Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A plan for road pricing in Metro Vancouver

Today, the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation will be announcing members of its new independent road pricing commission to propose a solution to manage congestion, maximize fairness, and fund transit and road improvements in Metro Vancouver.

Commission members will be “eminent and [politically] unaffiliated local citizens and community leaders, and represent the socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic diversity in Metro Vancouver.” The commission’s mandate will include extensive outreach to people living in the region. Its recommendations will be due in 2018.

Historically, the provincial government has been cool to changing how transportation is funded in Metro Vancouver. With the results of this recent election, there seems to be renewed interest in finding a fair and equitable way to reduce congestion and pay for much needed transportation improvements in our region at the provincial level.

A friend of mine, Lee Haber, recently finished his master thesis called “For Whom the Road Tolls.” In his thesis, he proposes a regional, distance-based road pricing system for Metro Vancouver. He calls this Full-User-Pay (FUP) road pricing.

Haber’s proposal would replace fuel tax and bridge tolls, and reduce municipal property tax. Instead, people would be charged a per kilometre fee for using the road network. The fee would be different depending on the type of vehicle and mode of travel used. This per kilometre charge would capture the costs of building and maintaining the transportation network, air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution, and congestion.

Proposed FUP road pricing per kilometre charge by vehicle/mode as proposed by Haber. Select image to enlarge.

For FUP road pricing to work, a GPS tracking system would likely be needed to enable charging people for the distance and time they travel on the road network. For transit, TransLink already has the technology in place to charge distance-based fares. Because GPS tracking would be needed for a FUP road pricing system, a comprehensive privacy review would need to be completed to ensure that the system could not be used to spy on people.

Road pricing has been shown to reduce congestion, even in its simplest form as a toll. For example, traffic volumes plummeted on the Port Mann when tolling was introduced. The congestion cutting benefit of FUP road pricing is significant. Haber found that there would be a large savings for people no matter the mode they use if FUP was implemented in Metro Vancouver.

The net benefit of a FUP road pricing system by municipality in Metro Vancouver. Select chart to enlarge.

It would also benefit people in all parts of Metro Vancouver. Because of the congestion reducing benefit of FUP road pricing, people in the South of Fraser would see more benefit than people in Vancouver.

The current system of how we pay for using our transportation network is broken in Metro Vancouver. I look forward to seeing the results of the Mayors’ Council Independent Road Pricing Commission. The big question is will the provincial government implement the recommendations of this commission.


Lee Haber said...

Here's a link to my slideshare presentation: https://www.slideshare.net/soccerforgirlfriends/for-whom-the-road-tolls-a-look-at-full-user-pay-road-pricing

Unknown said...

Did the research compare the benefits of complete distance-based pricing to simpler alternatives to find an optimal effort-to-benefit policy option? In other words, could you get most of the benefit of distance-based pricing by simply tolling all the major water crossings including a higher toll at rush hour + congestion pricing downtown, and that way avoid the intrusiveness of measuring everyone's vehicle usage with GPS and the associated cost of setting that up?

Nathan Pachal said...

I don't know if he evaluated other options. Those options weren't in the thesis.

MacBlack said...

The key to the appeal of his proposal is the revenue neutrality of it: reducing the other taxes in favour of road pricing to properly align incentives. The problem is that in practice it seems likely that the mayors would want a pricing scheme that generates revenue in addition to the other taxes intended to pay for the same thing. That will feel like - and in fact be - paying twice for the privilege of using the roads. Whether the mayors be smart enough (ie, not too greedy) to see that remains to be seen.