Lower Mainland drivers could find themselves paying tolls for more than just bridge crossings in the future if a strategy known as mobility pricing is implemented, as some advocates wish.
The controversial issue was discussed at the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday night, by a panel made up of TransLink’s new CEO, Kevin Desmond, Peter Fassbender, the provincial minister responsible for TransLink and Louise Yako, president and CEO of the BC Trucking Association.
BC Trucking in favour of more tolling
Yako spoke out strongly in favour of the idea, while both Desmond and Fassbender expressed an interest in exploring it.
Yako said that she often surprises people when she tells them her association is in favour of mobility pricing.
“The first reaction I get is, ‘Why would a trucking association support mobility pricing?’ And the short answer is … truck drivers and trucking companies are extremely practical. We don’t want to be stuck in congestion,” said Yako.
She laid out three aspects of a road pricing model she says would reduce congestion and benefit truckers as well as other road users.
First, she said tolls on roads and bridges could act to bundle existing taxes and reveal the true cost of their use to drivers.
“If you don’t see that you are paying for something, you won’t know what the value is,” she said.
The second element of an effective tolling system would be “peak period or dynamic pricing,” said Yako. “When there are a lot of vehicles on the road that perhaps shouldn’t be, then we price that so that people see what the consequence is of their decisions.”
And the third important element Yako said would be needed in such a system would be fairness for people who have “few choices” when it comes to road use. This, she said, includes both truckers and commuters with limited transit options.
Province ‘interested’ in the idea
Fassbender said his B.C. Liberal government intends on studying mobility pricing for the Lower Mainland.
“The suggestion that the province isn’t interested in mobility pricing… It’s not true,” he said.
Fassbender said the implementation of such a system would be complicated and would require study.
“I think we need to take a very broad look at it and make sure that all of the elements that Louise [Yako] talked about are integrated into that thinking going forward,” he said.
‘New kid’ also wants to explore tolling option, among others
Desmond echoed Fassbender’s comments, saying that mobility pricing could be one element of an overall strategy to reduce congestion in the region. He said that a replacement for the province’s gas tax would have to be considered as cars become more fuel efficient and electric vehicles become more popular.
He described himself as “the new kid on the block,” referring to the fact he has only been at the helm of TransLink since March 21, coming off a 12-year stint as the general manager of Seattle’s King County Metro Transit.
Desmond said one of the key lessons he learned in Seattle was the importance of a hybrid approach to solving traffic congestion.
“There was this constant debate: Roads vs. transit, roads vs. transit. And increasingly, the general public, the business community, the advocacy groups and so on and so forth, and of course, government, came to understand it’s not roads or transit, it’s sort of roads and transit.”
More ideas, some ‘more audacious than others‘
Other congestion-reducing strategies were discussed by the panel.
Yako suggested new protocols for the management of crashes would greatly reduce their effect on traffic flow. She also said construction could be better scheduled, traffic lights could be programmed to be more efficient, and truckers could be given the incentive of better pay to drive at night, when roads are seldom used.
She also suggested that on-street parking be banned on major routes, to make more efficient use of existing infrastructure.
Desmond said all of these ideas would be considered going forward, but called “some more audacious than others.”
“Eliminating on street parking; That’s pretty bold,” he said.