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Driving away your dollars

$38 Average rate hike drivers face this year from ICBC - $2 Toll considered for cars using Port Mann Bridge 

Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006

Motorists could soon face tolls of $2 or more to cross the Port Mann Bridge, according to a recent transportation study written for the B.C. Transportation Ministry.

The study was prepared for the ministry by a consulting firm that examined the potential use of tolls to recoup some of the $3 billion B.C. plans to spend on its Gateway project to expand road capacity through Greater Vancouver.

Those plans include twinning the Port Mann Bridge to aid the flow of traffic between Surrey and Coquitlam.

A copy of the study, submitted to the government about 18 months ago, was obtained by The Vancouver Sun on Friday.

It says charging motorists to use new, improved routes including a twinned Port Mann Bridge, South Fraser Perimeter Road -- and even along Highway One between Vancouver and Langley -- would yield at least $200 million in annual revenue.

That's roughly the amount of money required to annually service the debt on the Gateway projects -- and it would be equivalent to the revenue generated in Greater Vancouver by a 10-cent-per-litre gas tax.

However, a government spokesman cautioned that the study was only one of "dozens" of reports considered during the development of a Gateway master plan, which will be released next week by Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon -- and should not be considered a blueprint for the government's approach.

"It's one of the many pieces of the background technical
information we used to make an informed decision on how to proceed," said Mike Long, transportation ministry communications director. "It's one consultant's analysis. It's not the opinion of government."

The study suggests a charge of five to 15 cents per kilometre travelled along Highway One in Greater Vancouver, and along the South Fraser Perimeter Road through Surrey and Delta, to speed the flow of container traffic in and out of the Deltaport sea terminal.

That recommendation is apparently in line with the "guidelines for tolling" that the ministry posted on its website in April, 2003.

Long said the transportation minister has already indicated the government is considering tolls as a general option.

However, Long noted that Falcon has only discussed the option of tolls on the Port Mann.

A toll on the bridge would match TransLink's plan to toll the Golden Ears Bridge it is building between Maple Ridge and Langley.

Maple Ridge MLA Michael Sather said last month that motorists will probably pay $2.85 per trip to cross that bridge when it opens in 2009.

The study obtained by The Sun looks at various pricing scenarios for Port Mann, including charges of as little as $1 per trip across the bridge.

But it also says $2 is the "optimal" toll for that bridge -- but also puts forward scenarios in which the fee per crossing rises to $4.

The report cautions that if motorists are charged much more than $2 per trip, it will have the effect of reducing the number of trips, and of government revenue.

It recommends that light-duty commercial trucks pay a toll 1.5 times as high as car drivers, while heavy trucks would pay twice as much as cars.

It is suggested that the application of tolls would have the effect of driving down overall volume of vehicles -- with as many as 25 per cent of car drivers choosing other routes to get to the north side of the region, including the Alex Fraser and Pattullo Bridges.

The study recommends tolls be collected automatically through the use of electronic technology in order to maintain a free flow of traffic, rather than requiring motorists to pass through gates and physically hand over money or tokens.

That's a similar approach to the one used on Toronto's Highway 407, a cashless toll route built to speed the flow of commercial traffic around that city's perimeter.

Motorists using that road obtain and mount small electronic transponders on their windshields.

Electronic sensors over the highway pick up the signals from the devices which transmit each motorists' individual vehicle account number and vehicle class -- car, light truck or heavy truck.

The information is fed into a computer which can debit a prepaid toll account, or a bank account, or apply a charge to a credit card.

If you don't have a transponder, a photo is taken of your licence plate and you are sent a bill for the amount owed.

ssimpson@png.canwest.com




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