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TransLink road tolls might snare Fraser Valley drivers

B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter supports the use of road pricing by TransLink in Metro Vancouver, and says it should apply to non-resident motorists driving there as well. - File
B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter supports the use of road pricing by TransLink in Metro Vancouver, and says it should apply to non-resident motorists driving there as well.
— image credit: File

A future system of road pricing proposed to fund TransLink should charge all drivers that enter the region – including those from the Fraser Valley who have until now avoided paying to support the Metro Vancouver transportation system.

That's the position of B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter, who supports road pricing as a longer-term mechanism to raise money and encourage more efficient use of the road network.

Whether it ends up being a London-style congestion charge, a per-kilometre fee to drive anywhere in Metro or a more consistent set of tolls on all bridges, Winter says Valley residents shouldn't be exempt when they cross the regional boundary from Abbotsford into Langley.

"Everybody who comes into this area and uses these roads, they have to pay for it," Winter said. "I don't think there's any exceptions."

Former Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon once aimed to extend TransLink's boundaries to include the Fraser Valley and Sea-to-Sky corridor, but the idea was dropped amid strong local opposition.

A shift to a road pricing system would be one way for Metro mayors to capture dollars from out-of-region residents who don't generally pay into TransLink unless they take transit within Metro or use TransLink-taxed pay parking lots.

The typical Metro home pays $235 in property tax each year to TransLink.

Besides that, Valley motorists who avoid filling up in Metro dodge the 17 cent per litre TransLink gas tax, which Metro mayors have suggested they would reduce by six cents as part of a switch to road pricing several years from now.

There's no sign yet of a deal between the province and the mayors that would send their transit expansion plan to referendum next year.

The province has indicated it may be too ambitious to build the proposed $7.5 billion in new rapid transit lines and other upgrades over 10 years.

There's also confusion over how it would be funded over the short term.

After initially proposing either a carbon tax reallocation or a new regional carbon tax, TransLink mayors' council chair Richard Walton has said the mayors intend to instead consider a vehicle levy or regional sales tax.

He wouldn't discuss whether road pricing should capture out-of-region drivers, calling it a policy question that will need extensive debate.

A vehicle levy would presumably apply only on Metro-registered vehicles, while a regional sales tax might capture some spending by non-residents, for example, when they pay for entertainment and major events in Vancouver.

Winter said he hopes the mayors abandon any attempt to create an additional carbon tax.

"The impact on the economy would be horrendous," he said. "We would see a significant flight of businesses out of Metro Vancouver to do business elsewhere."

But he added it might be "another disaster" to bolt a new regional sales tax to the PST, which the business group still wants to see harmonized with the GST despite the defeat and repeal of the HST.

"Why isn't property tax on the table?" Winter asked. "We fully recognize we can't afford to fund the whole system through propery tax. But it's really important that all the tools be on the table."

Winter said he remains concerned about the plan as crafted by the mayors.

He said it is not fully costed or properly priorized and Metro voters will need better explanations if it's to get their support.

"Otherwise they'll just kill the whole thing and that's a disaster."

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