British Columbia

New TransLink CEO floats toll plan for transit funding

A business group in B.C.'s fastest growing city says it supports placing tolls on roads and bridges to raise money for new transit infrastructure.

'We must find ways to fund current transit and future transit,' agrees Surrey Board of Trade CEO

Motorists merge from four lanes into one as they enter the Lions Gate Bridge to drive into Vancouver, B.C., on July 15, 2011. TransLink's new CEO has floated the notion of tolls and road fees to fund transit infrastructure. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A business group in B.C.'s fastest growing city says it supports placing tolls on roads and bridges to raise money for new transit infrastructure.

"We must find ways to fund current transit and future transit," said Anita Huberman, the CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade.

"We're playing catch up all the time," Huberman said. "We need a plan for the future,"

Huberman made the comments a day after TransLink's new CEO, Kevin Desmond, floated the notion of tolls for transit funding to the Surrey business group.

The funding scheme, which charges drivers to pay to drive on certain roads, bridges and tunnels, is sometimes described as road pricing or dynamic pricing. Others simply call it a toll.

One variation is to charge drivers to pay more to use roads and bridges during peak hours with the goal of reducing congestion,

The fees have been used in Washington state, Oregon, London and Singapore.

On Tuesday, Desmond told the Surrey Board of Trade that tolls and road fees are options to consider, arguing that charging drivers for using certain routes during peak hours may encourage them to use off-peak times instead.

Last fall, a study by Canada's Ecofiscal Commission suggested major cities like Vancouver should implement regional street and bridge tolls to reduce gridlock.

 Huberman said the road pricing schemes could provide a reliable funding scheme for transit infrastructure, which is needed in rapidly growing cities like Surrey.

"We need a sustainable source (of funds) instead of always going to the province, she said."

In the past, mayors in the Vancouver region and transit advocates have said they want to consider new financing options such as tolls on bridges and roads to help pay for the expensive infrastructure updates.

TransLink plans expansions

Two big-ticket transit items include the planned subway line connecting the University of British Columbia to East Vancouver and SkyTrain expansions in Surrey.

Last month, B.C. TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender announced nearly $250 million in new funding over the next three years to fund TransLink improvements.

But he also said he he expects the region's municipal governments to contribute to the plan —$124 million — which he expects them to raise by taking advantage of rising property values around transit stations. 

The commitments are meant to match the federal government promise of $370 million to upgrade transit stations and SkyTrain cars, announced in the March federal budget.

Huberman said those commitments are appreciated, but won't solve long-term funding issues.

"There is a fatigue around the ongoing discussion (about funding) but no resolution," she said.

Vancouver supports road pricing

Vancouver's director of transportation, Lon LaClaire, said studies have shown that road pricing and tolls do ease congestion.

LaClaire said some people have no choice but to drive during peak hours, but the fees are aimed at people who can choose to drive at other times.

He said reports show that fewer drivers use the new Port Mann Bridge since tolls were imposed.

Meanwhile ,Transportation Minister Todd Stone would not say if he agreed with tolls to fund transit infrastructure. However, Stone told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that he is impressed with the TransLink's new CEO, saying Desmond "seems to be focused on the right things."

"His thoughts on tolling and so forth are very welcome," Stone said.


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