OUR VIEW: For Whom the Road Tolls?

It’s a simple fact of life – freeways are not free. They cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

With municipalities in BC facing a $10 billion infrastructure deficit, there are serious questions about how to pay for the network of major roads and bridges in Metro Vancouver.

A growing population will place more demand on the road network, and many existing routes are nearing the end of their lifespan and will need either major repairs or replacement.

Renewed investment in public transit is one option that would reduce the growth in demand for road capacity, but transit investments are also very expensive. Higher property taxes is another option, but one that could be politically explosive. This leaves one option remaining – some form of user charges or tolls.

A patchwork system of tolls is already being introduced. The new Golden Ears Bridge linking Langley with Pitt Meadows is tolled. The new Port Mann Bridge will be tolled, as will the new Patullo Bridge.  When the Knight St. Bridge and the Massey Tunnel need major repairs or replacement, the new crossings will probably be tolled.

However, no tolls are charged on other major bridges and highways such as the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the Pitt River Bridge, the Alex Fraser Bridge, and both bridges over Burrard Inlet.

What is emerging is a transport system that is profoundly unfair. Motorists from south of the Fraser River will be charged hefty tolls, while those from Coquitlam and the North Shore will drive toll-free. Meanwhile, transit users pay a toll every time they board a bus or SkyTrain.

A system-wide toll would charge the users of all major regional routes. The revenues would be channeled into a single fund to pay for the maintenance, repair and replacement of bridges and highways throughout the network. Across the network the tolls could fluctuate based on daily traffic patterns. The most heavily used routes (and peak demand times) could be priced higher than routes with lower demand.

Efficient goods movement is critical for the economy because time in transport adds to the price of goods without adding extra value. Commercial vehicle only lanes could be priced at premium levels, and many companies would be willing to pay premium tolls if it meant their trucks would spend less time stuck in traffic.

System tolls are already used in many countries, such as Portugal, where an electronic tolling system called the Via Verde (Green Road) covers all the major routes in the country. Congestion charges are tolls applied to traffic entering the more congested downtown areas. Singapore introduced the world’s first congestion pricing scheme in 1975. Now congestion charges are widespread, with well-known examples in Bergen, Stockholm, Shanghai and London.

The one-off approach to tolling also helps to facilitate the privatization of our highway network because most public private partnership (P3) models seek to recover construction and operating costs by imposing tolls on new bridges and highway projects.

The Golden Ears Bridge is an example of this kind of privatization. Opened in mid-2009, traffic volumes have been lower than expected. This case illustrates there can be problems of leakage where alternate non-tolled routes exist.

According to TransLink figures, the Golden Ears Bridge is not meeting its revenue targets. While daily traffic volumes have slowly increased in recent months, they remain significantly below TransLinks’s original estimates. As a result, TransLink increased the tolls on the new bridge on July 15, 2010 to capture additional revenue.

Under the terms of the P3 agreement, the payments due to the private company that built and operates the bridge will step up to $4 million per month this year and rise to $4.8 million per month in 2015. If the number of vehicle trips over the bridge continues to lag behind the estimated traffic volumes, TransLink will have to keep raising the tolls to keep up with the P3 payment schedule.

Under a traditional public financing model, big infrastructure projects benefit from lower operating costs and lower government borrowing costs. These costs are predictable and can be amortized over 25 or 30 years. If traffic volumes don’t meet pre-construction projections, the government doesn’t have to hike tolls.

A system-wide toll makes sense. It is the best means to finance the necessary maintenance, repairs and replacement of our highway network. It will also treat all users fairly, allow price signals to regulate demand, and keep our highway infrastructure in public hands, which ultimately saves money for taxpayers.

Tolls - "Vancouver for Vancouverites!" comment

OK, then, what about a big 100 foot tall wall all around Vancouver, for better control of the plebians from the outside? Once build, I will, for once pray, for the rains...

tolls

Why tolls on Bridges but not major entry touts, like Hastings coming into Vancouver? Personally, I would put tolls on all boundaries of the City of Vancouver. Vancouver for Vancouverites!

Tolls

Do out of Province vehicles pay a toll on the Golden Ears? In Portugal and in Bankok there are electronically collected tolls, for those who do not have a transponder they must stop at a manned booth and pay. Translink braintrust spends enormous time in inventing ways to get more from the taxpayer and little on collecting fees----think turnstiles! the millions not being collected at present have in the past not been worth Translinks attention -- it would be nice to see them tighten their belts before asking for more $$

No Tolls

Think again. No tolls. If adequate public transit is in place and there needs to be a toll for a P3 partnership to cover costs for a set period of time, fine, but otherwise no superfluous tolls.

NO to tolls. YES to road pricing

Sometimes its hard to accept that people on the other side of the political spectrum might be right. But one always has to consider that possibility. Let us please leave aside the red herring of P3s. Should road users pay for the space they use? I think the answer has to be yes, since we pay for the transit we use, and the electricity. In fact, in the latter case, undercharging for it means we have a real problem getting people to conserve, or switch to renewables lime wind or solar. Road space is a highly perishable commodity: it is highly valuable at peak periods and almost worthless at 3 am. The current policy that says you can have a much expanded road for free (Highway #1, Sea to Sky) or even some new bridges (Pitt River, Coast Meridian railway over pass) but you haver to pay for others (Patullo, Port Mann) makes no sense. Especially as you pay the same price no matter what the demand. The one thing the private sector has got right in recent years is shaping pricing to the demand curve. That is the way they fill the planes up - because everybody pays a different price. If we priced roads properly, we could greatly reduce if not eliminate, traffic congestion. In fact that is the only way to do that. Building roads to reduce congestion is like buying a new pair of trousers to deal with obesity. It's nice when you have got the new one but it don't last long. And the "you only pay if there is a free alternate" just moves the congestion around. We need road pricing that replaces the other levies (which could also include insurance: distance based vehicle insurance makes a lot of sense. ICBC refuses to consider it.) Then instead of people with time to waste clogging the roads, there would only be those who could afford to pay the price on the road at peak periods. There would be enough revenue to pay for a decent transit service (wow, that would be a novelty here) - and also bike lanes and sidewalks for those short trips. One third of the vehicle tips in this region could feasibly be made by walking or cycling - if there was an incentive to do so. A getting healthy apparently is not incentive enough for most of us.

Lions Gate Bridge Tolls

If you would check your history books, you would see that the Lions Gate Bridge was not paid for by taxpayer dollars. The Guinness family built the bridge and tolls were collected for many years until it was paid off. Done deal. We shouldn't pay for it twice.

No No No

Tolls are nothing for the richto pay, but hurt the poor and middle class. The North shore is not just a playground for rich West Van people, instead has many facilities for all the people. I live near the PNE, I shop on the 'shore, ski on the 'shore. Why should I pay a toll to take my dogs to a decent dog park 5 minutes from my house? It's already wrong that Delta residents will have to pay a toll, with the torturous transit service that they endure. How about Langley people? Already forced to move from Vancouver in order to afford a house with an actual yard, their transit service is a joke. I would approve of a toll AFTER some form of rapid transit is installed (Canada Line style). It's time we stop robbing the average person over and over without decent alternatives. By the way, we had a great streetcar system, which our "leaders" destroyed and set ablaze in False Creek. It was paid for, now we are rebuilding the system at a much higher cost.

Tolls are unfair

Motorists pay through fuel and vehicle registration charges. No tolls!

Golden Ears Bridge Tolls

Just to clarify, TransLink established right from the start that tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge would increase annually -- on a planned and regular basis -- in line with the rate of inflation. The increase put in place last July was not 'in response' to the factors noted in the article.

Motorists do pay evry increasing tolls

I agree that transit riders pay with each fare, but motorists also pay through fuel taxes, transit levy on fuel, parking taxes, street meters, taxes on service and maintenece of a car, etc. etc. etc. How much does Vancouver collect from various vehicle charges? What would replace this money? If these streams of revenue were to disappear, what would a bus ride then cost us?

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