British Columbia

Expect more semi-trucks on Port Mann, Golden Ears due to toll removal

Experts say owner-operator truck drivers have been dodging tolls since their inception.

Experts say owner-operator truck drivers have been dodging tolls since their inception

Many trucks have been avoiding tolls to save thousands of dollars each year. (CBC)

Hate being stuck behind a semi-truck on the highway? If you regularly use the Port Mann bridge, you better start getting used to it.

Following the elimination of bridge tolls on Sept. 1, experts say drivers can expect a lot more truckers on major roadways, particularly the Port Mann bridge.

"It's going to make a dramatic change in terms of truck traffic," said Ken Denike, a University of British Columbia professor and transportation planner behind Translink's SkyTrain projects.

When tolls were first implemented after the new Port Mann bridge opened in 2012, Denike says west-bound truck traffic instantly diverted from Highway 1 onto roads south of the Fraser River.

He said owner-operator truckers — who pay out-of-pocket for tolls — found roundabout ways over the river, funnelling through both Pattulo Bridge and the Alex Fraser.

According to the B.C. NDP's recent announcement to eliminate tolls, commercial truck drivers will no longer have to pay bridge tolls, which is expected to save them as much as $4,500 or more per year.

Denike says the impact on congestion will be noticeable immediately.

"The truck traffic will generally take up the slower lanes, but if it's around rush hour — I think it's going to clog it up real quick."

Tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, which connects Surrey and Coquitlam. B.C., were removed on September 1. (CBC)

TransLink, province monitoring traffic

According to the province, the cameras on the two bridges will remain intact for the time being to help observe how traffic responds. A representative from TransLink said it will still take time to determine how exactly the region will be affected.

For commuter Craig Cherlet, the benefits will be noticeable. Cherlot expects to save as much as $1,200 per year as he commutes daily from his home in Maple Ridge to work in Vancouver.

"Everybody knows Vancouver is super expensive, so every time we get to save money it gets to be put towards something else — like my kid's tae kwon do lessons," he said.

But questions still linger as to how the province will make up for the $132 million in lost revenue, and still pay off the remaining debt from the Port Mann's construction.

Premier John Horgan announced the elimination of tolls on two Lower Mainland bridges on Friday, Aug. 25. (CBC News)

Poor politics by NDP?

The NDP government has said little about implementing road pricing — direct charges levied to a vehicle for road use — to offset lost revenue, but it appears to be an option that is being considered.

A mobility pricing commission is currently working throughout Metro Vancouver to determine how the region might benefit from road usage charges. The group will be making recommendations to inform municipal and provincial decision makers next year on how to reduce congestion.

According to UBC Professor in Sustainable Transport Lawrence Frank, the NDP's decision to drop tolls before having a sound road pricing system in place may come back to haunt the government.

"Once you remove a tax, adding new ones are always more difficult," said Frank. "By removing the tolling, you put yourself in a situation where you have to go through the political pain of instituting something new."

"I just don't think it's going to be easy to institute that."