By Louise Yako, President & CEO
The George Massey Replacement Project online consultation form asks, among other questions: how do you feel about tolling as a funding source? A relevant question, given the new bridge can’t be funded just through existing sources.
But the question of tolling shouldn’t only be considered in terms of the George Massey Bridge. To toll or not to toll is part of a much thornier conundrum we’ve been trying to solve for at least the last decade and a half – where do we find more funding for all of the region’s roads, bridges and public transit capital and operating budgets? The George Massey Tunnel and the Pattullo Bridge, another unresolved funding puzzle, are not the only aging and inadequate crossings in Metro Vancouver.
The BC Trucking Association (BCTA) is proposing a way to solve the problem, based on the premise that most people recognize adequate road infrastructure and reliable and economical public transit benefits us all.
First, let’s agree on a common set of priorities for our current and projected road system and public transit needs, set minimum throughput standards for traffic or passenger volumes on high-priority road and transit corridors, and establish actions for when those standards aren’t met. These priorities, defined in a regional Transportation Plan, should dovetail with land-use planning, which means accounting for areas, businesses or activities that generate the need to move freight or people and ensuring reliable transportation connections among them. Transportation and land-use planning should mutually support an economic strategy to create and maintain jobs in the region.
Second, let’s figure out how to make the most productive use of the existing road and public transit network. For roads, this could mean things like prohibiting on-street parking on truck routes to allow for free-flow conditions and establishing a region-wide protocol for managing traffic incidents to reduce congestion. Making the most of what already exists is a necessity and an obligation.
Third, let’s establish an appropriate annual budget for operations and maintenance of major road infrastructure in Metro Vancouver to support our Transportation Plan. At the same time, let’s undertake an accounting of regional road user taxes and fees, such as fuel and parking taxes, vehicle registration fees, and TransLink’s portion of property taxes, among others. Both revenues and expenditures should be validated and reported publicly each year.
Fourth, with the Transportation Plan budget in hand, let’s integrate the revenue from the various road user sources and dedicate it to maintaining and upgrading critical road infrastructure and public transit when there is an appreciable benefit to users. In addition, the system should incorporate “mobility pricing” – which encourages drivers to optimize trips by, for example, taking the most direct route from A to B, travelling during off-peak hours, or carpooling – but without punishing those road users who have no choice but to use the road system. What is raised through mobility pricing may allow us to reduce some of the less direct taxes being collected to support our transportation system. Importantly, everyone who benefits from our transportation infrastructure should pay their fair share, including road users, transit users, residents, visitors to the region, local businesses, and businesses outside the region that rely on our transportation network.
Lastly, no urban transportation system is complete without a convenient, accessible and safe public transit system, delivered and managed in a financially sustainable manner.
We know that setting up a mobility pricing system in the short term is virtually impossible. Which brings us back to tolls – as an interim measure, BCTA advocates tolling all crossings. We need to discourage major traffic shifts inspired by avoiding tolls and instead equalize the financial burden to pay for large projects like the George Massey Tunnel and the Pattullo Bridge, when that comes. As a bonus, encouraging drivers to take the most direct route will also result in commensurate reductions in emissions and crash risk.
We need to take action soon. Simply avoiding dealing with the situation at hand is no longer an option.
BCTA, a member-based, non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization, is the recognised voice of the provincial motor carrier industry, representing over 1,200 truck and motor coach fleets and over 250 suppliers to the industry. BCTA members operate over 13,000 vehicles, employ 26,000 people, and generate over $2 billion in revenue annually in the province.