COLUMN: Surprise! Tolls are unloved

The province needs to do a major overview of its tolling policies.

COLUMN: Surprise! Tolls are unloved

Use of the Port Mann Bridge declined every month of 2014, with the exception of December. Total traffic for 2014 was down 3.9 per cent.

This comes at a time when the economy is improving slightly, albeit in very gradual increments. B.C.’s job picture is probably best described as cruising along at the same rate of speed.

It also comes at a time when more and more people are moving south of the Fraser River, to Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Yet the number of bridge crossings is not keeping pace.

There are a variety of reasons. One is that people often seek employment closer to home, and are particularly motivated to do so by bridge tolls. Given that people living in this area must pay tolls to cross both the Port Mann and the Golden Ears, that is a strong motivation.

Another is that more people are using the transit system, whether it is the 555 bus (which now stops in Surrey), and allows them to cross the Port Mann for free, SkyTrain or the buses across the river which use the Alex Fraser Bridge or Massey Tunnel.

There are also more people using the tunnel, along with the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges. Crossing on these free routes is made easier by the completion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road.

The fatigue from bridge tolls, which cost regular commuters a sizable amount each month, may be a factor in the stiff opposition to the proposed TransLink Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax from many people living south of the Fraser.

At  a debate on Jan. 20 in Langley, it was obvious that the vast majority of attendees were on side with Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, who made the case for voting “no.”

Commenters appear to support his stance, which can be summarized as “no more money for TransLink, which cannot manage what it has now.”

There seems to be less backing for the “yes” side, represented at the debate by Bill Tieleman, who ironically was one of the leaders in the successful campaign to get rid of the HST. Surrey business groups and Surrey council are backing the “yes” vote. Delta council is seeking input from residents before taking a position. White Rock council wants more information from TransLink.

The provincial government has set the tolling policy for the Port Mann. It needs to collect so much each year to pay off the project by 2050. The project, incidentally, includes a large number of freeway improvements north of the Port Mann.

The province has also said that a new crossing to replace the tunnel will be tolled. TransLink’s plan for the Pattullo Bridge also calls for tolls. If all those come about with no change in tolling policy, four of five crossings from the South Fraser area will be tolled – and there will be no tolls anywhere else in B.C.

The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce is one of the few business groups to oppose the TransLink congestion improvement tax. It believes that mobility pricing makes more sense. If there was such a system, all those who use the improved Highway 1 would help pay for it – not just those who must cross the bridge.

The province needs to do a major review of its tolling policy, because drivers are asking for some fairness.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.


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