VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Less than five months after BC’s NDP government eliminated bridge tolls, an independent commission on mobility pricing is looking at bringing them back.
The 10-month, $2.3 million commission is tasked with finding ways to pay for Metro Vancouver’s transportation infrastructure while reducing traffic congestion and addressing concerns about fairness.
Its first report, released today, lists two options for further study after months of consultations with over 6,000 residents and stakeholders.
The first involves charging drivers at so-called congestion points, like bridges.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the same as a return to bridge tolls, but it’s something which is conceptually quite similar that is going to be applied looking at where and when there is congestion and how you might address that,” says Daniel Firth, the commission’s executive director.
The second option being considered is to charge based on distance, time, and location travelled.
“There’s some good examples just south of the border here in Washington and Oregon doing trials with similar kinds of technology, so we’ll be looking at the kind of things they’ve done and see what we can learn from that,” he adds.
The commission’s final report will be tabled in the Spring. It will ultimately be up to Translink’s Mayors’ Council and the provincial government to implement the recommendations.
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Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) BC director Kris Sims, who was one of the stakeholders consulted by the mobility pricing commission, says we’ve been down this road before.
“Unfortunately I think this is just going to turn out to be the same thing we had with the bridge tolls where they set these prices high, it punishes people for driving… and it winds up becoming politically toxic, and then they scramble and try to fix it later,” she says.
Sims argues that Metro Vancouver drivers are already paying the highest gas prices in North America, including a per-litre transit tax, plus a special transit tax on parking.
Rather than adding on more fees, the CTF is calling on governments to display more fiscal responsibility when it comes to transportation funding. Failing that, Sims is calling for a public plebiscite on new mobility costs.
“If they’re still insisting on tolls at these bridges and tunnels, or fee-per-kilometre, we want a vote. If they want to take more of our money, we want a vote,” she says.
In a 2015 referendum, Metro Vancouver voters shot down a 0.5 per cent sales tax to help fund major infrastructure projects.
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Gordon Price, a fellow with the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue, doesn’t see either of the commission’s options gaining much traction with municipal elections coming this fall.
“Certainly, municipal politicians really don’t want to get into anything that looks like a highly visible new tax on the road, and I think the NDP themselves have to really clarify just what it is they’re prepared to accept,” he says.
Price says for a commission premised on looking to the future, the ideas being presented seem to be stuck in the past. He suggests what might be more useful is a broader policy framework that includes emerging transportation options like Uber.
“Until the province… is prepared to take some of the political responsibility for some kind of regional charging, then I just don’t see this moving very much,” he adds.
Premier John Horgan says he’s waiting for the commission’s final report to be tabled before commenting on their recommendations.