Vehicles drive over the Pattullo Bridge.

Vehicles drive over the Pattullo Bridge.

COLUMN: The end of the free ride

Bridge tolls, taxes seem inevitable solutions to traffic congestion

A group of academics and former politicians is adding fuel to an already-raging fire.

The fire is the issue of paying to use infrastructure to get around in urban areas, which in Canada and many other places are becoming increasingly congested. There was plenty of discussion about urban congestion in the recent federal election, with all three major parties promising to spend more on infrastructure.

Significantly, tolls and road pricing were barely mentioned.

Many Surrey, White Rock, Delta and other South Fraser residents are already paying a form of congestion tax. As the primary users of the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, they pay every time they cross. There are minimal alternatives.

The Pattullo Bridge is supposedly the “free” alternative to the Port Mann, but it is in poor condition and is itself badly congested. There are regular closures to do the minimal maintenance needed to keep it open, but there is no replacement on the horizon.

There are no “free” alternatives to the Golden Ears, which due to the toll is by far the least-congested Fraser River crossing in the entire Lower Mainland. It gets a reasonable amount of use, primarily because there are few alternatives to get to and from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Transit on both bridges is minimal (one bus route on each bridge). This shortcoming adds to the widespread perception that the tolls are punishment for people who live in certain areas of the region.

The academic-political group, known as the Ecofiscal Commission, is proposing a much more comprehensive use of road pricing in congested areas, in particular Greater Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Road pricing of course has been discussed in this region by the Mayors’ Council, and even half-heartedly endorsed as a long-term solution to transit funding woes. However, progress on the issue has been glacial, largely because the divisions of responsibility over transportation among the provincial government, TransLink and individual cities has led to a great deal of buck-passing.

An interesting experiment in congestion pricing is just getting underway in the Seattle region, which is often even more congested than Greater Vancouver and has fewer transit options. Improvements to Interstate 405, which is a popular alternative to using Interstate 5 through downtown Seattle, have created new tolled lanes.

They take the place of the previous HOV lane, on the stretch of I-405 between its northern junction with I-5 in Lynnwood and Bellevue.

There are no more free rides for vehicles with two occupants using the lanes in peak hours. Only with proper passes, and three or more occupants, can vehicles travel for free. Everyone else pays tolls, which vary widely based on the amount of traffic in the lanes, and the distance travelled. The rates rise as more drivers use the lanes. Washington state department of transportation says that tolls can vary between 75 cents and $10. There are no “free” times when the lane can be used – it is a paid lane, 24 hours a day.

The objective is to keep traffic moving in those lanes at a speed of at least 45 m.p.h., which is 75 per cent of the maximum speed of 60.

Planners believe that drivers stuck in gridlock will see others moving along at that speed, and that some will be willing to pay extra to get to their destinations faster.

The reaction has been decidedly mixed thus far. A blog post last week on the WashDOT site puts a good spin on the results after one month of operation, but reader comments are mainly negative, with some saying the new lanes have caused more traffic on I-5, already badly congested.

South Fraser residents in general have supported an even-handed approach to bridge tolling in the Metro Vancouver region, favouring suggestions of tolls of $1 or so for all bridges. This of course would reduce tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears, but add them to the Pattullo, Alex Fraser, Queensborough and Deas Island crossings.

Congestion taxation, toll lanes, more bridge tolls and other revenue sources to boost transportation spending and attempt to shape traffic patterns seem to be inevitable. They will likely find some favour with most drivers if they are applied in an even-handed fashion, at the lowest possible charge.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

Just Posted

TEASER PHOTO ONLY
‘Stay-at-home mom’ works to raise $25K to help Options build housing in Surrey

Tammy Bourelle boosts ‘Women of Options’ fundraising campaign, which ends June 30

Surrey Libraries will host a series of free contests and programs for teenagers this summer. (Malin Jordan photo)
Surrey Libraries offering series of free summer programs for teens

Writing contests, virtual programs scheduled throughout summer

Emergency crews responded to a large truck fire under the Alex Fraser Bridge around 8:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Christine Tobias/Twitter photo)
Dog dies in truck fire under Alex Fraser Bridge

No people were injured in blaze that consumed two semi-trucks around 8:20 p.m. on Thursday, June 17

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
Surrey ranks eighth in Top-10 list of cities of the future in the Americas

This is according to the Financial Times’ fDi Magazine, a bi-monthly publication out of London, England with a circulation of 15,488

After weeks only being allowed to play against their fellow White Rock Tritons, teammates Cam Wright (left) and Chase Marshall (right) finally got to play other competition this week, when their respective teams faced off against the North Delta Blue Jays. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Multi-team schedule ‘what we’ve been waiting for,’ says White Rock Tritons general manager

BC Premier Baseball League releases summer schedule that includes games between associations

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Camper van explosion burns Vancouver Island gas station to the ground

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. The website for a Broadway theatre showing "Springsteen on Broadway" said it would only allow guests "fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine" — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
No Springsteen for you: AstraZeneca not good enough to qualify for Broadway ticket

Victoria area mayor among those unable to attend New York entertainment due to COVID-19 restriction

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found deceased

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

Audrey Inouye (right) with her two sons Kiyoshi McMillan (left) and Kaito McMillian drop off her milk to hospital volunteer Sylvia Hendel at a human milk depot on October 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Fraser Health appeals for breast milk after unexplained drop in donations

Give your breast milk and save newborn lives, the health authority is encouraging mothers

The BC Ferries’ website is down for the second time in one week from what they say is likely an overwhelming increase in web traffic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Surging web traffic crashes BC Ferries’ site again

Website down for second time this week

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
PODCAST: John Furlong lays out a ‘provincial’ B.C. plan to host the 2030 Winter Olympics

Podcast: Chat includes potential role for Vancouver Island communities

Most Read