British Columbia

Ending tolls snarls traffic on Port Mann, Golden Ears bridges

Traffic on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges have gone up by 26 per cent since the tolls were eliminated and commuters are now sitting in traffic for longer.

'It now takes me approximately two and a half hours to get to work," says one regular commuter

Since Sept 1, when the tolls were eliminated on the Port Mann Bridge, congestion has increased. (TI Corp.)

It turns out, the experts were right. 

More drivers are using the Port Mann bridge since tolls were eliminated on Sept 1 by the new NDP government and that's creating some new headaches for drivers.

In the week of Sept. 4 from Monday to Friday, nearly 150,000 more trips were taken on the Port Mann, compared to the same five-day period last year — an increase of 25.58 per cent.

The Golden Ears Bridge saw an even greater increase of 28.25 per cent. 

The end of the tolls was initially welcomed by many drivers including Robert Thomasson who was looking forward to $1,500 in annual savings.

"We were kind of excited about the tolls being lifted," he said. 

But since the tolls were axed his commute from Chilliwack to Burnaby has nearly doubled.

"Before it took me about an hour and 15 minutes. It now takes me approximately two and a half hours to get to work," he said. 

As unpleasant as the 4:30 a.m. wake up calls are, Thomasson said his main struggle is dropping off his three children at school.

"We're having to drop our kids off at the school bus an hour before the school bus even arrives," he said.

"So they're standing outside waiting for an hour waiting for the school bus and we have to get to work and my wife is still getting late to work and she's actually getting in a lot of trouble for it," he said. 

Thomasson said he's already had to negotiate a later start time at his work and he worries what will happen when the rain and snow start to fall.

Traffic changes around Metro Vancouver

While it's still early days, the traffic pattern has changed across the region. In New Westminster, there's been a reduction in volume. 

"We're seeing traffic down on the weekdays, 11 per cent on Pattullo Bridge and on weekends down 17 per cent. So, we're seeing a bit of a shift from traffic from Pattullo Bridge corridor to the Highway 1 network," said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote.

In Coquitlam, there is anecdotal evidence that there is more traffic along the Lougheed Highway from the Cape Horn interchange into Burnaby.

Meanwhile traffic coming from the east from Port Coquiltam, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge through Coquitlam has decreased. 

There are also reports of more accidents on Highway 1. TransLink says it is monitoring the situation but doesn't have any data available to release yet.

TransLink is also monitoring whether the removal of the tolls will have any impact on transit users.

"If people shift from transit to other modes, that can have impact on transit fares and we will have to look at that as well," said Geoff Cross, vice-president of planning and policy for TransLink.

Money has to come from somewhere

Mayor Cote said despite the good news for his area he worries where the money will come from now that the tolls are gone.

"The previous tolling system was not ideal and it wasn't fair across the region," he said.

He points to mobility pricing as a more equitable option.

"Congestion is going to continue to become a bigger issue in our region. We see this as a potential tool to help with demand managing of congestion and to help fund the transportation investments that our region is going to need in the next 10 to 20 years."

A commission is investigating mobility pricing and is to represent its recommendations to TransLink and the Mayors' Council by spring 2018.

With files from Justin McElroy


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