COLUMN: Drivers who use roads more should pay more

Road pricing makes far more sense than bridge tolls, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz

After a month of toll-free travel over the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, the consensus is in – drivers are quite ready to utilize both bridges, and on some days, plug them with traffic.

The Golden Ears Bridge, which has been under-utilized since the day it opened in 2009, saw September traffic levels that were 28 per cent higher than a year ago. Figures for the Port Mann Bridge are slightly lower – a 27 per cent increase in traffic.

This is not at all surprising. While they may not have actually saved money by going to other crossings, when counting wear and tear and extra fuel for their vehicles, drivers avoided both bridges in droves, resulting in much more congestion on the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges.

The Pattullo had 11.5 per cent less traffic in September, while the Alex Fraser Bridge traffic was down five per cent. It is particularly heartening that fewer transport trucks are adding to the congestion on the aging Pattullo.

Many Metro Vancouver mayors are bemoaning the loss of tolls, as is the Green Party. They all prefer to see even more congestion, to try to get people out of their vehicles and using transit.

This is an admirable goal, but it isn’t possible for many, particularly those who live south of the Fraser River. While the population of Surrey has grown tremendously since 1994, when the final three SkyTrain stations in Surrey were built, transit service has grown much slower.

There has been no expansion of rapid transit in Surrey since then. Bus service has improved a fair bit, with new routes and more service on some of the busiest routes, but it is nowhere near the level of service offered in Vancouver or Burnaby.

It still takes a long time to get to work in another community from Surrey using transit – particularly if the trip involves transfers. In addition, some bus routes in Surrey are hopelessly overcrowded, with passengers left waiting for another bus.

Theory is one thing; conditions on the ground are another.

Removal of tolls on the two bridges was simply a matter of fairness.

Mayors are pushing hard for mobility pricing, not just for revenue but to add a more significant form and much fairer system of traffic management. This makes far more sense than tolls on two bridges.

People who drive a lot should pay more than those who don’t; people who drive long distances should pay more; and people who drive at peak times should also pay more.

At the same time, charges need to be reasonable enough that they aren’t seen as yet another onerous tax, given that most area residents are already paying far too much for housing and a high level of taxation to all levels of government.

Surrey will continue to grow. There needs to be far better transit, if residents of Surrey, White Rock, North Delta and Langley are going to turn to transit to get to and from work, and to other activities.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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