Transportation Minister Todd Stone is being accused of dragging his feet on launching a long-promised review of how tolls are charged on Metro Vancouver bridges.
Stone stuck to his position that a reform of the tolling policy – opening up a potential shift to road pricing or standardized tolls on all Metro bridges – would only be required if final decisions are made to replace and toll both the new Pattullo and Massey bridges.
And even then, he said under questioning in the legislature, neither bridge would open for at least five to six years, leaving “plenty of time” to have a debate about what should happen.
Premier Christy Clark echoed that, saying it’s not yet clear how much federal money might come for those bridge replacements, an essential part of the equation on any tolling decisions.
“It’s difficult to think about what toll rates are going to be and then think about a balance across the region,” Clark said.
She called mobility pricing a “controversial issue” that she isn’t yet in a position to take a side on.
Independent Delta MLA Vicki Huntington said the province’s wait-and-see attitude is unacceptable.
“There’s an urgent need now to resolve this question,” Huntington said. “Everybody but the minister seems to understand this.”
Residents South of the Fraser are paying $1,000 to $2,000 a year in tolls if they have to cross the tolled Port Mann Bridge, she said, adding that amount could be reduced if tolls are spread out across all crossings.
Drivers who cross elsewhere would suddenly have to contribute, but Huntington said they may benefit as well, if, for example, consistent tolls relieve the congestion at free crossings like the Pattullo.
“If you distribute the tolling system equally on the different bridges then you’re not going to have all the trucks and all the congestion at the free bridge,” she said. “You open up the choice of routes so traffic is distributed more freely.
“To wait five or six years to even start the discussion is ridiculous. The issue is in front of us and it has to be resolved as soon as possible.”
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson this week repeated her support for an equitable system of tolls on all bridges, suggesting $1 a bridge.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said he’s not sure Jackson’s numbers add up in terms of the revenue that would be required.
If tolls have to cover not just the repayment of the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges – which are not yet meeting their revenue targets – but also two new bridges yet to be built and possibly $250 million a year for transit expansion, then Bateman suggested the toll per crossing would likely have to be more like $2 to $2.50 each way.
He said political calculations are likely behind the premier’s decision to delay the toll reform debate.
“Why tick off the rest of the region with road pricing or bridge tolls before they have to?” Bateman asked. “There would be nothing she would love more than to have the NDP put road pricing into their election platform next year. I’m sure the Liberals would love to run against that.”