Metro Vancouver mayors have set great stock in mobility pricing – some sort of system to charge drivers for using the road, bridge and tunnel system – as another way to finance transit expansion. It is also being sold as a way to ease congestion.
On Jan. 16, the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission (set up by the TransLink Mayors’ Council) released a preliminary report. It suggested that charging drivers on a per kilometre basis and/or tolling congestion points such as bridges, the Massey Tunnel or busy roads in the region, are the most likely alternatives. The commission has been doing research and seeking input since October, and released the preliminary report to garner more public feedback. It expects to publish its final report in April.
One of the challenges the commission and mayors have struggled with is the notion of fairness. Treating people across the region fairly has been the rock that past attempts to bring in a car tax, and more recently the BC Liberals’ tolling policy, went aground on.
Nowhere does the fairness issue resonate more than in Langley. Very few people who live here depend on the transit system as their primary means of transportation, although the number has slowly increased in the past decade. Other than in Langley City, there is very limited bus transportation available to Langley residents on a regular basis.
The one exception to that is the 555 route from the Carvolth exchange, which attracts a good ridership as it goes directly to the Lougheed SkyTrain station. It is so popular that a double-decker bus has been tested on the route in recent weeks – a first for Metro Vancouver.
If there is a per kilometre charge levied on drivers, Langley drivers will pay the most – because they have to drive the most. They are already paying the highest gas prices in Canada – much of which is taxation imposed by TransLink and the province. Gas prices are going to jump again in April as the province boosts the carbon tax. The current NDP government is not treating the carbon tax as revenue-neutral, so there will be no other tax savings to make up the difference.
ICBC rates are very high. The cost of vehicles has also gone up. Until September, there were tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges – the two bridges most used by Langley residents. Owning and operating a vehicle – a necessity for most Langley residents – has become more costly each year.
A congestion tax (the NDP government will never agree to it being called a toll) at certain points would also affect Langley drivers. Of course, it will depend on where they drive to, but the initial suggestions indicate that a congestion tax would be levied every time a car crosses a major bridge. It could also be applied to arterial roads in Vancouver and parts of Burnaby and to all vehicles entering downtown Vancouver.
While the charge may be lower than the $3.25 or so drivers were paying to cross the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, it will soon add up if there are congestion taxes imposed at several points between Langley and downtown Vancouver. The cost may add up to much more than the bridge toll.
If there are no additional transit routes, and buses continue to run at the same frequency as they do today, drivers here will strongly resent having to pay any additional tax. This past year marked the first time transit was offered along 208 Street in Willoughby – years after the area started to develop. The population density on that corridor far exceeds the density along many other transit routes, but that didn’t seem to sway transit planners.
The proposed rapid transit line between King George station and Langley City seems to be so far off in the future that no one can even say when it will be complete. One thing is for sure, there will be some sort of congestion tax or mobility pricing in place long before that transit line is in service.
If transit expansion here moves at the same glacial pace it has in the past, Langley drivers will be very angry over any additional taxes they will be forced to pay. They have no choice but to use vehicles in order to get to work and do all the rest of their day-to-day activities.
Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor. He writes monthly for the Langley Times, as well as sharing his insights on his Frankly Speaking blog. It can found at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.