Monday, April 10, 2017

Reducing or eliminating tolls will simply lead to more congestion and longer commute times for drivers

On Sunday, the BC Liberals announced that if they were re-elected, they would cap bridge tolls at $500 per year. Whether this is per vehicle or per account isn’t clear. Later during the day, the BC NDP came out saying that they would eliminated all bridge tolls.

While these announcements are certainly meant to win votes, they are both poor transportation policies. These policies will lead to more congestion on Metro Vancouver roads, increased pollution & GHG emissions, and will shift the burden of paying for costly bridges from people who use them to all British Colombians for decades to come.

People tend to think of traffic like water and roads like pipes. If you have more traffic flow (water) than a road (pipe) can handle, build a bigger road (pipe.) The problem is that traffic is more like air. It will simple fill the space you give it; you can’t build your way out of congestion.

The traffic modelling for the Massey Bridge shows that without a toll, the new bridge will simply result in more congestion.

Red circles show tolled and untolled traffic forecasts. TransLink's tolled traffic forecast: TL-RTM Tolled. Independent traffic forecast: SDG Independent. Select chart to enlarge.

Both the $500 toll cap and no-toll scenario will lead to more congestion. The BC NDP's no-toll plan will have a faster acceleration rate towards congestion than the BC Liberal's $500 toll cap plan.

TransLink's Golden Ears bridge had tolling revenue of $52.1 million last year. TransLink had to pay around $77 million in capital repayment and operating costs in 2016. The provincial Port Mann Bridge had tolling revenue of $135 million in 2016. The Port Mann had to be subsided by all British Columbians to the tune of $82 million.

By reducing or eliminating tolls, other tax sources will be used. The difference is that instead of people who use those bridges paying for them, everyone will be on the hook for these expensive boondoggles.

These policies also raise some questions about how transit expansion will be funded in our region. The region’s 10-Year Vision is dependence on road pricing in the next several years to be able to move forward. With the federal government promising to investing $2.2 billion into public transit in Metro Vancouver, hopefully the provincial government and mayors can figure out a new way to pay for their share of transit expansion costs.

The vast majority of trips do not cross a bridge in our region. In the South of Fraser, freeways circle our communities, but don’t go through them. Improving transit, cycling, and walking facilities, regardless of provincial tolling policy, is the only way to give people a way out of congestion without road pricing. I don’t see a freeway being punched through Surrey anytime soon.

I’m disappointed with both the transportation policies announced yesterday. I think a much better policy would have been to introduce road pricing, and eliminate gas tax.

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