British Columbia

Mobility pricing commission recommends more study of road pricing for Metro Vancouver

TransLink to look at whether distance-based or checkpoint-based tolls are the better option.

Report says gas tax could be eliminated or reduced to offset new tolls or fees

The mobility pricing commission unveiled its report Thursday on reducing traffic congestion across Metro Vancouver to TransLink and the Mayor's Council. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A commission created to look at whether road pricing could come to Metro Vancouver will leave it up to TransLink to come up with details for what system should be in place and how much it would cost. 

"There is no doubt that the way we pay for transportation will be difficult, but we believe the opportunity is too great to stop the conversation now," said Allan Seckel, chair of the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission, as he presented its report to TransLink's board of directors and the Metro Vancouver Mayors' Council.

"[But] these are not concepts that you could implement tomorrow … they will need to be refined in order to fully optimize the benefits for Metro Vancouver."

The report outlines two different ways that mobility pricing could be implemented: through a series of fees and checkpoints throughout the region (predominately at bridges), or by distance-based fees. 

Those fees could vary from about $1 to $12 per trip, depending on the time of day, how many municipalities are crossed, and what system is implemented.

Allan Seckel, chair of the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission, delivers his report to a joint meeting of the TransLink Board of Directors and Metro Vancouver Mayors' Council. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Those details will be figured out by TransLink staff before a more detailed proposal is put forward, which would then have to be approved by both provincial and local governments, along with the TransLink board of directors. 

"It's going to take some significant time to understand the … possibilities and potential with what's been outlined," said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, who cautioned it would be at least two years before any decision would be made. 

"The reality is, a year from now, we are not going to have mobility pricing in Vancouver. Two years form now, there is not going to be mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver. But in the next 5 to 10 years … we are going to have more challenges with congestion and pressures to invest in transportation infrastructure." 

A chart in the mobility pricing commission's final report, which shows the potential cost of driving in Metro Vancouver under the different pricing schemes they proposed. (TransLink)

Up to $2,700/year per household

The report says a checkpoint system would cost the average household anywhere from $1,800 to $2,700 per year, and a distance-based charge between $1,000 and $1,700 but also reduce congestion by 20 to 25 per cent. 

Both systems could raise extra revenue that would go into transit and and transportation infrastructure or could be revenue-neutral through the elimination or reduction of gas taxes. 

"It is not for the faint of heart, politically, and we recognize that," said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. 

"What fundamentally the commission has done, is really getting us out of the gate with a very difficult discussion, but one that needs to be had."

Hepner was one of several mayors at the meeting who expressed general support for the concept of mobility pricing, but cautioned that it would face difficulty gaining traction with much of the public, particularly those who live in areas where transit is less accessible.

"People in the eastern part of the region, this is a really concerning next conversation that we have to have," said Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read. 

"We have to be able to reduce congestion … no question. But this is a very unpalatable conversation right now."

In his presentation, Seckel acknowledged it would be a difficult transition.

"To achieve the benefits of mobility pricing … will require charges that many will believe are high and unaffordable," he said. "People need to see the benefits or reduced congestion and improved infrastructure."

But he was optimistic TransLink and local politicians would push forward with continuing the discussion in the months ahead.

"This is clearly the beginning of the conversation ... we hope we've set the stage for that work and future dialogue."