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Your Ride: Vancouver

Karen Quin Fung writes about sustainable transportation and transit policy every Tuesday.

How the free crossing at Port Mann Bridge is costing all of us

Need to explain the concept of a double standard? Look no further than discussion about different transportation modes in Metro Vancouver.

The most recent example is the attention being paid to former TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis’ compensation, following the board’s announcement last week that it removed Jarvis in a bid to restore public confidence in TransLink.

The awful truth, however, is that the crisis of confidence extends much further, to the province’s decision-making about transportation as a whole.

Take recent news about the Port Mann Bridge. The number of people using the bridge has been consistently below the province’s projections. The provincial government’s insistence on keeping a free alternative crossing means people pay with their time (and the time of the people using the Pattullo for its intended destinations) instead of their money. That costs all of us, as taxpayers, being behind schedule on paying down the associated debt.

This was not unforeseeable — far from it, in fact.

A number of opponents of the Port Mann expansion predicted this would be the case when the business case for the project was being made in 2008, seeing as reductions in driving trips are a continent-wide trend.

The bridge is now going to collect $90 million less in revenue in the next three years than originally anticipated.

The costs of cleaning up that mess? That’s our money the provincial government has already committed to spending — and it’s a decision that we didn’t get to vote for.

Meanwhile, transit has shown much the opposite trend. Transit has not only kept up with population and job growth, increasing the number of trips and users — it has expanded its share of all trips, going from 10 per cent in 1999 to 14 per cent in 2011.

This double standard is irritatingly pervasive — but also quite useless. Not because waste, wherever it happens, doesn’t frustrate me to the point of blind rage, as well. But finger-pointing doesn’t bring us to a meaningful plan of action. We need the province and TransLink to address our concerns but still face our challenges, now and for tomorrow.

There are signs of learning. Our region’s mayors, in proposing the initial ballot question, ensured that money collected from the congestion improvement sales tax will be audited by a third party reporting to the province.

TransLink’s spending priorities will be made to match those identified by our elected officials.

Perhaps most significantly, the provincial government has also said it is in favour of the referendum passing. Regardless of whether we view that as cynical backtracking, or on whom we ultimately want to pin the blame for this situation, a Yes vote remains our nearest and best hope out of it.

Karen Quinn Fung writes on sustainable transportation issues and policy. Find her @counti8 on Twitter.

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