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Mobility pricing commission focuses on road pricing, starts consultation

Jennifer Saltman

Traffic along Kingsway near Victoria in Vancouver on June 5, 2017. (Arlen Redekop/Postmedia Network/Files)

Traffic along Kingsway near Victoria in Vancouver on June 5, 2017. (Arlen Redekop/Postmedia Network/Files)

Decongestion charging, also known as road pricing, is the kind of mobility pricing a commission will consider to deal with traffic and pay for transportation projects in Metro Vancouver.

Wednesday marked the beginning of the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission’s public engagement and research project, called “It’s Time,” during which it will consult with the region’s residents and narrow its focus to research how distance- or time-based fees, congestion fees and tolls could work for the region.

“Congestion is one of the biggest problems affecting residents and businesses in Metro Vancouver, and it’s only going to get worse unless we do something about it,” said commission chairman Allan Seckel, in a news release. “It’s time to have a conversation about new ways of approaching this issue and our research shows Metro Vancouver residents are open to new ideas.”

Mobility pricing refers to usage charges associated with using transportation services and includes road pricing. Lower Mainlanders already pay a variety of forms of mobility pricing, from transit fares and gas taxes to parking fees.

It’s been proposed that new forms of mobility pricing could pay for more transit and transportation improvements in the region, including the 10-year vision put forward by the Mayors Council.

To begin the conversation, the commission prepared a research report outlining the commission’s mandate and goals, the traffic situation in the region and key questions to consider, and had Ipsos survey 1,000 Metro residents in September.

Not surprisingly, the public opinion survey shows 89 per cent of respondents are frustrated with delays caused by high traffic volumes and 80 per cent are frustrated with unpredictable travel times. Eighty-one per cent said transportation delays cause them to lose time every week.

The research shows that traffic hot spots are not concentrated in one area — they exist across the region, from the downtown core of Vancouver, to regional highways to bridges across the Fraser and other waterways. Congestion also tends to be worse in the afternoon rush compared with the morning and affects everyone, including drivers, workers and transit users. That congestion is expected to get worse as the region’s population increases by a million people over the next 30 years.

Alleviating congestion, promoting fairness and supporting transportation investment are the commission’s three objectives.

Sixty-two per cent of people said they thought it was a good idea to study ways to change mobility pricing in the region and 60 per cent would like to know and track how much they're spending on transportation. Just under half (46 per cent) said they would change the way they move around the region if there was a system that made drivers pay directly for road use.

“It’s time for all of us who care about the future of our region to get involved and have a say in how we keep people and goods moving,” said Joy McPhail, the commission’s vice-chairwoman, in a news release. “We’re asking residents and stakeholders from across the region to join the conversation and help shape the future of our transportation system.”

Mobility pricing, in the form of an “area scheme” system, is already a reality in both London and Singapore, where motorists are charged for driving into a certain sections of their city. In London, drivers are charged 11.50 pounds to go downtown between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Although mobility pricing may make sense for London, Patrick Condon, professor of urban design at UBC School Of Architecture And Landscape Architecture, doesn't think the system the right fit for Metro Vancouver.

"In our region the congestion is not the downtowns, it's rather at the bridge heads — the pinch points in our region," Condon said. "It's much easier, technically, to put tolls ... to put the charges at those congested points where the bridges are. Which makes it all the more ironic that we keep eliminating tolls on bridges every time there is a new election."

The newly installed NDP government eliminated tolls on both the Port Mann Bridge and Golden Ears Bridge on Sept. 1.

Condon notes every commuter bridge in the region, including the Patullo, Second Narrows, Lions Gate and even the Massey Tunnel, had tolls on them at one time.

"The provincial government decides this bridge infrastructure won't cost anything because we are going to pay for it with tolls but then three or four or five years later when the next writ is dropped they say 'let's get rid of those tolls because the voters will like it,'" Condon said. "It's frustrating for me that we go through this cycle again and again, and it doesn't seem to matter what party is in charge."

Mobility Pricing Independent Commission’s stakeholder workshops will begin Oct. 26 and last until Nov. 30. The first phase of online public engagement will take place Nov. 6-24. The commission is expected to release its first report and hold a commission public meeting this winter.

In January and February there will be local and regional stakeholder engagement, and another public report will be released in February. March will see more events and opportunities to provide feedback online, then the final report will be presented to TransLink’s board in the spring.

jensaltman@postmedia.com

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