An electronic road pricing gantry over traffic in Singapore.

An electronic road pricing gantry over traffic in Singapore.

Road pricing viable but tricky in Metro Vancouver: Experts

Regional tolling workable and offers many advantages if public can be won over, panel says



Expect insurmountable public opposition to a strategy of simply slapping tolls on existing bridges to fund TransLink.

But charging every driver a lower and more broadly based charge on each kilometre travelled might work in Metro Vancouver – especially if it’s offset by a cut in some existing taxes.

That was some of the advice Metro Vancouver leaders heard Thursday from a panel of international experts at a forum on regional tolling organized by Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

A road pricing system could include free home zones for motorists, who wouldn’t pay per kilometre charges until they cross a zone boundary into a different city.

Someone in Surrey could drive within Surrey “all day long” but only pay if they cross a zone boundary into New Westminster, suggested Jack Opiola, a Virginia-based road tolling and transport policy consultant.

“When I leave my home zone and travel into somebody else’s I know I pay a fee,” he said. “That way everybody pays their fair share.”

Ideally, panelists said, road pricing could substitute for much of the existing gas tax, which is declining anyway, and possibly even reduce property tax a bit.

“It’s going to be a tough sell to say we’re going to keep taxing you on your gas and ask you to pay a per-mile charge,” said Edward Regan, a transportation and tolling policy authority from Connecticut. “But if it’s one instead of the other that’s certainly much more viable.”

The push by mayors towards road-use charges here springs from both TransLink’s troubled quest for sustainable funding and a growing sense among civic leaders that tolling just a couple of bridges is unfair and may inefficiently distort traffic patterns.

Most other jurisdictions are grappling with some of the same challenges as TransLInk, particularly a gas tax that raises less money for transit each year as vehicles get more efficient and more electric cars hit the road.

Panelists said several U.S. jurisdictions – from Washington’s Puget Sound to Los Angeles – are contemplating a shift to forms of road pricing, typically by charging a a few cents per mile travelled.

Regan said it’s also wise to find ways to provide benefits to drivers, rather than merely a high-tech method to take their money.

He said GPS-based systems to charge road usage fees can also be used to advise drivers on less-congested alternate routes, or perhaps guide them to a free parking spot and automatically pay for it.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, he said, tolls on planned new express lanes will vary by route and change according to congestion levels, in an effort to ensure those lanes are free flowing. Drivers will get a toll rebate if traffic fails to flow at a guaranteed minimum speed.

Even with the best ideas in play, panelists warned the policy road to toll systems is littered with failed efforts, including New York City’s aborted attempt to introduce a London-style congestion charge.

Opialo said a potential move to a road usage charge being studied in Washington State would also charge B.C. drivers who nip across the border to buy gas – if the measure is enacted.

Puget Sound estimates it could rake in $34 billion over 20 years through road usage fees it aims to put on every route in the region, said Mark Hallenback, director of the Washington State Transportation Centre.

“The numbers are enormous,” he said. “The problem is that comes from someone. It’s not magic money. It comes from a public which is not at all convinced that they should be giving that to you.”

Hallenback also suggested significantly cutting back TransLink’s 17-cent-a-litre gas tax, which raises about $330 million a year, if road pricing was imposed here, adding fewer drivers would cross the border to fill up.

“All those people no longer going over to Blaine, they’re buying it with the Canadian taxes on it. You might not even lose that much money.”

Other methods of easing the pain to motorists could include a $5 maximum cap on tolls paid in a day, or a certain number of free kilometres a day before tolls apply, the forum heard.

The real question, Hallenback said, is whether the scheme can generate net new money for transit expansion, how much more local residents can afford to pay and whether they support the vision for an improved system.

Other challenges include assuring drivers a GPS-based system won’t precisely track their cars’ movements.

Road pricing has benefits other tax methods – like property tax – can’t deliver, the forum heard.

It puts a direct price on putting a key in an ignition and driving away, which too many motorists view as essentially free, aside from gas.

“You level the playing field, making transit more competitive with driving,” Regan said.

By deterring some car trips, normally gridlocked bridges and other routes can also become free flowing, especially if rates vary by time of day to encourage more people to travel at off-peak hours.

“You’re never going to get people to shift away from using their car to the train using property tax,” Regan added.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said Metro leaders need to continue to explore road pricing options.

“It reinforces that the road map in front of us currently is not sustainable,” she said. 
”We need to be looking at something else.”

Just Posted

Blading for bees, led by Aldergrove resident Zach Choboter, headed through B.C. (Special to The Star)
Aldergrove’s bee blader crosses the prairies

Zach Choboter has rollerbladed from Whistler to Alberta in two weeks

Tourism Langley has put together Father’s Day gift boxes that support local businesses and aid the Langley Food Bank. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
This Father’s Day, you can support Langley businesses and aid the Food Bank

Tourism Langley brings back their popular gift boxes

Marsha Miller walked through the Derek Doubleday Arboretum Friday afternoon, reading the info stations about residential schools and their impact on Indigenous Canadians. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Langley vigil for residential school victims brings forth powerful emotions

Tears from visitors even before evening event, organizer said

Trinity Western University held a vigil Tuesday as well as having two more on Thursday, June 10 to honour the 215 children whose remains were buried at a residential school in Kamloops. Their remains were found with ground-penetrating radar. (TWU/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Langley university vigils honour the 215 children buried at Kamloops residential school

Indigenous leader offers suggestions on how to process the devastating information and on healing

Hutch Hotels Ltd., which owned the former Alder Inn (which was demolished in November 2020), is among the defendants in a lawsuit related to an alleged impaired-driving crash in January 2017. The civil suit also names S & L Kitchen and Bar in Abbotsford. (Black Press file photo)
Two Fraser Valley bars named in lawsuit related to alleged impaired-driving crash

S & L Abbotsford and Alder Inn being sued by passenger in 2017 rollover collision

t
How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Lorraine Gibson, 90, received a COVID-19 immunization at the South Surrey Park and Ride vaccination clinic. (File photo: Aaron Hinks)
Surrey has had 25% of B.C.’s total COVID-19 cases

Surrey recorded 4,012 cases in May

Most Read