Like most big Canadian cities, congestion in Metro Vancouver is a result of having a road network that is underpriced and overused. This has made driving “artificially cheap in terms of money, and artificially expensive in terms of time (*)”
Road Pricing In Metro Vancouver — Jonathan Arnold (2013)
Today the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission is working towards finishing their report on or around April 30, 2018. But the rest of us debate or wonder about this vast and complex topic in a near-vacuum.
Never fear, PT abhors a vacuum. HERE’s a 59-page report on road pricing written in 2013 for the Business Council of BC (“Where Leaders Meet . . . “). The author (Jonathan Arnold) was, at the time, working on a co-op term at the Council as part of his SFU graduate public policy degree program. It’s big: it’s got a bibliography; it’s got footnotes; it’s got 132 references; it’s got tables.
To quote the BCBC:
Jonathan’s paper provides useful background information as well as a concise survey of the main policy, regulatory and fiscal tools used by leading jurisdictions around to world to support the efficient use of urban road networks.
Some excerpts from Mr. Arnold’s 2013 paper (Executive Summary and Conclusions):
Looking at trends of congestion and transportation infrastructure in Metro Vancouver, it is clear that the current trajectory is not sustainable. The road transportation infrastructure network is ageing and, in many areas, operating above capacity. At the same time, the region is growing at a steady pace, with limited space to accommodate projected increases in passenger and freight traffic. The region is expected to welcome an additional 1.4 million residents by 2041 which, by 2011 estimates, could result in 700,000 more vehicles vying for road space . . .
. . Like most big Canadian cities, congestion in Metro Vancouver is a result of having a road network that is underpriced and overused. This has made driving
“artificially cheap in terms of money, and artificially expensive in terms of time.” . . .
Implementing road pricing is complex and raises significant challenges, involving issues of equity and fairness, political constraints, considerations for business and industry, and public acceptability. As with any policy which increases the price of an essential good, road pricing generates vocal opposition. But as demonstrated in other regions and cities around the world, these challenges are surmountable over time, with clear and concerted leadership.
Based on the research and successful implementation in other jurisdictions, pricing road infrastructure in Metro Vancouver is a viable option.
. . . Overall, in order to develop a more sustainable vision of transportation, a shift in how we value and view mobility is required. Although it is an uncomfortable concept for many, road pricing represents a shift in thinking that could significantly alleviate the region’s gridlock, improve transportation infrastructure, and make the region a more prosperous and cleaner place to live.
Amen to that.
And Arnold’s quick overview of three general categories of mobility pricing schemes:
1. Distance-based charges: road users are charged based on the amount driven, and can offer a great degree of choice and flexibility in how people pay for road use. This form of road pricing typically uses GPS technology to track the distances of road users. Alternatively, annual or semi-annual odometer inspections are another, less-intrusive, way of monitoring distance travelled. This form of pricing can be
augmented by charging road users according to their vehicle’s size and emissions. Distance-based charging has been implemented in Germany, the Netherlands, and Oregon.
2. Tolling major infrastructure: places user-fees on using strategic pieces of infrastructure, such as bridges, tunnels and highways. Tolls can either be a flat rate (i.e. if the primary goal is revenue generation) or can be priced according to traffic levels (i.e. if reducing congestion is the primary goal). The Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges are two examples from Metro Vancouver. Other examples include: the 407 highway in Toronto, the MacDonald and McKay bridges in Halifax, the I-15 highway in San Diego, California, and the major highway network in Melbourne, Australia.
3. Area-based charges: place a boundary around a portion of the city and charge users to enter and/or leave the cordon area. This system works best to alleviate congestion and traffic in well-defined and very dense downtown cores. The charges are typically adjusted to reflect the time of day and discourage traffic during peak travel periods. Based on its geography and traffic patterns, area pricing has been adopted in Singapore, London, Stockholm, Bergen, and Trondheim.
(*) Andrew Coyne, MacLeans.ca, “Stuck In Traffic” (January 2011). A terrific analysis of the mobility pricing issue from the policy and reaction point of view.