Dianne Watts said it best when she asked whether we want to become like Los Angeles. With an estimated million more people moving into the region in the next thirty years, our already congested transport network risks grinding to a standstill if we fail to make new investments into our system. The notion of less traffic, less emissions, and better transit is something we can all get behind – the problem still remains though, how do we pay for it all?
While TransLink floats increased gas and property taxes, there’s a big pot of money the region continues to neglect: bridge tolls. The proposed 2 cent gas tax increase will raise $40 million, just over half the tab required to finance loans for the Evergreen Line. In comparison, based on preliminary calculations using public traffic statistics, if all the major crossings in the region included a $1 toll each way, we could raise an estimated $200 million annually.
The impetus to begin this dialogue goes beyond raising revenues though – it’s also about fairness. With the current piecemeal approach to tolling, South Fraser residents are going to be hit disproportionately when the Port Mann Bridge opens in 2012. If the Pattullo replacement ever gets off the ground, all three major bridges in the Surrey area will face tolls of $3 or more.
Continuing forward with such an unequal policy will brew increasing resentment from suburban areas that currently lack the transit alternatives more accessible North of the Fraser. Applying a cheaper toll on all major crossings in the region will be more equitable to commuters across Metro Vancouver.
The proposal is not without precedent. One need only look to the success of San Francisco’s tolling policy. That region implemented $1 tolls on all seven state-owned bridges back in 1988 to pay for administration and maintenance costs of the infrastructure. The tolls have since risen to $5, with $3 paying for critical seismic upgrades to all bridges, and another $1 increase approved by voters to pay for a package of transportation improvements including BART extensions, new express buses, highway upgrades, and pedestrian and cycling facilities.
Following San Francisco’s example would allow us to not only resolve our unfair tolling policy, but also raise the hundreds of millions necessary to invest in our transport system for tomorrow. With the new revenues, we could pay for a new Pattullo bridge, rapid transit expansions to UBC and Surrey, the third SeaBus, new B-Lines, an expanded West Coast Express, and more. In addition to raising funds for reinvestment, the tolls will help reduce traffic on bridges as commuters will think critically about their travel habits.
Implementing affordable, regional bridge tolls will enable Metro Vancouver to reduce congestion, lower emissions and pollution, build reasonable transit alternatives, and ultimately improve our quality of life. Now that’s a win-win for everyone.