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.
“artificially cheap in terms of money, and artificially expensive in terms of time.”
Damn! I love that phrase! That could be (with tweaks) the centerpiece of the road pricing roll out advertising campaign.
As evidenced by the recent jump in volume on the now untolled bridges, road pricing does reduce road usage. What’s needed though is good, reliable, and convenient transit options that people can move to. If you don’t make a good alternative available people will just grit their teeth and keep driving.
Andrew Coyne makes some important points.
“that tolls would become a cash cow for governments, the simple answer is that any revenues from tolls can and should be used to lower taxes ”
“Indeed, it may even be necessary to go so far as a plan put forward recently by the Social Market Foundation, a British think tank. It proposed putting ownership of the road system in a public trust, at arm’s length from the government. At the end of the year, all toll revenues would be distributed to every member of the public—the trust’s shareholders.
“Which means discarding one of the most common arguments made for tolls: that the revenues could be used to finance public transit. For starters, this is unnecessary: the very act of tolling roads would, by itself, make public transit more competitive, ”
“If getting more people to use transit is your aim, moreover, subsidies are the last thing you should want. The biggest factor in people’s decision whether to use transit is not the fares, but rather the speed, comfort and convenience relative to other options: that is, the passenger experience. And the surest means of forcing transit operators to pay more attention to the passenger experience is if their livelihoods depend on it. The greater the share of revenues paid for by passengers themselves, the more operators are likely to be lying awake at night thinking up ways to put bums in the seats; subsidies simply insulate them from that concern.”
Is the Mayors’ Council of Metro Vancouver prepared to accept these facts or are they stuck wanting drivers to pay for their transit plans, infrastructure and operations?
Judging from the ‘usual suspects’ lined up in their “Independent Commission” it seems they have not changed.
I agree that in the long term eliminating road subsidies should eliminate the need for transit subsidies. But we have a long long way to go in investments for transit to get it on an equal footing with the investments we have made in roads. We should quickly eliminate road subsidies but gradually phase out transit subsidies. Our horrible land use patterns have to change to allow the viability of mobility options. It took more than half a century to create the problem. It will likely take as long to fix it. We’ll likely need to subsidize transit during most of that transition.
“The biggest factor in people’s decision whether to use transit is not the fares, but rather the speed, comfort and convenience relative to other options: that is, the passenger experience.”
Spoken by someone who doesn’t work two marginal jobs to make ends meet. We have to make sure that transit is accessible to all. Do we want overlapping services with different levels of frequency, comfort and cost? There has been backlash against separate doors into single buildings that have market and non-market partitions. But perhaps the answer is multi-level services.
Transit is currently not subsidized, is affordable and is fairly frequent in the parts of town where many people can’t afford to live. It is heavily subsidized, less affordable and infrequent as housing prices fall toward the fringes. Again, we can’t look at transit in isolation from housing affordability within the city or mixed use density throughout the region. The farther you need to travel the more it will cost you and society. It’s why I prefer a shift toward more localized, networked and inexpensive LRT/trams as opposed to long distance grade-separated feats of expensive engineering. The latter is a holdover and nod to sprawl.
Translink receives two thirds of its income from so called “Government Transfers”. These are subsidies from a whole range of taxes on unrelated items. Gas Tax, Property Tax, Electric Utility Tax, Parking Tax. As transit expands the taxes expand because each and every ride on transit is financed mostly through subsidies.
page 26 Translink annual report.
Incorrect! Many urban bus routes run at a profit. But you need higher density and mixed use to achieve that. Urban transit riders subsidize suburban transit riders who demand service but flee the very thing that makes it economically viable.
Urban residents also subsidize suburban motorists who drive on our local roads for free, Gas taxes do not fund local roads.
Translink’s words Ron. The first item Translink mentions elaborating on where 2/3rds of their earnings comes from is Gas Tax Transfers.
Doesn’t matter who’s words. They are still incorrect.
The Gas Tax Transfer is just accounting smoke and mirrors as well. If motorists aren’t covering the full cost of roads they don’t have anything left to contribute to anything else.
You can’t contribute to a charity if you can’t pay your rent.
TransLink gas taxes have always been about making transit look like a charity funded by the egalitarian motorist. On average, both are subsidized and both collect a part of their costs from the user. Except in the city core where most transit passengers pay the full cost or more.
“Society would collapse if roads are eliminated.”
A typical Thomas argument. Completely meaningless since nobody is proposing that.
The food I eat and the other things I consume take up a minuscule fraction of the road space of somebody who commutes by car. Ditto the space and wear and tear from my bike. The suburban commuter benefits from subsidized roads much more than I do. I’m willing to pay the true cost of my broccoli. I’m willing to pay the true cost of my cycling. I’m willing to subsidize the road space required for emergency services. I’m even willing to subsidize suburban transit users. I’m not willing to subsidize motorists.
“I’m willing to pay the true cost of my cycling. ”
I’ll remember this.
Please do. I already do. I pay property taxes in the municipality in which I do 99% of my cycling.
But if I were to be charged specifically for my cycling demand I would expect motorists to be charged the same.
I would love to have cycling be part of a road pricing scheme. According to research done at UBC, driving a car incurs a cost to society of $0.56/km while riding a bike offers a benefit to society of $0.15/km. Transit is almost break even.
If road pricing were to be based on cost to society, then every km driven would cost $0;56 . For every km I cycle, I should get a credit of $0.15 . Not bad, considering that I cycle a few thousand km each year. Also, skytrain should be free while bus transit would cost pennies per trip.
Cycling is like a money tree, the more that is invested in cycling infrastructure, the bigger the return.
Well, I’m willing to continue subsidizing motorists since even if I’m not driving I benefit indirectly through goods movement, rides from others, etc.
What I don’t like is the the myth some motorists hold that they are the only ones not being subsidized.
I think how roads are paid for should be part of the driver’s license test.
The news media (who are owned by the same people who own the auto and oil industries) cleverly use the word “subsidy” when applied to any other mode yet make sure they always use the word “investment” when it comes to highways. This is where the myth starts.
“The news media cleverly use the word “subsidy” when applied to any other mode yet make sure they always use the word “investment” when it comes to highways.
Why propagate these false narratives to further a position? I have heard about “investment” in public transport just as much, and rightly so. When we invest in infrastructure, bike, public transit or roads, we are providing value, which is a public investment. Subsidies are part of the equation when talking about how something might be financed, but otherwise, this claim is baseless.
There are some things about road pricing which don’t seem to be appreciated here. Road pricing is not the saviour it is touted as in terms of relieving congestion and making driving a beautiful thing. It is merely a cost borne by drivers, but it doesn’t change traffic appreciably. The bridge toll case illustrates this because when there are tolls, it moves drivers to other bridges, it doesn’t get people to stop driving. And in the case of the Port Mann bridge, faster, more convenient is not something many people are willing to pay for because they showed that with their feet, or tires, when they diverted to the slower, free bridge, so how does this help traffic?
If you want to help traffic, you don’t price people off of it, that has been shown not to work, you build viable options that attract people off of it. That means far greater investment in public transport and that also takes many years to implement and huge cost, by the way. Then, when you have those options, you can look into road pricing, but hopefully you don’t have to because you attract people to alternatives because they exist.
The other factor is that the rampant density push by Vision and the Liberals has resulted in greater congestion, more traffic due to construction too, and more cars in those densified areas. Proponents of more and more condo towers do not seem to make the connection to the impact it has on our roads. On top of that, changing traffic patterns in the downtown core to restrict movement causes more congestion again.
Still, we don’t even have appreciable congestion in Vancouver, we have terrible traffic getting in and out, via bridges and the main roads. I can drive within the city, say Kits to downtown or Kits to Commercial, in no time at all and with little or modest traffic at virtually any time of day. Public transit to the same destinations takes about three times as long in most cases, which is why people love cars. Faster, more comfortable and easier than the options, despite the fact that it costs more. If driving already costs more, then why would road pricing change usage?
“The other factor is that the rampant density push by Vision and the Liberals has resulted in greater congestion, more traffic due to construction too, and more cars in those densified areas.”
How did the Liberals have any effect on density?
Surely densifying downtown Vancouver is way better than suburban sprawl. 25% of Vancouver residents now walk to work. Also, improved cycling infrastructure has encouraged 10% if Vancouver residents to cycle to work. Surely this is a huge positive for those who take transit and for those who must drive.
Really? 25% walk to work? Can you provide some evidence of this stat? The densification in terms of zoning and horse trading with developers is indeed largely Vision’s thing, but the BC Liberals have been all over supporting developers, as policy, especially as they have been funded so considerably by developers.
Walking to work is likely over 25% now. It was 24% in the 2015 Trip Survey, and the trend up to then was an increase of 2% per year. New numbers coming soon.
Tin Robot, it may be true that Liberals supported developers but certainly not high density development. The Liberals were all about sprawl, gobbling up ALR and building freeways to try to support this misguided approach. Unfortunately, we all end up paying for this both in tax $ and in motor vehicle congestion.
Jeff, that Trip Survey is really a flawed report by a city desperate to propagate an agenda. It uses 2,500 residents to gather data to represent 650,000 people. One of it’s claims is that 26% of Van residents have a car share membership, implying that a quarter of all residents use a car share service. There are under 2,200 car share cars in Van. So do you believe that about 162,000 people share just 2,200 cars, or could it be that all those memberships do not really fairly represent car share use? I suggest the latter based on the physical amount of cars available and that’s one reason I have issue with the information in this.
Principally though, I just don’t accept that such a micro sample of individuals, people pre-disposed to want to take part in such a survey and so potentially already inclined to have a particular interest in the subject, is just not a very reliable survey. I’m sure you will disagree, but that’s why I don’t buy these figures.
For the public to accept any new pricing concept there will have to be a clever or reasonable change in the policy that says; ‘driving is bad and so are cars and especially SUVs so we’re going to nail you drivers so we can have a transit system like those we see when we go to Europe’.
As long as the idea is based on an ideology that calls for a Disneyesque Vancouver village with healthy cyclists and little trains and buses toodling around with happy hipsters crammed into 500 sq’ apartments and blocked bridges keeping the unwanted suburban ignoramuses out, the plans won’t succeed.
I don’t think anyone is saying that driving is bad. The problem is that it is highly subsidized and alternatives are not sufficiently provided. That encourages more people to drive. To have decent mobility in the city, a way must be found to provide alternatives and reducing the huge subsidy on driving is one of those options. Some people say that the provision of separated bike lanes is a war on cars, but the city councillors are simply trying to provide good mobility options so that everyone can more around. Tbis is good for everyone, including those who must drive. I believe that the city is not providing people with good information on why their approach is good for everyone.