What Vancouver can learn from London about mobility pricing

The U.K. capital introduced a congestion charging scheme in 2003, which established a zone in the central area of the London Metropolitan Region that costs drivers £11.50 ($20) to enter daily.

As Metro Vancouver report nears release, London city planner explains benefits of congestion charge

Traffic signs mark the border of London's congestion charge zone. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

A London city planner says the U.K. capital's mobility pricing program could be an effective strategy to combat Vancouver's congestion woes.

Mobility pricing refers to any fees or service charges or tolls associated with transportation costs, such as fuel taxes, transit fares, bridge and road tolls, and road usage charges.

An independent commission is currently studying how mobility pricing can address congestion in Metro Vancouver.

London introduced a congestion charging scheme in 2003. Drivers entering a zone in the central area of the London Metropolitan Region between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the week are charged £11.50 ($20) daily.

Ben Plowden, director of strategy and planning for transport for London, says the congestion charging scheme has been beneficial.

"It significantly reduced congestion and delay, which was a big problem for the economy in that part of the city," Plowden said.

Fewer delays, lower costs for businesses

Plowden said there was a big debate before the zone was implemented, but he said most people understood there was a need to deal with the city's congestion problem.

Businesses were also on board, he said, because they were bearing most of the costs of delays to their shipping.

"They were happier to pay a known amount every day rather than a double shift of drivers, or have their trucks and vans sitting in long queues," Plowden said.

Traffic crosses the Lions Gate Bridge from North Vancouver into Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In Vancouver, Plowden concedes there are other concerns.

For one, the city's transit system isn't as developed as London's and for many commuters coming in from the suburbs, driving is the only viable option.

Some critics have argued mobility pricing unfairly penalizes the growing number of people who can't afford to live in the city's downtown core.

"There are questions around equity to make sure whatever happens across transport charging is fair," Plowden said.

Plowden says London also addressed concerns around privacy. London operates its congestion charge scheme through photographic licence plate recognition and as soon as the fee is paid, the plate is deleted from the system, he explained.

"You have all the ingredients here for a really world-class sustainable transport system," Plowden said. "I think it's what cities like Vancouver have to deal with [because] of economic prosperity and success."

Metro Vancouver's mobility pricing commission is expected to release its final report by the end of the month.

With files from The Early Edition