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Independent commission to study how to tax Metro Vancouver roads with mobility pricing

Traffic outside Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station. (iStock Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – How much you pay to get around, be it by car, bike, or bus, could change.

The Mobility Pricing Independent Commission is releasing a report Wednesday about lower mainland traffic congestion and pricing.

Mobility pricing looks at everything from road maintenance, transit fares, parking fees, and gas prices.

Transportation expert Gordon Price with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue says the province cutting tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges has limited their options to charge for transportation.

“The entire transportation system is going to be affected by how we measure what people are doing and charge them something appropriate to that.”

He says drivers and transit users can argue over what’s fair between tolls or fare hikes, but he points to Oregon as a state that has charged alternatives to a gas tax.

“So they do have ways of people voluntarily measuring GPS systems in their cars, charged for that kind of use,” he says.” There are only a handful of cities that have done this. There’s Singapore, Stockholm, London.”

Is road pricing the fairest way to go?

“No one knows what that is, but you can count on one thing, if I’m being charged more, it’s not fair,” he laughs. “That’s pretty much a truism in politics, but the Commission can certainly give parameters, discuss it certainly, and look at what other jurisdictions have done.”

Ride-hailing has also been on municipal minds and it adds a new wrinkle to mobility pricing.

“Imagine something like Uber combining with Amazon came to the city and said they’d like to buy the transit system, the whole thing, they’d maintain it, you can regulate it, but we want it, also the road system that you would pose tolling on, we’d like that included. Throwing Uber, bike sharing, taxis, parking, anything that you can imagine, we’d like to sell it as a service package to practically everyone in Vancouver. Like shared telecommunications package, every month you pay someone for a communications service, Shaw, Rogers, Telus, for a service, but you don’t know about the costs of a single cell phone or how much data costs, but the next one always seems to be free. If you could offer drivers, transit users, a package to give them access to the entire system, charge them only once, that sounds pretty good, right? A possibility, right? I bet that’s being discussed. If you charge people $500 for a transportation package. You don’t have to own a car, you don’t have to insure or maintain it. You suddenly have a cash flow as great as any overnight, it’s huge. It would become bigger than governments.”

The commission is expected to make a final recommendation to TransLink’s board of directors in spring 2018.

“This would be impossible to consider doing without a lot of public consultation,” Price continues.

“There’s no way politicians can move on an issue like radical change on pricing on transportation unless they have some kind of mandate to do so.”

The Mobility Pricing Independent Commission is doing more research and more speaking with the public over the next few months.

Before that, they will release their initial findings Wednesday at noon at the University of British Columbia’s Robson Square campus.