SURREY (NEWS1130) – If you plan to drive a car over the new Port Mann Bridge when eight lanes open in December, you will pay $1.50 per crossing, down from $3.00.

And drivers who register for a free online tolling account and decal by February 28th, 2013 will receive the discounted toll for a full year.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak says drivers won’t see the full benefit from the new span until other work on Highway 1 and the South Fraser Perimeter Road is finished.

“Drivers shouldn’t have to pay the full toll until we provide the full-time savings,” Polak says.

“When this project is complete, drivers will see their commute times reduced by up to 50 percent,” she notes, adding it took her nearly two hours to drive from her home in Langley over the existing Port Mann bridge to Downtown Vancouver today.

Light trucks and cars pulling trailers will be charged $4.50 to cross the new span, $1.00 for motorcycles and $9.00 for semi trailers and large trucks, although that fee is cut in half if truckers cross between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

“Currently, the time [semi truck drivers] spend in traffic is time that costs them money, so this already is a significant advantage for them and the opportunity to travel at night and have a 50 percent discount is certainly significant,” Polak contends. “We anticipate and, in fact, have heard support from the trucking industry for the framework that we’ve put in place.”

Polak and Transportation Investment Corporation (TI Corp) — the Crown agency overseeing the new Port Mann project — is encouraging as many drivers as possible to sign up for the free online tolling account and decal.

Drivers who get the new decal can use it across the tolled Golden Ears Bridge as well. Drivers with the Golden Ears Quickpass transponder can use the new Port Mann but won’t receive a discount, so the website suggests you return the transponder after December 1st and sign up for the Treo decal.

Polak says their plan to pay off the bridge is still on track despite the discount. “Tolls will still come off the bridge at 2050 and it will still be paid off then.”

She also expects rapid bus service to travel over the new bridge come December, despite TransLink’s funding challenges.  

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender is also confident the rapid buses will run and plans to be on board the first coach to cross the bridge

“It may mean reallocating of some resources,” he says. “I don’t have the answers until TransLink brings it forward but I have the commitment from the minister and the government.”

NDP Transportation Critic Harry Bains calls the bridge tolls punishing, but wouldn’t say specifically if his party would raise them if they won power. “Chances are [the] tolls could go up if they are not on target as far bringing in sufficient revenue on tollings,” Bains says.

Short term gain for long term pain?

There are suggestions that the immediate discount on the bridge could mean short term gain for long term pain.

It will take decades to pay this off regardless, but North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton say shortening the cost to you on the front end will just extend it further on the back.

“The question is where are those funds going to come from?” he asks. “They have to come from users at some point. Market-force is at play when you are pricing public transportation as well. So you have to take a look at trying to get the optimum amount of revenue and making sure traffic keeps flowing over the bridge.”

Meanwhile, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts figures people will be pleased to get to test out the bridge for less than they had expected.

Truckers won’t see reduced rates

There’s no toll discount for truckers who want to use the new Port Mann bridge in the day. This has the BC Trucking Association encouraging semi drivers to pass the $9.00 toll onto customers.

President Louise Yako doesn’t want that burden on her members.

“If you look at a $9.00 toll, it doesn’t seem to be very much, but if you add on a series of incremental costs then obviously, it will affect the total cost of transportation,” notes Yako.

The half price overnight rate remains in place, but she doubts a lot of truckers will take advantage of it.

Drivers will keep using the Port Mann Bridge

The head of the City Program at SFU expects drivers will keep using the Port Mann and Highway 1.

“Well, I’m signing up. I’m going to take the deal, it’s actually pretty good,” says Gordon Price. “I think they’ve done a good job with what you call a loss-leader. Get us all signed up, registered, and then we are on our way to not just bridge tolling.”

“I think you’re going to be seeing this rolling out so that all kinds of roads, bridges, gosh-you-name-it, are going to be part of a comprehensive road-pricing system in the future,” he adds.

The City Program studies issues like urban planning, transportation, and development. Price expects the reduced toll for crossing the bridge should be enough of an incentive that drivers will “try it out.”

“[Drivers] will make their trade-offs, I think some will,” he says. “But basically the appeal of Highway 1 and the bridge, I have to say it’s a pretty attractive option.”

Price says his biggest criticism of the Port Mann project is that new transit options for communities south of the Fraser River are not in place for the opening of the new lanes on the bridge.