The B.C. government is having a half-off, limited-time-special, act-fast, don't-hesitate sale.
B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak announced Wednesday afternoon that the Port Mann Bridge tolls will start out at half of what they were when first announced.
Passenger vehicles will pay $1.50 when tolling begins this December. Motorcycles will cost as little as a $1 while big trucks pay $9 (no discount).
The prospect of the bridge project eliminating the worst traffic bottleneck in B.C. and saving up to 50 per cent of commute times wasn't enough to encourage drivers. The province sweetened the deal.
Polak said the lower rates strike a balance between making use affordable for families while covering construction costs and maintenance in the long term.
She said the rates aren't an admission that the Golden Ears tolls are so high that they prevent people from using the quicker crossing.
"We don't have any concerns about the utilization [of the Port Mann]," she told the Langley Advance.
She said the incentives are to get people to register, as that helps keep administration costs lower.
(The Port Mann is a government project, while the Golden Ears Bridge is TransLink.)
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender is pleased to see a more modest toll.
"I think this is the right step in the right direction," he told the Advance. "I think that rate is closer to where tolling should be throughout the region." Drivers who register for a free wind-shield decal and account by Feb. 28, 2013, will be guaranteed the half-price introductory toll rate for the first year.
Drivers who sign up before Nov. 30, 2012 will receive a $30 credit on their account, equivalent to 20 free trips for passenger vehicles.
There will also be 25 per cent discounts for HOV users during peak hours, so their starting rate will be $1.13 per crossing.
Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese said it is a positive step, and noted that it's common in business to use discounts and incentives to attract traffic.
"I think this will help people save money in the interim," he said.
The bridge's Coquitlam and Surrey offices which will register drivers and provide the tolling decals will open Sept. 17.
The introductory toll rate recognizes that, while travel times will be significantly reduced in December, construction along the highway will continue through 2013.
People who don't want to pay to cross the Fraser River, on either of the toll bridges, can use an alternative.
Construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the un-tolled alternative to the Port Mann Bridge, will also continue through 2013. The Perimeter Road will connect to the Pattullo Bridge by December, and will be complete and connected to the Alex Fraser Bridge and Massey Tunnel by late 2013.
Fassbender said the new transportation minister has said she is open to discussing the concept pitched by some South of the Fraser representatives that more roads be tolled around the Lower Mainland but at a much lower rate so all drivers share the burden.
"I hope as we develop an integrated strategy for the future that we can work on those issues," he said.
Polak noted that studies have shown that users will be about half from North of the Fraser and half South of the Fraser, despite the perception that the south side is penalized more.
"I'm going to continue to lobby," Froese commented.
Polak said regional tolling is one of the discussions "we have to have."