Two bright lights from this part of the world weigh in on transportation.
First:  Nathan Pachal, Langley City Councilor and occasional PT contributor, writes in his South Fraser Blog “No tolls mean more congestion on Metro Vancouver roads“.  Hint:  he’s in favour of direct user fees, in the form of congestion-busting mobility pricing.

The current provincial government appears to be on board with expanding transit in our region. Will the province also move forward with implementing mobility pricing? Implementing such a system will take political courage. In the meantime, congestion will only continue to increase in our region.

Watching mobility pricing unfold and develop in local media is like waiting for something that never comes.  Coverage so far has been oddly positive on the idea and its rationale.  The expected apocalyptic outrage from motordom’s sacred guardians has not yet appeared. Has carmageddon fallen out of favour?
Second:  Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has written in Planetizen —  “The Future of Mobility in Cities: Multimodal and Integrated“.  His article features ten principles for planning the transition to new mobility options, including this one:

7. We support fair user fees across all modes. Every vehicle and mode should pay their fair share for road use, congestion, pollution, and use of curb space. The fair share shall take the operating, maintenance and social costs into account.

Principle #10 looks forward to the inevitable emergence of fully-autonomous vehicles in our cities, with a surprisingly specific nod to shared fleets.  Hello Uber, let’s talk.


  1. The re-election of the Liberals will bring back tolling. Yesterday, Todd Stone promised to revisit this policy if elected.
    User pay makes sense. It will reduce congestion. There is a great public sympathy towards user pay in public services, including infrastructure.

    1. User pay is indeed a great transport policy if it’s universal. That means road pricing all over, not just tolling bridges. But this needs to be given careful thought because it’s not easy or cheap to implement.
      Perhaps the most democratic would be a per-kilometre rate paid through annual insurance coverage based on odometer readings, though that would penalize road trip vacationers. Widespread licence plate recognition devices and / or transponders and receivers would cover the Metro and provide an accurate picture of actual travels, but their expense would be great. A flat rate levy on your car insurance like the transit levy and other charges for Metro water services and so forth may be the easiest, but in some ways could be called a cop-out because then it’s not actually user pay and the 60-km commuter will always pay less per km than the 15 km commuter for inflicting more damage to public infrastructure and the environment. A fee per vehicle could result in the party implementing it getting handily defeated in the next election, so the province has to find ways to assist with the policy and funding, but transfer the implementation to 21 different councils, then lay low.
      You can see it’s a tough one.

      1. Insurance could also be distance based. The model I like is distance/time/location based as it would be the most fine grained and could charge more per km for times and locations where demand is higher.
        Fee should also be partly based on weight, since heavy trucks cause most of the road damage while everyone else pays for it. Also, trucks can undercut railways which have to pay for all of their own infrastructure. Rail use should be encouraged.

        1. Whichever political party that brings user-pay forward as an issue will have to confront the implications on other universal government programmes.

        2. William.can you provide examples?
          Also, many people dislike traffic congestion, but how else are we going to solve this in an equitable matter without some form of road pricing? I am sure that Londoners are thrilled with how well it is working. Ditto for Stockholm.

        3. Thomas has obliged us with various examples in his reply below.
          Many people have called for nominal user-pay charges to alleviate the sometimes chronic delays when seeking health care.
          I suppose a government could actually pay people to not drive. The way some governments give incentives such as buying junk cars and subsidizing electric cars. All those are government expenditures. I’m not suggesting any of these techniques should be practiced but they do fall within the realm of possibility. Electrical and other utilities often have budgets for expenditures to encourage consumer behavior which sometimes includes cash payouts to the public, or products.
          If one considers the BC ferry system constituting part of the highway system, as do many islanders and others, then the present charges are like a toll, or a user-pay system.
          Privatization is one easy way for governments to ensure user-pay. Some roads in Canada are already tolled and managed by private companies. The poorer citizens dislike that wealthier travelers can zip along what amounts to First Class roads, while they hobble along old roads or buses.
          User-pay is actually a libertarian concept. The wealthy quite like it. Even on BC Ferries to Vancouver Island there is the Seawest Lounge, delicately advertised as “Escape the Crowds” but you have to pay a bit more.

        4. using health care (or going to school up to 16) is not a matter of choice, and they are not service people consume at will.
          road usage compares much more to gas, water , electricity,…or transit usage.
          people have choice to use it more or less or at different time of the day.
          adopting a pay per use (with eventually some social net as for water) allow people to make reasonable use of those services….so lowering the collective cost of the service…what should be the final objective.
          (…and one reason why healthcare is free encouraging early visit to the doctor often means a lower health bill)

        5. I would add that primary social services like universal public healthcare have a higher per capita benefit at a lower per capita cost than the alternatives. That’s sort of a beancounter’s cold way of saying that increasing the quality of life in our society is a valuable goal that strengthens the commons.

  2. User pay will certainly help to get only those that can easily afford it using the roads.
    It might become a class issue.

  3. In our political climate where mooching off others is common and exploited by every political party to buy votes, getting the “fair price” for road use, or bridge toll or curb space is very very tough. Some folks advocate for free ferry rides to various islands as the “fair price” while others would think BC Ferries need to increase frequency AND therefore are OK if pricing is raised.
    Ditto for schooling or healthcare. What is a fair price here ? Why do I have to pay for glasses or hearing aids but not for an abortion or knee surgery ? Is this “fair” ? Is it “fair” that UBC has quotas for almost all programs and it still costs $400-8000/yr in tuition fees, or even double that for medicine, for example ? Is it “fair” that some folks gladly would pay $10 to cross Lionsgate bridge without wait while others pay nothing but wait 1/2 h ?
    The issue of what is a “fair price” ie per km, per kg of weight, by time of day etc will be with us forever and whatever model is chosen will be attacked by many saying it is “not fair” because they drive a heavier vehicle, or have less money, or have to drive a longer distance, or already pay high income taxes or PST, or must cross a bridge or because they have an EV that ought to always be free etc …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *