The Alex Fraser Bridge was one of the most congested in Metro Vancouver, the Independent Mobility Pricing Commission found. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

Incoming mobility pricing can’t punish suburbs, low-income residents: report

Metro Vancouver drivers could pay more to drive in the coming months

An independent commission expected to produce a report on mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver in a weeks, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wants the plan to be fair to all.

Mobility pricing, which charges people for driving at certain times and locations, could reduce congestion here like it did in cities like London, Stockholm and Singapore.

But according to the centre’s senior economist, Marc Lee, a region such as Metro Vancouver in which people drive from as far as Langley or White Rock into work will face extra challenges.

“If you’re pushed out of the central city, you maybe have to live in areas that are more automobile dependent,” Lee said. “It may not be a realistic option depending on where you live to take transit.”

The Independent Mobility Pricing Commission, launched last June, is expected to produce a report on how to charge motorists by early May.

The commission is considering two options: congestion point charges, which would hit when a car drives by a specific point, or distance-based charges, which would be per kilometre, based on the location and time of day.

READ: Seven ways mobility pricing could work in Metro Vancouver

“The key thing is to make sure you’re doing this in a way that’s as fair as possible,” said Lee.

“You could have a situation where a driver who has to cross a bridge for a very short trip ends up having to pay a toll that someone who never has to cross a bridge can drive a lot further and don’t have to pay a toll.”

Skyrocketing housing prices often mean that those who live on the region’s fringes are those who can least afford to pay additional fees to drive, he said.

He wants the report to include the low-income discounts that its team has been considering, with a model similar to the carbon tax.

Everyone who uses fossil fuels in B.C. pays the carbon tax, but lower-income households get a carbon tax credit.

“They still face that price and have an incentive to save money, but they’re not put out for circumstances beyond their control.”

Providing transit alternatives

Charging commuters for driving their cars is only feasible if most of them have other options, Lee added.

“I feel like we’ve been catching up in Metro Vancouver in terms of public transit,” he said. “The city really grew in the era of cheap gas and cars… so we’ve only been retrofitting rapid transit on top of that bit by bit.”

TransLink is bringing in four B-Lines, which will run at least every 10 minutes, in 2019 and is in the early stages of bringing light rail into Surrey and Langley.

The new transit comes as part of the regional mayors’ 10-year transportation vision, though Lee thinks more planning will be needed.

“You need to have that capacity just to absorb folks who are going to move from driving their car to taking public transit.”


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