Does loss of Lower Mainland bridge toll revenue pave way for mobility pricing?

With the NDP's announcement that tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be eliminated starting Sept.1, alternate kinds of mobility pricing could be coming. A Mayor's Council commission is currently examining how it could be done.

Mayor's Council commission to finish report on paying for transportation by spring of 2018

While tolls may be gone on two of Metro Vancouver's busiest bridges, mobility pricing, such as tolls on roads, could be coming next. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

With the NDP's announcement that tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will be eliminated starting Sept.1, alternate kinds of mobility pricing could be coming to Metro Vancouver.

Mobility pricing refers to any fees or charges for everyday transportation. While bridge tolls are a type of mobility pricing, it can also include things like transit fares, road usage charges, and other service fees like rates based on distance travelled.

By doing away with the bridge tolls, the provincial government is facing a $132-million revenue loss for this year, but well before the tolls were cut the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation had already appointed a commission to look into mobility pricing.

The commission was announced in June, and it will be chaired by Doctors of B.C. CEO and former head of B.C. Public Service Allan Seckel, and former NDP MLA Joy McPhail.

The commission has a budget of $2.31 million to look into mobility pricing for the region and is expected to submit a report by the spring of 2018.

Out of cars and onto transit

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore — who is vice-chair of the Mayors' Council  — says mobility pricing is a good way to manage the region's transportation network.

He believes different kinds of mobility pricing should be implemented to get people out of their cars and into public transit.

"The more people that can take transit, the less roads that we have to build that are very expensive to build and maintain," he explained.

Moore was skeptical the cancellation of the two major bridge tolls in Metro Vancouver would encourage more public transit use.

However, he says that major upcoming infrastructure projects like the Massey Tunnel replacement might bring tolls back again.

"It's a very complex discussion that's going to take some time to have with our residents around the region, the business around the region, because there's many different ways to bring in a comprehensive mobility pricing system," he said.

Mobility pricing beyond tolls

Gordon Price, a fellow with the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, says mobility pricing has evolved beyond tolls.

"Bridge tolls are very 20th century," he said, adding that having tolls connected to a particular infrastructure piece is an outdated system.

"More and more we're going to be thinking about transportation as a range of choices, and yes at this point you'll individually pay for them [whether] it's a bike share, car share, car rental, car use, taxis, transit," he said.

He says governments could find ways to offer transportation services to commuters that would bring in tax revenue and cover maintenance costs as well.

"If I can buy a monthly service, that will give me all of these choices in one integrated package, very simple, seamless pricing, that's very desirable."

There are no specific details in the BC NDP's campaign platform about mobility pricing, but the party said the B.C. Liberals, "undermined the mayors."

The NDP's platform supported the Mayor's Council 10-Year vision for transportation in Metro Vancouver.

That plan says mobility pricing is needed to pay for new infrastructure such as a new Pattullo Bridge, Surrey light rail and a Broadway subway.

With files from Cory Correia and Chad Pawson.

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