Drivers will be told tomorrow how much they’ll have to pay each time they cross the new Port Mann Bridge.
Transportation Minister Mary Polak will announce the details of the bridge’s tolls, expected to include an introductory discount, at 1 p.m. Wednesday in downtown Vancouver.
The province indicated last month it’s considering a lower introductory toll to reflect the fact only eight of the 10 lanes of the new bridge will be operational when it opens in December. The final two lanes can’t be used through 2013 while the old bridge is dismantled.
Base tolls were to be $3 for standard vehicles ($6 to $9 for larger trucks and $1.50 for motorcycles), but an extra $2.30 processing charge is added if payment isn’t made within several days and an invoice is mailed out. Vehicles will be detected by a decal-type transponder or licence plate cameras.
The electronic tolling system is to operate seamlessly with the one on TransLink’s Golden Ears Bridge.
NDP transportation critic Harry Bains said he would either lower or eliminate the tolls in the first year on the grounds motorists won’t be getting its full benefit yet.
“A lower toll or no tolls will be seen as a relief by South of the Fraser,” he said.
“Unless the entire bridge is not open I don’t think people should be asked to pay the full toll.”
But Bains also said it would be a “desperate attempt” by the government to shore up votes ahead of the May provincial election.
Lowering toll rates isn’t the only option before the province.
It could instead offer some sort of delayed rebate or set a monthly maximum that caps the amount of tolls B.C. drivers must pay.
The province previously said registered car pools will get a 25 per cent discount at peak periods only – that could be made more generous.
Heavy trucks were also promised a 50 per cent discount overnight.
Bains said the tolls as currently structured add up to $1,500 a year for a typical commuting driver who pays $3 each way.
That’s close to the $1,700 in provincial income tax the average working earning $45,000 pays.
“It almost doubles the income tax they pay to British Columbia,” he said.
But Bains noted any breaks Polak unveils will cut into the revenue and push back the timeline to repay the costs.
Tolls are required by law to cover the entire $3.3 billion cost of the Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement project over its 40-year contract – including construction, operation and maintenance by the private partners and the financing costs of the provincial government.
“You’ve got to be up front with the public,” he said. “It’s got to be paid. That’s the structure. There’s an agreement in place.”
Public unrest about tolls have led some drivers to vow to boycott the new span.
Some mayors – including Surrey’s Dianne Watts – have pressed the province to consider “fair tolling” reforms that would apply lower tolls at more bridges around the region, or else move to road pricing.
Drivers will be using part of the new bridge this month – three lanes will open eastbound starting Sept. 18 – due to the phased completion of construction of new interchanges.