News / Vancouver

Commission touts benefits of mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver

Public consultation phase begins with commission releasing study on current congestion in Metro Vancouver.

Traffic along Front street in New Westminster on Sept. 14, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro / Vancouver Freelance

Traffic along Front street in New Westminster on Sept. 14, 2017.

The commission tasked with studying mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver says the scheme is more than just a cash grab.

The TransLink-appointed Mobility Pricing Independent Commission launched its public consultation campaign Wednesday with chair Allan Seckel telling media it will keep an open mind before recommending possible models next spring.

The region’s mayors have long hoped mobility pricing, also known as road pricing, could be solution to its funding woes and could pave the way for future infrastructure and transit improvements.

But revenue collection and taxation was barely mentioned at Wednesday’s launch, with the commission choosing instead to talk up the benefits mobility pricing could have on congestion.

“Congestion is one of the biggest problems affecting residents in Metro Vancouver and it’s only going to get worse unless we do something about it,” said Seckel.

The commission also released its first report showing that motorists spend 30 per cent of their rush hour commutes in traffic and a survey that found – not surprisingly – 89 per cent of residents are frustrated by “delays caused by high traffic volumes.”

“We already have paid some forms of mobility pricing through the money we spend on transit fares, gas taxes and parking fees but those charges are not always applied in a fair or strategic way that helps reduce congestion,” said vice-chair Joy MacPhail. “The previous approach where some bridges are tolled and others weren’t tolled created an unfair burden on residents in certain areas of the region. We think there are better ways.”

University of British Columbia economist Werner Antweiler told Metro there are many mobility pricing schemes around the world.

In London, England and Stockholm, Sweden, motorists are charged for driving through different zones and into the city’s downtown core.

In Washington State, tolled highway lanes are available for drivers who would rather pay extra than be stuck in traffic.

The commission’s executive director, Daniel Firth, worked on both systems in London and Stockholm and said, “it’s the best thing that’s happened in driving in those two cities.”

“It makes journey times more reliable, it means that the queue times are less, it means goods can get to their destinations on time and it’s also having some side benefits around pollution,” Firth said.

Antweiler agrees mobility pricing is the best way to manage congestion but said it will be a tough pill to swallow without offering drivers viable alternatives.

“We see in other cities where there’s a denser public transit network, [mobility pricing] can actually provide that relief,” he said. “But if you don’t have a choice, if the car is the only way you can get to work and there is no alternative, you will pay for a toll but you will not get anything in return.”

Seckel was careful to point out mobility pricing doesn’t mean paying more, depending on the model.

“Not necessarily [pay] more, pay differently, is the way we’re looking at it,” he said. “It could be just a redistribution of how we pay today in order to try to affect congestion. We’re open to that possibility.”

The commission is planning to hold a number of workshops and other public engagements (online and in person) throughout the rest of this month and November as part of its first phase.

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