Drivers in Metro Vancouver would pay up to $8 a day to cut traffic congestion in the region by a quarter.
That’s according to the Independent Mobility Pricing Commission’s report, presented Thursday to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation at a meeting in New Westminster.
The Independent Mobility Pricing Commission, set up by the Mayors’ Council last June and made up of business, union, academic and community leaders, was charged with determining how the public should pay for much-needed transit and transportation projects in the region.
The report did not make any firm recommendations as to how mobility pricing could work in the region, but instead presented the costs and benefits of two previously considered ideas.
Congestion-point charges would hit drivers when they pass a certain point, while distance-based charged would rack up based on how many kilometres driven, where they were driving and at what time during the day.
Congestion-point charges would cost the average household $5-8 per day, reducing congestion by 20-25 per cent, and raising $1-1.5 billion in net profit per year. They could hit motorists travelling over bridges, into downtown cores and into other areas that had high amounts of congestion.
Multi-zone distance-based charges would cost the average household $3-5 per day, trimming congestion by the same amount, 20-25 per cent, and bringing in $1-1.6 billion in net profit per year.
Those could differ depending on the time of day and what zone model the Mayors’ Council adopt.
The distance-based charges would rely on installing some sort of technology into cars that would track distance travelled, which Seckel acknowledged could raise privacy issues.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote, co-chair of the mobility pricing joint committee, called the plan a “policy that is worth further investigation.”
He said work would still need to be done on affordability, saying “some of the charges are definitely up there.”
Commission chair Allan Seckel pointed out that his group had recommended getting rid of other transportation taxes to make room for these new ones – something Cote supports.
“That includes not just the gas tax but the hydro levy, property tax, transit fares – anything you can think of that is currently used to fund our transportation system,” Seckel said.
The figures for revenue raised by distance-based charging assume no more gas tax, but the congestion point charges assume a gas tax remains.
The report says mobility pricing is at least five years away, emphasizing that road pricing is still in early stages.
“A year from today, there is not going to be mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver,” said Cote. “Even two years from now, there is not going to be mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver.”
However, Cote said that once the up-to-$1.6 billion in annual profits begins to come in, it could fund the $100-million per year gap that remains in phase three of the Mayors’ Council 10-year-vision. Currently, Phase 3 is not funded and Phase 2 was only funded last month.
“Mobility pricing could very well be the solution to the funding gap or there may be other solutions that present themselves,” said Cote.
Seckel noted that mobility pricing is “not the most efficient way to raise money, if you’re only wanting to raise money but if you want the benefit of reducing congestion, it can be a wonderful tool.”
Despite Cote’s concerns about the affordability of the proposed charges, he acknowledged that cheaper ideas, like the old “buck-a-bridge” proposal, wouldn’t actually change motorists’ habits.
“To make mobility pricing actually effective in shaping travel patterns and reducing congestion, the fees are actually much higher than needed to funding the transportation investments we’re talking about,” Cote said.
But he admitted that public perception would be essential in making mobility pricing work.
“If we’re not able to bring the general public along, it’s going to be a very hard sell for TransLink and the Mayors’ Council to take it to the next step.”
The extra funds could go towards funding road networks, Cote said, and other plans outside of just the 10-year-vision.
Kris Sims, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, lauded the transparency of the report but called the idea a “non-starter” that would squeeze money out of people than they could afford to give.
“We already pay the highest gasoline prices in North America,” Sims said. “B.C. drivers have the highest auto-insurance rates in the entire country… and people need to commute.
“People… just don’t have the money for this.”
Sims pointed out that with the amount of money that mobility pricing was expected to raise, it might not all go towards transportation costs as intended.
“A lot of that money just gets plowed into general revenue,” she said.
If we saw more of those tax dollars being spent on roadways and bridges, we probably wouldn’t be having as big of congestion issues as we are.”
Seckel stressed that the $3-8 charges suggested in the report are just preliminary figures, based on traffic modelling, and could change when, or if, they were implemented.
The commission said that Thursday’s report should be considered the first phase of a feasibility study, to be finished within six to 12 months.
Following that, the Mayors’ Council and staff will need to spend one to two years developing policies and another two to three years implementing the chosen policy.
Making it fair, for everyone
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read asked how mobility pricing would take into account that people in the eastern part of Metro Vancouver have a much harder task if they want to take transit into Vancouver.
“The workers, who drive to and from work each day and punch a clock, they don’t have the ability to adjust their schedules to drive during a period that might be a little bit more affordable for their families,” Read said.
“We have a very significant problem with equitable access to transit in this region.”
Seckel said that only three per cent of drivers switch over to transit once mobility pricing is brought in and that instead, they cut out non-essential trips, carpool and find other ways to save.
He cautioned against building up transit too much when so few people would make the jump.
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist Marc Lee said the report was too preliminary to judge how fair mobility pricing would be to people who lived further away from the region’s urban centres or were low-income.
“Those details are the crux of the matter,” said Lee.
“And then, it’s really what we do with those revenues.”