Matthew Burrows, The Straight
November 30, 2006
Non-Partisan Association Coun. Suzanne Anton likes the idea of road tolls so much that she says Greater Vancouver politicians should be “going out on a political limb” to use it for addressing traffic congestion.
“I believe we should,” Anton, also the city planning and environment committee chair, told the Georgia Straight following the November 17 TransLink board meeting in Surrey. “And I mean that in terms of both the TransLink board and the City of Vancouver. But I think Vancouver has to do its share and not expect things like tolling, for example, to be happening elsewhere and not here.”
The regional board had just unanimously voted to select V-Flow–a consortium that includes Australian-based Egis Projects Ltd.–as the preferred tolling operator for the $800-million public-private Golden Ears Bridge project linking Maple Ridge with Surrey and Langley.
“I would recommend many minor tolls over quite a few facilities as opposed to bigger tolls over a single facility,” Anton added. “But when you bring this up it’s a tough sell, politically, and I don’t know yet what the proposal would look like.”
A failed attempt to raise revenue occurred in 1999, when TransLink proposed a vehicle levy that was roundly derided by such groups as the B.C. Trucking Association and the B.C. Automobile Association. Currently, the provincial government must approve user-pay road use. GVRD policy and planning manager Hugh Kellas recommended road-pricing (paying for peak-time use of roadways) at an October land use and transportation committee meeting. And road-pricing is front-and-centre in GVRD long-term planning as a way to manage demands placed on roads by private automobiles.
The Golden Ears Bridge is still the only bridge that is to be tolled. (A regular car will pay between $2.50 and $3.50 in 2003 dollars, according to a TransLink report on the toll rates, and this will fund the project directly for its five-year operating term and optional three one-year periods.)
B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon has ordered a review of the governance of the TransLink board–which he has called “dysfunctional” in the past–and until the outcome is known, TransLink cannot benefit from legislative or regulatory amendments that enable tolls to be widely introduced.
Todd Litman, a planner and economist at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, has taken trips to London, England, to see how well the commuter tax–introduced by Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2003–has done. Litman, like Anton, is convinced that something similar must be done here if we are to solve traffic congestion in a growing urban region.
“There’s a perfect irony there, because road-pricing is the perfect application of what in the political world is considered the right wing’s favourite solution–and that is a market-based solution to problems,” Litman told the Straight by phone. “And yet it only seems to be implemented by progressive left-wing people. It took somebody like ‘Red Ken’ to implement it in a major European city. Interestingly, after it was implemented, he got reelected [in 2004], mainly on the strength of that program. So once people actually experience it, it does tend to gain popularity.”
At the October 6 GVRD committee meeting, a motion for the GVRD and TransLink boards to request a meeting with Falcon “to discuss legislative changes necessary to enable road user charges to be implemented in Greater Vancouver” was defeated.
Falcon is touting his Gateway project–which includes expanding Highway 1 west of the Port Mann Bridge and twinning the bridge–as his solution to gridlock. According to Litman, this is just supporting the pollution of the region.
“If you had $100 to spend on any sort of transportation improvement, would you spend the bulk of it to widen that highway, which is going to reduce congestion to a very small degree and benefit a relatively small portion of residents, or are there some other ways to spend your $100?
“I suspect most people would realize that’s not the best way to deal with our transportation woes,” he added.