British Columbia

Cuts to bridge tolls promised as B.C. Liberals, NDP gear up for election

B.C.'s provincial election has yet to officially get underway but the first big promises have already been made with both the Liberals and the NDP trying to one-up each other by cutting bridge tolls.

The campaign for the May 9 election has yet to officially begin, but already big promises are being made

The Golden Ears Bridge is one of two tolled bridges in Metro Vancouver. ((Matthias Goetz/Golden Ears Bridge) )

B.C.'s provincial election campaign has yet to officially begin — but the first big promises have already been made with both the Liberals and the NDP announcing cuts to bridge tolls.

Premier Christy Clark is expected to visit government house Tuesday to ask that an election be called for May 9.

The B.C. Liberals made the first move with a promise to cap tolls at $500 a year for commuters using the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.

The cap would save daily commuters more than $1,000 in tolls each year, said Finance Minister Mike de Jong in a statement.

The $500 toll cap will also apply to the replacements for the Pattullo Bridge and the George Massey Tunnel — once they are in operation, he said.

NDP promises more

Hours later, NDP Leader John Horgan went a step further when he told a rally of supporters in Surrey that, if elected, his government would eliminate the tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges completely.

"Eliminating the tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears crossings is one way that we will put money back in commuters' pockets and get people moving again," said Horgan.

Shortly afterwards Premier Christy Clark took a swipe at Horgan's promise.

"The NDP plan — it's about a $150-million plan, and it looks a little bit like they're scrambling to come up with ideas," said Clark.

Meanwhile the promises from both parties received a lukewarm reception from the regional Mayors' Council responsible for long-term transportation planning for Metro Vancouver.

According to New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté both proposals are "problematic"

"We've got some very populist platforms being put forward that are actually poor public policy," said Coté on Monday.

"The reality is both of these proposals are incredibly expensive ... we are concerned that is going to leave less money for investing in infrastructure that is badly needed in Metro Vancouver."

Who will pay?

SFU urban planning expert Gordon Price also thinks the proposals are shortsighted.

"In the short term this is good politics. In the long term this is really bad policy," said Price, who notes capping the revenue TransLink can generate from bridge tolls will mean someone will have to pay more to cover the lost revenue.

"You could literally see the transit rider paying more and the car driver paying less," said Price.

"It would be just as easy if not easier to say there will be an upper limit of $500 on your compass card, but they are not going to do that, and you can be pretty sure transit fares will go up."