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New report suggests testing tolls across Metro Vancouver to reduce congestion

Last Updated Nov 2, 2015 at 9:25 am PDT

The Burrard Street Bridge

A report pegs the direct annual costs of congestion in Metro Vancouver are as much as $1.4 billion and growing

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) –  How do you feel about paying a toll to cross all major bridges in Metro Vancouver? A new report suggests testing tolls, with fees varying in response to peak traffic times, right across the region as a way to reduce congestion on our roads.

The call comes from the Ecofiscal Commission, which describes itself as a group of prominent policy-minded economists, whose advisors include former political leaders and leaders from the business sector.

“Congestion pricing — which is designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve the functioning of our economy — is a perfect example of what we call an eco-fiscal policy,” says chair Chris Ragan, an associate professor of economics at McGill University. “We can all agree congestion is a pretty bad problem, we feel it viscerally behind the wheel. It’s actually even worse than how we feel because there are economic costs associated with it, along with health and environmental costs.”

The commission’s report pegs the direct annual costs of congestion in Metro Vancouver are as much as $1.4 billion and growing.

“We also know that our solutions aren’t working. There’s a tendency to want to solve the problem by building new capacity through new roads and new public transit,” he tells NEWS 1130. “Those things are great, especially for a growing city like Vancouver, but they don’t actually solve traffic congestion. We need to think about targeted policies.”

The Ecofiscal Commission is recommending pilot programs in Canada’s cities to see if congestion pricing, as part of a broader, coordinated package of policies, could help solve the problem.

“It might last for 10 or 12 months so you can actually see how well it works. That really helps build public support. In Vancouver we sketch the idea of variable bridge tolls. The bridges are very important pinch points for traffic and so if you think of the geography and you think of about putting on variable tolls on a set of bridges; we think it would be a very effective way of improving traffic flows.”

Ragan says the current toll on the Port Mann Bridge has reduced volume on Highway One, but only moved that traffic elsewhere. He says there needs to be less congestion everywhere, though he admits adding tolls to more bridges might be a hard sell for some drivers.

“I think many people believe it won’t work but the truth is, it does. This is exactly why we examined key studies in other cities around the world that have done it. When you look at these policies, they reduce traffic congestion, they reduce travel times, and they get people home faster. They actually improve mobility. If it works in Stockholm, Milan, London and Minneapolis, why wouldn’t it work in Metro Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal?”

Ragan says when it does work, people love it.”We know congestion is terrible, it’s getting worse and we know current policies don’t work. We need to start a new conversation about polices that will do it.”