BCTA urges adoption of plan to toll all provincial crossings

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When it comes to toll roads, historically the trucking industry’s attitude has been one of staunch opposition.

But at least one Canadian trucking association says the realities of the present situation in British Columbia, including a long-term population boom, outdated infrastructure, and emerging traffic patterns forced it to consider a solution that many would still find unthinkable.

“Let’s toll all of the crossings” – even the bridges in downtown Vancouver.

Louise Yako, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, said the long-term goal for the association is to encourage the provincial government and municipalities to adopt “mobility pricing” as part of a comprehensive regional transportation plan, something she believes

“We’re really talking about spreading the pain and spreading the cost, because all bridges will need to be either reconstructed or replaced or expanded at some point, and we’ll end up facing that same dilemma each time, unless we deal with it universally right now,” she said in a phone interview with Land Line.

The toll issue is back in the public eye amid a new proposal to start tolling the Pattullo Bridge between New Westminster and Surrey. The tolls will help fund a replacement to the 79-year-old structure, which officials say has seen an increase in traffic as other vehicles had sought toll-free travel options. Prior to the March 7 agreement to toll the Pattullo Bridge, it and the Alex Fraser Bridge were the only toll-free major crossings in the region.

Yako said the Pattullo Bridge has borne the brunt of toll avoidance, primarily by local drivers choosing not to cross the Port Mann or Golden Ears Bridges. The BCTA believes that without a change in regional policy, drivers can expect more of the same congestion to migrate to the Alex Fraser Bridge, which will be the only non-tolled major crossing left.

Approximately 80,000 vehicles per day cross the Pattullo Bridge according to TransLink, the regional transportation authority for metro Vancouver. According to a spokesperson with Port Metro Vancouver, the bridge is one of the top three river crossings for port-related trucking activities.

According to a Feb. 24 letter the BCTA sent out to municipal governments, the association believes that tolling all crossings in the region will have the following effects:

  • It will cause all drivers to use the most direct route to their destination because the incentive to avoid tolls will be eliminated. 
  • It is an interim measure that would begin to acclimatize Lower Mainland road users to the concept of directly paying for access to the road system and encouraging those with options to use alternate modes of travel.
  • It eliminates the perception that those living and working south and east of the Fraser River are being unfairly called on to pay a higher share for new infrastructure than other road users located elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.

Yako said the BCTA’s mobility pricing policy “is very nuanced” and makes a distinction about who has transportation options (i.e., commuters), and who doesn’t (truckers).

The proposal would call for tiered pricing based on whether or not you have options to take public transit, or whether you’re driving a commercial vehicle rather than a personal vehicle.

The funds would be dedicated for public transit and major roads, and there would be transparency on fees that are currently being collected for everything from driver’s licenses to parking fees.

The BCTA, which represents about 1,200 fleets in the province and has a 34-member board, expected to get some negative feedback from members on the tolling proposal. But Yako says so far that hasn’t been the case.

“I expected to get some members saying ‘What are you doing?’ when we came out with our mobility pricing policy. But I have had zero phone calls, emails, any kind of message saying ‘Don’t say that’ or ‘My association shouldn’t say that,” she said. “I think what it does is it reflects an evolution in thinking.”

Yako said it took about three years for the association’s board to adapt its position on tolling.

“Our board recognized that the situation in the Lower Mainland, which is the most urban area of British Columbia, had evolved to the point where (an opposition to) tolling policy was no longer reflective of the current situation and was no longer practical,” she said.

The Lower Mainland encompasses about 60 percent of the trucking companies in the province. It includes Vancouver and its ports on the far east side. Yako says much of the land is bisected by rivers, and the region relies on multiple bridges and one tunnel to move traffic.

“We realized that all these pieces of infrastructure were going to be replaced or improved,” she said. “The writing was on the wall. Four of the projects were going to be tolled. So we had the conversation about how is it going to look if our position says we must have a free alternative. We realized our position really needed to be revised to reflect reality.”

Yako says the province’s population is expected to grow by at least a million people by 2030, putting more strain on an infrastructure that’s nearly at capacity.

“That means more commerce, more truck traffic, more people going to work, or school or running errands,” she said. “Just continuing on with what we were doing was not going to allow us to maintain the very strong economy we have.”

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