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Mobility pricing can address Vancouver congestion: UBC expert

The time is right to investigate road pricing in Metro Vancouver, according to a UBC expert after TransLink launches commission.

The intersection of Cambie Street and Broadway in Vancouver.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro File

The intersection of Cambie Street and Broadway in Vancouver.

A University of British Columbia professor says the instant backlash about potential mobility pricing in the region is misplaced.

TransLink and the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation announced Tuesday the formation of a mobility pricing independent commission to look at possible ways of implementing a system to raise revenues throughout the region’s road network to pay for future infrastructure and transit improvements.

People like UBC Sauder School of Business professor Werner Antweiler were happy to hear the news, while others raised concerns about motorists being taxed more for using roads that have already been paid for through other taxes.

“I know that people often have a knee-jerk reactions to mobility pricing as just another cash grab, but I would say that is a misplaced form of understanding what mobility pricing is all about,” Antweiler said. “Vancouver is one of the worst congested cities in Canada, and even North America. That’s in part due to geography but an issue that we don’t have the right instruments at our disposal, including mobility pricing.”

London’s ring tax, which charges motorists for driving in the city’s core, has eased congestion in that city and allowed for more reliable transit service, Werner said as an example.

In Seattle, drivers who are in a real rush can use tolled priority lanes.

Other systems have lower road usage rates outside of rush hour, so people are more encouraged to drive when the roads are less busy if they can be flexible with their commutes.

“What we need is traffic management, essentially the ability to direct traffic to where it’s less congested and away from where it’s too congested and to get more people to use urban transit to the extent it’s available.”

Werner said mobility pricing can even be revenue-neutral, though the region’s mayors have stipulated they would like a system that raises funds for transit projects in their 10-year plan.

“With the Millennium Line extension, Broadway subway, Surrey light rail and the Pattullo Bridge replacement being the next major projects, we have to figure out a way to pay for all that,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Mobility pricing is an option that mayors and the TransLink board have considered for years. Now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and have an independent commission to look at all the options for doing that.”

Robertson, TransLink and the commission members repeatedly emphasized they’re looking for a system that’s “fair” but couldn’t elaborate.

“It’s premature to know who will pay or what they will pay,” said Robertson. “Mobility pricing is an approach many cities are taking now to raise funding and have a fairer system for people to support. In this case, it would be up to the new provincial government to determine the best sources of funding.”

The commission is expected to report back to TransLink and the Mayors Council with recommendations it can take to the province in spring 2018.

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