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Vancouver May Start Road Pricing


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Road pricing still on the table: mayor

Pitched originally as a way to raise $250 million per year for transit improvements, the comprehensive road pricing strategy proposed by the Mayors’ Council is still going ahead – despite being pushed to the background by the .5% regional sales tax that’s now the subject of the plebiscite.

And it’s being envisioned as a way to both eliminate bridge tolls and reduce gas taxes.

The strategy to fund the $7.5 billion transit wish list had earlier counted on the region’s share of the B.C. Carbon Tax being diverted to fund transit. About $110 million would have come from that funding in the first year, and with the help of the road pricing system, eventually reaching $390 million – using 2015 dollars – in new annual funding by year 12 of the plan. This would’ve required $250 million to come from the B.C. Carbon Tax and another $250 million to come from road pricing.

But the provincial government rejected the use of the B.C. Carbon Tax and the funding focus quickly turned to the sale tax.

The Mayors’ Council says this new regional sales tax would provide $250 million per year, starting from year one, and would eliminate the need for the staged funding envisioned in the earlier plan.

Tolling is profitable

Charging drivers for roads is no longer needed to generate the money to fund transit expansion, according to Mayors’ Council spokesman Greg Moore, the mayor of Port Coquitlam. The plan, however, remains “committed to implementing comprehensive mobility pricing on the road network as the most fair and effective way to reduce congestion.”

What will be different, Moore said, is where the revenue generated from road pricing – basically a toll to use certain sections of roadway – will go. And the revenue potential is huge. According to the Mayors’ Council’s calculations, just five cents charged to drivers for every kilometre travelled on Metro Vancouver roads could generate $600 million in a single year. Generating that same kind of revenue would require a 1.3% increase to the regional sales tax.

Moore said any dollars from the road pricing strategy will go directly to getting rid of existing tolls on Lower Mainland bridges – both provincial bridges and TransLink’s crossings. Currently, only the Port Mann Bridge and the Golden Ears Bridges are tolled, but tolls have already been discussed for the Pattullo and Massey Tunnel replacements.

To offset just the tolls currently collected on Golden Ears and Port Mann – both have seen lower-than-expected traffic volumes since opening – road pricing will have to generate at least $136 million per year, the combined amount the bridges generated in the latest fiscal period. The figure, however, does not account for how much it costs to operate the bridges’ tolling systems, their capital costs and their repayments.

The ambition for road toll revenues doesn’t stop there. Fuel tax dollars going to TransLink have declined as vehicles come more efficient and fewer people drive. If bridge tolls can be offset with mobility pricing, the mayors would use the money to start taking numbers off the 17-cent TransLink fuel tax bills per litre charged to anyone filling up in the region.

Under existing revenues, the 17 cents of fuel tax bring in about $337 million per year to TransLink – about three cents of tolling per kilometre, if all drivers were billed to drive.

The current plan

Meanwhile, Moore said it hasn’t been decided how the local road pricing scheme would work. One consideration is what provincial Transportation Minister Todd Stone, who has committed to reviewing the provincial tolling strategy, would say about replacing tolling revenues on the Port Mann Bridge and Massey Tunnel replacement bridge – both under provincial jurisdiction.

Regional mayors are also looking to make their own changes to existing pricing systems, changes that take into account the region’s location as Canada’s largest port, and its massive geographical area, for example.

“What if you said to the trucking industry, ‘You can use the road network for free from midnight to 6 a.m.? But if you use it in the morning – it’s going to cost a lot more.’”

Another potential is that residents would drive free, as long as it’s within a certain distance of home, or implementing road pricing but keeping a reduced toll, say 25 cents, on the newest bridges, he said.

“We’re looking at a very high level, conceptual side of this – not into any of the details on how to actually implement that,” he said.

Moore and staff at TransLink stressed road pricing will not be considered a new tax, but rather a tax “shift” that would mean as roads are implemented, other tax revenues, like fuel taxes and bridge tolls, are reduced.

In a statement, Ministry of Transportation staff said it’s “premature to discuss removing tolls and road pricing.” The statement also pointed to a conflict in the mayors’ current plan, saying that it “includes replacing the Pattullo Bridge and financing it by tolls.”

Stone has said previously that he would be reviewing the provincial tolling policy, which currently states that there must be at least one untolled route available for commuters when planning tolls. When pressed, the ministry provided a short statement from the minister.

“The plebiscite, which includes a toll option, is currently underway,” Stone said in his statement.

“Once the results are known, the ministry will be in a better position to review its tolling policy.”

For now, staff at local municipalities and TransLink say they are ready to work on the road pricing strategy when the referendum concludes – the plan remains for road pricing to be implemented no longer than eight years from now.

International road charge options explored

To plan for a Metro Vancouver road pricing system, TransLink has cast its eyes towards tolling systems in London, Singapore and closer to home, Oregon – the state will be launching a road pricing strategy in July to bill the first 5,000 test drivers 1.5 cents per mile. All of these drivers would receive rebates from their motor fuel taxes instead. Miles driven on private property are also exempt from the charge, but there will be a 2,000 USD fine in place to make sure people tell the truth when reporting road usage.

Oregon actually started exploring the concept back in 2001, with its first road test conducted in 2006 using 285 vehicles equipped with global positioning systems. While the test was called a success by Oregon’s preliminary findings report, privacy concerns around equipping personal vehicles with GPS, how expensive the process might be, and technology changes, put and end to its proliferation – until 2010, when pressure from declining tax revenues reopened the conversation.

But this time, when the second pilot project began for 88 drivers in November 2012, there was no longer a GPS requirement. Government instead contracted two companies to develop a smartphone app that connects with a “dongle” to count mileage, and two “mileage reporting devices” that attached to the car – one with GPS and one without.

The next year, road pricing for the 5,000 drivers was approved, with July 1, 2015 chosen as the launch date. The current cost of the program is 8.4 million USD, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Drivers are expected to use similar mileage reporting systems as the ones used in 2012.

The U.K. congestion ‘zone’

Across the ocean in London, England, is a congestion charge introduced in 2003 and still going strong. At a cost of 160 million GBP to set up, the area covered by London’s congestion charge is small, just 19 square kilometres in the heart of the city – compared to Metro Vancouver’s geographic size of 2,882 square kilometres.

Only 20% of the budget was actually spent on the infrastructure and operations itself – approximately half of the budget was spent on logistics to implement the zone. Today, according to Transport for London, there are 646 cameras inside the London Congestion Zone, each using automatic licence plate reader technology to log vehicles in the congestion tax zone.

It has paid off. In the first 10 years of operations, the scheme has generated 1.3 billion GBP of net revenue, all of which is re-invested back into transportation improvements for the city. Toll rates have risen dramatically, however. The current tolling rate is 11.50 GBP per day for non-residents, more than double the 5 GBP per day charged at outset, though residents can get a 90% discount by registering for 20 days at a time.

Transport for London says the tolls have reduced the number of cars entering the zone by 60,000 per day, but congestion levels have returned “close to pre-charging levels,” according to a January 2014 impact assessment report.

Singapore ­— four decades of tolling

But the oldest, and arguably most developed road pricing model in the world is found in southeast Asia. The city-state of Singapore began its road pricing system in 1975 by creating a zone similar to London’s congestion zone, enforced by police officers at entry points. Vehicles had to display a licence.

In 1998, an “electronic road pricing system” was created at a cost of 200 million SGD using “gantries” across the city – overhead bars above arterials fitted with radio antennae – that connected to in vehicle radio units. Each “in-vehicle unit” required a smart card that had to be refilled with cash. Enforcement relies on cameras attached to the back of the gantries. More gantries were fitted in later years. From the beginning, Singapore has focused on varied rates based on different times of day, to different types of vehicles. The Singapore Ministry provided a 2012 parliament excerpt from its minister of transportation stating its tolling system earned 159 million SGD in the fiscal year of 2010 and 97 million SGD as of the end of October 2011, and noted the system is used to “manage congestion … not for revenue generation.”

On Oct. 1 last year, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority announced a tender for what it calls a next generation system based on “Global Navigation Satellite System” technology. The LTA says this is a move to “distance-based pricing” – cost per kilometre, for example – using on-board units that would also deliver real-time traffic information to the driver, and carry payment for parking.

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Seems like an increase in property tax would be a better option. Isn't there concerns that foreigners are driving up the price of real estate and then leaving the apartments empty? Increasing property tax would make this more expensive for them, while charging for road usage would pull more money from those who actually live in the area.

Besides, isn't road maintenance part of what property taxes are for?

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Seems like an increase in property tax would be a better option. Isn't there concerns that foreigners are driving up the price of real estate and then leaving the apartments empty? Increasing property tax would make this more expensive for them, while charging for road usage would pull more money from those who actually live in the area.

Besides, isn't road maintenance part of what property taxes are for?


This is a horrible idea, more ways to make people bleed. How much more until we stand up to government? We Canadians keep taking it. Cut down government and programs, stop taxing us more. It's hard enough to make a living as it is.

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tolling is profitable? awesome, lets toll the sea to sky that we spent billions on as part of the olympics for the rich people & tourists to go to their ski chalets faster and safer! (not really a bad thing but they have money why not toll them)

Then hey maybe we should TOLL people with outside of BC license plates. Gotta laugh when businesses are licensing their trucks outside of BC in places like california(uhaul) and albertans are driving on our bridges for free while the rest of us take it up the butt.

then how about we fix the ineptitude in translink I dont take it very often but my god some of the routes they have are hilarious. I think anyone that has taken the 791 to the skytrain knows exactly the kind of stupidity im talking about. (nice express bus morons)

oh and my personal favourite churches. Most road taxes should be coming from property tax, currently about 50%(last study done in 2011) of vancouverites are not attending any church of any kind. So why are all vancouver residents subsidizing churches? If you didnt know churches pay no property tax and a lot of them are huge on very expensive pieces of land that generate no tax dollars.

Seems ridiculous to me that an old antiquated body gets off tax free. Of course im a little biased in regard to that topic :)

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Wait I never use any of those bridges, why should I pay to subsidize them? The road tax should be above and beyond those tolls if we are going to have it at all.

And why not use money from all the "foreign investment" our mayor has allowed in building all these ugly residential megacomplexes to build infrastructure

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Once they toll or any iteration of it you pay forever. It never goes away, just gets more expensive. You also have a legion of stooges mismanaging it, look no further than other toll systems like Chicago, NY, Mass etc. Your pay more for goods and sevices because trucking companies add in a surcharge, nothing is for free.

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Let's face it, improved transit will still be marginal, and all those extra buses mean it'll be even more of a grind to drive than it already is.

About the only way you're going to achieve a great transit system in this region is to basically throw motorists under the bus, and start closing roads and parking spaces to commuter vehicles and giving them over to transit.

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This is a horrible idea, more ways to make people bleed. How much more until we stand up to government? We Canadians keep taking it. Cut down government and programs, stop taxing us more. It's hard enough to make a living as it is.

I get that no one likes taxes but I lived in Europe for 5 years and trust me, we're below average when it comes to taxation.

Take a look: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_rates --> Sort by Sales Tax / VAT.

In BC with our 12% total tax we're in the range of Botswana, the Phillipines and Kazakhstan, and their public programs obviously don't match ours. Most European countries are above 20%.

So yeah, taxes suck. But we're doing OK.

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