serve a dual purpose. It can be used to pay for the construction and maintenance of the road network and it can also be used to manage the demand on road facilities and reduce congestion. For most of its history in British Columbia, tolls have only been used to help pay for the capital cost of road infrastructure.

Another form of road pricing - the motor excise fuel tax - has a long history in the province. The gas tax has been used by government for decades to help pay for transportation, although it was historically remitted directly into general revenues.

Between 1993 and 2004, a separate entity - BC Transportation Financing Authority - was in place to bring accountability to the motor fuel tax and show the link between the tax and the financing of road facilities. Today, the Authority is now the project funding arm of the Ministry of Transportation, collecting the motor fuel tax and is responsible for building provincial transportation facilities on paper. It also owns all provincial transportation facilities and associated land plus all land owned for future transportation facilities in the province.

Today, in Metro Vancouver, the Authority receives 6.75ȼ per litre in motor fuel tax, while the province collects 1.75ȼ per litre for general government revenue; 17ȼ per litre in motor fuel tax is collected for TransLink, which is responsible for the regional road network; 6.67ȼ per litre in motor fuel tax goes towards the revenue neutral carbon tax.

Starting in 2011, both TransLink and the BC Transportation Financing Authority saw a reduction in motor fuel revenue which is linked to the overall North American trend of reduced vehicle miles traveled. A fixed motor fuel tax may no longer be a reliable way to generate revenue to pay for transportation facilities. In 2011/12 the Authority collected $447 million in dedicated motor fuel tax and had $983 million in expenses.

Further Reading:

Transportation Act, [SBC 2004] Chapter 44. n.d.

BC Transportation Financing Authority. "BC Transportation Financing Authority Annual Report 2001/02." Crown Agencies Resource Office. June 18, 2002.

BC Transportation Financing Authority. "Consolidated Financial Statements of Transportation Financing Authority Year ended March 31, 2012." Ministry Reporting Service Plans, Annual Reports and Financial Statements. July 17, 2012.

Bill 3. Build BC Act, 1993 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 35th Parliament. n.d.

British Columbia Ministry of Finance. "Bulletin MFT-CT 005, Tax Rates on Fuels." Revenue Division - Ministry of Finance Forms, Publications and Legislation. October 16, 2012.

Gillen, David. "The Role of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) in Implementing Road Pricing for Congestion Management." Centre for Transportation Studies, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia. October 30, 2007.

Province of British Columbia - Office of the Premier. "Backgrounder - Coquihalla Highway." Province of British Columbia Newsroom. September 26, 2008.

Province of British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Highways. "Frontier to Freeway: A short illustrated history of the roads in British Columbia." Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Publications. August 15, 2002.

Province of British Columbia. "Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure 2011/12 Annual Service Plan Report." BC Budget Annual Reports. July 18, 2012.

Province of British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. "Guidelines for Tolling - April 2003." Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. April 22, 2003.

South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority. "TransLink 2011 Annual Report." TransLink Annual Reports. May 28, 2012.

State Smart Transportation Initiative. "Motor vehicle travel demand continues long-term downward trend in 2011." State Smart Transportation Initiative. February 20, 2012 .

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