Friday, 19 October 2012

Vancouver Mayors hear views on road pricing

According to the Vancouver Sun, pricing existing roads in Vancouver has moved up the agenda a little, as a panel of experts (including well known figures such as Ed Regan and Jack Opiola) was invited to talk to Metro Vancouver mayors about options for road pricing.

Previously I have written:

- The C.D Howe Institute proposed converting HOV lanes in the city to HOT lanes which would raise C$81 million per annum, and offer a new congestion bypassing option on certain routes;
- Vancouver City Council is seeking more powers to raise revenue including options to toll existing bridges and roads;
- New Port Mann Bridge to introduce free flow electronic tolls and provokes talk of more road pricing.

Now it seems the mayors of the local authorities are open minded about how to move forward.  The article says that a number of points were made:

- Large scale options include zonal fees or distance based charging;

- All road pricing options mean a shift from general taxpayers to users (notable given the Mayors are to consider shortly whether to increase a long standing property tax to fund some transport projects);

- Jack Opiola suggested Vancouver had similarities to Stockholm, but might choose to introduce a system similar to Siena in Italy, which has multiple zones.  He also said that people perceive driving should be free regardless of the cost to maintain the infrastructure and that the city needs to define the costs it wants to recover to help the public understand;

- Ed Regan suggested that whatever is done needs to generate value for those paying elsewhere, such as reducing fuel tax given that fuel tax revenues are declining due to vehicle efficiency.  He also suggested that the broader the charge, the fairer it will seem to be.

Mayors seem open to looking at options. Radio station CKNW reports that Langley city mayor Peter Fassbender said that
"...... we're not just tolling bridges, we're looking at pricing throughout the region. User pay."

Meanwhile,  "BC Chamber of Commerce President John Winter says they and the Vancouver Board of Trade want mayors to approve the temporary property tax increase" although they admit it is a stopgap approach to funding transport.

Of course the real tradeoff is that to get the most revenue and greatest equity, you need the longest time and cost to implement the most radical option (time, distance, location based charging), in the meantime options such as charging only bridges, are feasible, but create distortions.

Vancouver has a reputation among public transport enthusiasts for being a city that has adopted sustainable solutions for urban mobility.  Whether or not that is true, the introduction of road pricing could have a profound effect not just on traffic, but on urban transport more generally and the urban form of the city.

I can only hope that Vancouver continues to get expert advice and has a sober look at options, and does so with an open mind to not just transplant what has been done elsewhere.

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