Insights at UBC Sauder

B.C. election Q&A - How the platforms stack up on road tolls

Posted 2017-05-01

In the second of a four-part series, we speak to UBC Sauder Associate Professor Werner Antweiler about the promises the B.C. Liberals, B.C. NDP and Greens have made to voters when it comes to addressing road tolls.

Werner Antweiler Video

The BC Liberals are promising to cap tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges at $500/year, the NDP are promising to eliminate tolls altogether, and the Green Party wants to implement mobility pricing to manage congestion. Is one platform more advantageous than the other?

The promises made by the Liberals and NDP are sure to be popular with voters, especially in some hotly-contested ridings in Metro Vancouver. But unfortunately, even though the Liberals and NDP both have valid points, they fail to see the bigger picture. When used wisely, bridge and road tolls can be a useful instrument to fine-tune traffic flows, relieve congestion and optimize transportation choices on a city-wide scale.

The Green Party platform stands out by embracing the plans of Metro Vancouver mayors to use mobility pricing to manage road congestion. Alone among the three major political parties in B.C., the Green Party’s stance on road pricing recognizes the need to replace a haphazard system of recovering infrastructure expenditures with a rational system of traffic flow optimization that also helps expand and improve public transit in Metro Vancouver. As increased vehicle use not only increases congestion but also increases air pollution, the next provincial government will need to develop policies that curb emissions and support the use of low-emission vehicles.

Is there a better solution than road tolls?

Mobility pricing – including road tolls – work best when commuters have alternatives: meaning which route to take, or whether to take the car or transit.

The current system in the Lower Mainland, where only two bridges are tolled in order to recover construction costs, is flawed, since traffic is diverted from tolled to untolled bridges. The result is more congestion on the untolled routes.

One option is to implement differential tolls on major bottlenecks to relieve congestion, since this lets drivers trade off a higher price for a faster trip. In dense urban cores, tolls can be used to limit traffic and get people to rely more on public transit. The traffic that remains then moves much faster. London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore all have introduced fees for entering the city core.

Every day in Vancouver, commuters face an average of 38 minutes of extra travel time due to traffic congestion. Smarter road pricing adjusted by time of day, location, and available alternatives, will bring some relief.