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Metro Vancouver mayors concerned about provincial commitment to mobility pricing

Jennifer Saltman, Postmedia Network

Heavy traffic and many large truck use the old Pattullo Bridge during rush hour here in New Westminster on June 3 , 2013. (Mark van Manen/Postmedia Network)

Heavy traffic and many large truck use the old Pattullo Bridge during rush hour here in New Westminster on June 3 , 2013. (Mark van Manen/Postmedia Network)

An independent commission is set to start work on a region-wide mobility pricing strategy this spring, but Metro Vancouver mayors are concerned that the commission’s work won’t be supported by the provincial government.

Mobility pricing — which includes road use fees — has been proposed as a way to help fund the upcoming second and third phases of the mayors’ 10-year Vision for Metro Vancouver Transportation.

Last November, a joint mobility pricing steering committee was formed to develop regional objectives for mobility pricing and oversee the preparatory work to establish a mobility pricing independent commission.

The steering committee has met four times and come up with a definition of mobility pricing, objectives for mobility pricing, the scope of the independent commission and the composition of the independent commission.

It will deliver a final proposal for the establishment of the independent commission this spring. The commission will then submit its recommendations and findings by early 2018.

The committee’s co-chair, North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton, said the province was invited to be part of the steering committee, but declined. Instead, a provincially appointed member of the TransLink board of directors sits on the committee.

West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith said that philosophically he has no issue with mobility pricing because alternate forms of regional funding need to be found so TransLink doesn’t have to rely on property tax increases.

However, he said that five years ago a proposed vehicle levy collapsed because the province didn’t support it.

“My concern and, I guess, angst and is that we can go through all of these hoops for mobility pricing and everything else, and unless we get approval from the province we’re just spinning our wheels and going nowhere,” Smith said.

Some mayors suggested seeking up front a preliminary endorsement of the committee’s terms of reference, some ground rules and an assurance that the province won’t require a referendum for mobility pricing to be implemented.

“We’re going to lose credibility, they’re going to lose credibility, we’re going to lose a lot of time if the province decides on a whim, which we’ve seen before, to change the ground rules on us,” said White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin. “Let’s get that in writing and get it known right up front before we engage anybody.”

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he is uncomfortable embarking on the process without provincial support.

“We’ve seen this scenario before at least twice in the last two provincial elections, where the province basically kicks the can down the road so there’s no controversy before an election about a hopeless situation, only to pull the rug out from under the mayors’ and TransLink’s feet after the election,” Brodie said.

Minister Responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender said in an emailed statement that the province supports the 10-year vision to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver, which includes exploring mobility pricing.

“The province is interested in the work that the mayors undertaking on this issue and we look forward to hearing about their findings,” he said.

jensaltman@postmedia.com