TransLink to start consulting public on distance-based fare options

TransLink is ramping up conversations around changing its fare system, so people pay based on how far they travel.

Comes at same meeting it announced request for carbon tax revenue to fund rapid transit expansion

(Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

TransLink is ramping up conversations around changing its fare system, so people pay based on how far they travel. 

Public consultations begin next month on shortlisted pricing-by-distance options, which would replace the current tiered system based on municipal boundaries.

While the system is advantageous for people who take transit exclusively in Vancouver or another large municipality, some mayors argue it can present difficulties for people living near a city's boundary lines. 

"If you're coming to Royal Columbian Hospital from Coquitlam, it's a two-zone fare, even though you could walk it in 20 minutes," said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

"I think basing your fare somewhat on distance travelled rather than an artificial line would solve a whole bunch of challenges and make it less likely that people are going to hop in their car and drive there instead."

The idea was initially floated when TransLink was implementing the Compass Card system, but a comprehensive review of transit fare policy wasn't launched until 2016. 

TransLink says previous consultations have revealed that over 70 per cent of people support a distance-based fare system in principle. 

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté says he supports a change to distance-based fares but understands TransLink needs time to come up with a fair, revenue-neutral model. 

"[They're] making sure we spend the time to get it right but also spend the time to make sure we get the public buy-in. This will potentially be a bit of a shift in how people are used to paying for their transit fares," he said.

"These aren't the type of public policy decisions you want to rush."

TransLink is hoping to put forward a preferred option by the middle of next year. 

The current fare zones for rapid transit in Metro Vancouver. (TransLink)

Carbon tax increase to fund megaprojects?

The announcement by TransLink came during Thursday's Mayors' Council meeting, where it also revealed it's formally asked the provincial government for a share of money from carbon tax increases to pay for Phase 2 of TransLink's 10-year vision for Metro Vancouver transit.

"It's been a longstanding request we initially made in 2011," said Mike Buda, the mayors' council's executive director.

"We have this vision that's ready to go."

The province is increasing the carbon tax rate — used to reduce greenhouse gases in B.C. — by $5 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year, beginning in April 2018.

TransLink estimates new revenues gained by transportation activities in Metro Vancouver under the tax would reach $90 million by 2021/2022 — enough to fund the annual shortfall that currently exists under its plan.

"We're cautiously optimistic our proposal will be well-received by the new provincial government. That's the last remaining component and hurdle that allows us to go forward with Phase 2," said Coté, referring to the Pattullo Bridge replacement, Millennium Line expansion along Broadway and Surrey LRT line. TransLink hopes to confirm it in the next year.

TransLink has also floated other options available for municipal governments to fund the projects, including a fuel tax increase or annual vehicle registration fee.

But mayors have been adamantly opposed to a property tax increase — virtually the only thing they could use to raise revenue that wouldn't require provincial government approval.

"We've invested a significant portion of propery tax into public transit investment. We strongly feel that funding for the next phase really does need to come from a more diversified and different kind of source," said Coté.  

A decision by the provincial government is expected by early 2018.

About the Author

Justin McElroy


Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.