TransLink is trying to find a way to pay for infrastructure and reduce congestion. (THE NEWS/files)

Council tells TransLink commission to make sure road pricing is fair

Maple Ridge tells road pricing commission to make sure system is fair

The final report about road tolling in Metro Vancouver rolls out in spring, but if it doesn’t work for Maple Ridge, the whole region will hear about it, says Mayor Nicole Read.

On Tuesday, the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission released its interim report offering distance-based road tolling as one option, in addition to “congestion-point” tolling where motorists are dinged when they pass a certain point.

But the former isn’t on for Maple Ridge.

Coun. Bob Masse said that any proposal to charge motorists based on the distance they drive, just doesn’t work. “That would be so unfair to Maple Ridge.”

“Our community punches above its weight and we showed that in the plebiscite,” Read said.

Maple Ridge had the highest no vote in the 2015 referendum which defeated a proposed .5-per-cent increase in the provincial sales tax to pay for transit.

People don’t want to pay more in road or bridge tolls if they don’t see improvements in transit, Read said at council’s Jan. 9 workshop.

And unless there’s a viable transit option, road pricing won’t work. “Congestion is reduced when you have transit. Nobody is going to get on transit if it’s not an efficient option.”

Read said that it’s still faster to drive into Vancouver than take the West Coast Express, which she said is too expensive and takes too long. If people are trying to take transit from Maple Ridge to somewhere beyond downtown Vancouver, it can be a three-hour trip.

“Where in the universe is a three-hour commute going to convince someone to get out of their car?”

Members of the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission, set up by TransLink and the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation to find a fair way to implement road and/or bridge tolls and transit fares, gave council an update.

The commission is currently taking feedback and analyzing different road pricing schemes, then releases its final report in April. City councils throughout Metro Vancouver will look at the plan before the public comments on it.

Commission executive-director Daniel Firth noted though that no large city uses a distance-based road tolling system. Usually, road tolls generate enough money to maintain bus service, he added. In London, England, the congestion tax charged to motorists in the central part of the city raises $600 million a year.

Coun. Craig Speirs favours tolling every major bridge in Metro Vancouver and charging motorists just a one-time toll each day, no matter how many bridges they cross.

Read pointed out the terms of reference for the study doesn’t include the option not to proceed with road tolling or mobility pricing, meaning some form of that has to be agreed upon. “It’s possible that mobility pricing just doesn’t work for this region.”

While the commission will recommend some type of road pricing, it’s up to TransLink and the Mayors’ Council to decide whether to accept it.

Read said other large cities don’t face the geographic challenges or larger distances or lack of transit that Metro Vancouver does, she added.

And she advised Maple Ridge residents to stay up to date on the issue. “If our community doesn’t like mobility pricing, our citizens are articulate on this issue and we will be advocating strongly to make sure we protect our interests.”

She said that Metro Vancouver’s new development cost charges should be scaled so developers pay more if their projects are near major transit projects.

Coun. Tyler Shymkiw said there’s already mobility pricing in place in the form of TransLink’s 17 cent-a-litre gasoline tax. “They already unfairly target people that have to go farther distances,” said Shymkiw.

“We can pretend this is about decongestion. At the end of the day, it’s revenue generation,” because there are no transit option in the Maple Ridge area, he added.

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