Surrey should consider backing a Metro Vancouver transportation improvement fee of $65 to $165 per vehicle to support sustainable transportation

Report recommends fees on driving, more transit

Make motorists pay and wait, says a consultant commissioned by the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association.

The City of Surrey is being urged to support a TransLink vehicle levy as one way to fund transit while making driving more expensive.

That’s one of the recommendations in a report commissioned by the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, which hired consultant David Hendrickson to analyze Surrey’s transit needs.

His report says Surrey should consider backing a Metro Vancouver transportation improvement fee of $65 to $165 per vehicle to support sustainable transportation, provided there are hardship concessions for low-income motorists.

It also suggests Surrey push ICBC to allow distance-based insurance, where car owners pay premiums based on how far they drive, encouraging them to use alternatives more often.

And Hendrickson says a share of the provincial carbon tax should also go to transit, rather than income tax relief under the current revenue-neutral model.

Road pricing could be another more equitable solution compared to continued property tax increases, he found, but noted Canada’s car-oriented culture makes higher fees on cars and drivers “politically charged and contentious.”

Hendrickson’s report, Leveling the Playing Field, argues road expansion capital costs tend to be under-scrutinized compared to transit spending, and driving in general enjoys “perverse subsidies” that must be overcome if transit costs and benefits are to be fairly considered.

“User fees that help diversify transit funding can include additional fees on single-occupancy vehicles to better reflect full costs of driving.”

Elizabeth ModelElizabeth Model, executive director of the Downtown Surrey BIA (left), said the organization hasn’t taken a position on the vehicle levy or other revenue options, such as more tolls.

“They’re only suggestions,” she said, but added the BIA is pleased with the report and agrees improving transit is “hugely” important to Surrey developing an energetic, vibrant and successful downtown core.

Hendrickson suggested the city work to “make public transit faster than driving” to increase the use of transit, which has risen from four to six per cent of all local trips but still trails the region.

The city should create a network of HOV lanes open only to buses and ride-sharers, his report said.

“Low-cost investments in queue-jumping lanes, transit-only lanes and intersection priorities for transit, particularly during rush hour, can significantly reduce transit trip times and generate increased ridership.”

Bypass lanes or timing traffic lights to hold at green for approaching buses can help cut travel times five to 15 per cent, he said.

Those measures are critical, Hendrickson argued, because adding more buses will yield diminishing benefits if they and all other vehicles become increasingly stuck in congestion.

TransLink’s South of Fraser area transit plan calls for an extra 600 buses to be added here.

TransLink is also preparing to add a B-Line express bus service on King George Boulevard in the next year.

Transit service levels in Surrey remain “considerably lower” than other Metro cities north of the Fraser, the report said.

Residents’ dependence on driving and the lack of a viable transit alternative is a big problem, Hendrickson said, because by 2031 one in three Surrey residents won’t be able to drive a vehicle due to age or mobility challenges.

Surrey residents contribute $160 million a year to TransLink through gas tax, property tax and transit fares, he found.

But TransLink only spends $135 to $146 million on transit service in Surrey, or about 90 to 95 cents out of every dollar it collects here.

Hendrickson endorses the city’s push for light rail lines that are more “appropriate” for connecting town centres, potentially on the old Interurban corridor.

To serve more local residents, he said, transit needs to better connect neighbourhoods and cities South of the Fraser, not concentrate on taking passengers to Vancouver or elsewhere in the region.

He noted 55 per cent of trips from Surrey to downtown Vancouver are already taken on transit.

He also notes Surrey’s lower density overall – sometimes used to justify less transit investment – is deceptive because much land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, making Surrey’s non-farmed lands actually denser than the regional average.

He suggests rideshare vehicles get preferred parking places or pay parking discounts and more secure bike parking be added near transit, along with improved cycling routes.

Hendrickson also outlines a series of tax reform and development strategies that can foster transit-oriented growth that is both more efficient to serve by transit and feeds more riders into the system.

Split-rate taxation – where land is taxed more than a separate rate for buildings  – can be used to encourage densification and discourage speculators from sitting on bare land.