British Columbia

Port Mann Bridge tolls discriminate against disabled children, says mother

The operators of the Port Mann Bridge are reviewing their disability exemption, after hearing the concerns of a Maple Ridge mother with three young children with autism.

Those who can't drive are not eligible for the Port Mann's disability exemption

Melissa Crowhurst, shown with her daughter Andrea, says people who aren't able to drive should still be eligible for a disability discount on the Port Mann Bridge. (Jeremy Crowhurst/Facebook)

The operators of the Port Mann Bridge are reviewing their disability exemption, after hearing the concerns of a Maple Ridge family with three young children with autism.

Melissa and Jeremy Crowhurst's three children are all under the age of five, autistic and non-verbal. The family recently moved from North Vancouver to Port Moody in order to save money so that Melissa can stay home with the children.

"Every penny we have goes toward providing therapy for them, or getting tools to help them. So just having a couple hundred more dollars a year makes a big deal to us," said Crowhurst on Wednesday morning.

But in order to get her children to therapy in Langley and to specialists in Vancouver, Crowhurst has to pay tolls two or three times a week to cross the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges.

Children not eligible for discount

So when Crowhurst learned people with disabilities can get a exemption from Treo on their tolls she was excited to apply online. But she soon learned her family would not qualify.

"We can't quality for the discount because a disabled person has to be the owner of the vehicle," she said.

The Port Mann Bridge connects Surrey with New Westminster, B.C. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

She did consider registering her five-year-old son as the co-owner of the family car, but her insurance agent told her that would not be allowed.

"If there is an accident, he could be sued. Since he is only four, and he is autistic, he doesn't understand those kinds of things, so ICBC won't allow him to be a co-owner of the vehicle.

Crowhurst says its unfair that anyone who can't own a vehicle is ineligible for the exemption,

"Not every disabled person is able to do that and sometimes they are the ones that need it the most," she said.

That's why she wants the operators of the bridges to extend it to families like hers.

Only discount in the world

While tolls for both bridges are collected by the Treo system, the bridges are actually owned and operated separately, and only the Port Mann Bridge has a disability exemption.

The Golden Ears Bridge connect Maple Ridge with Surrey, B.C.

In fact, the Port Mann Bridge is the only electronically-tolled bridge in North America and perhaps the world that offers such an exemption, according to Greg Johnson, the spokesman for the Transportation Investment Corporation.

Johnson says they have reached out to the Crowhurst family to learn more about their concerns.

He says they had already heard from others and had launched a review of how the exemption is applied.

"We do have a very accommodating policy as it is, but we have heard from customers, and that's why we are going back and taking a look at the policy and how we should apply it more fairly," said Johnson.

He says the aim is to keep the policy in line with other provincial services.

"We recognized that people with disabilities face additional costs and this is one way of helping them with that," he said.

Meanwhile, the Golden Ears Bridge is operated by TransLink, and does not offer a discount, according to the Treo website.

TransLink confirmed it doesn't offer discounts for drivers with disabilities crossing the bridge, but said it does offer fare discounts on transit through its B.C. Bus Pass and HandyCard programs. 

Disability exemption details

According to the Treo website, to be eligible for a persons-with-disabilities exemption on the Port Mann Bridge, drivers must:

  • Be a B.C. resident.
  • Own or lease the exempt vehicle.
  • Install a Treo decal on the exempt vehicle.
  • Drive a small vehicle (car, pick-up truck or SUV less than 6 metres long and 2.3 metres tall).
  • Provide documentation for one of the following:
    • Persons with Disabilities (PWD) designation from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation.
    • Have been approved for and are currently receiving Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit.
    • A signed physician's certification of permanent disability.

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