City of Vancouver proposes tolls for cars entering downtown and Central Broadway

Oct 27 2020, 1:32 pm

Mobility pricing for the Metro Core area is deemed as one of the “game changer” strategies outlined by City of Vancouver staff’s Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP), which will be presented to city council in a meeting on November 3.

City staff want to charge vehicles entering the region’s Metro Core — the geographical area that contains downtown Vancouver peninsula and Central Broadway — with a user fee to reduce carbon emissions, reduce traffic congestion, and improve the use of public space.

The Metro Core is framed by Burrard Street to the west, 16th Avenue to the south, and Clark Drive to the east. Vehicles entering downtown from the Lions Gate Bridge would also be affected.

vancouver metro core map

Map of Metro Vancouver’s Metro Core, defined as the downtown Vancouver peninsula and the Central Broadway Corridor. (City of Vancouver)

Examples of mobility pricing — a user-pay system for roads — found elsewhere in the world include tolls and multi-zone distance-based charges. Contemporary mobility pricing technologies that have evolved from stop-and-pay toll booths entail cameras that capture license plates and sensors that read the signal from a transponder device.

If approved, the new technology and infrastructure to charge vehicles to enter the Metro Core could be online by 2025, coinciding with the opening of SkyTrain’s Millennium Line Broadway Extension to Arbutus.

City staff will plan a preferred scenario by 2022, and proceed with the project starting in 2023. A dedicated team of city staff will be formed to undergo this planning work.

Detailed design, procurement, installation, and testing will occur between late 2023 and early 2025. Scenario factors for mobility pricing include the specific geographical cordon area, pricing levels, pricing time periods, and applicability.

“The work plan will study a transport pricing strategy that focuses on the Metro Core. This is the geographical area where the negative impacts of vehicular overuse disproportionally impact vulnerable street users the most, and where the highest proportion of people walk, roll, cycle and linger,” reads the city staff report.

“The Metro Core provides the greatest transit capacity, transit accessibility, and walk, bike, and roll travel opportunities in the region, which means that there are often suitable alternatives to vehicular travel. Over two thirds of all commuters already make use of these sustainable modes to access the area.”

City staff say new revenue could be used to help fund sustainable transportation options and other climate emergency actions. It would reduce the city’s dependence on development levies, property taxes, and other indirect sources.

london congestion charge tolls

Congestion charge toll station in London, UK. (Shutterstock)

The installation of the infrastructure and technology requirements for the Metro Core’s mobility pricing are part of the estimated $500 million needed for the capital and operating costs of the various initiatives and strategies under CEAP for the first five years.

“An early part of the work will be to explore technologies and pricing strategies that reduce implementation capital costs and system infrastructure needs. This exploration will also assess opportunities for a system that may be implemented with minimal modifications to existing regulatory frameworks, and which may be facilitated through new technologies,” continues the staff report.

City staff believe this could be a model for a future regional mobility pricing scheme, as it builds on the 2018 findings of TransLink’s Mobility Pricing Independent Commission. Mobility pricing was identified as a possible new mechanism that could offset the gradual gas tax revenue drop due to the incremental uptake in electric-battery vehicles over the long term.

TransLink and the municipal government will also be engaged in an Area Transportation Plan between 2022 and 2023, as part of the Millennium Line Broadway Extension’s implementation process.

“All other regions in the world that have successfully implemented mobility or congestion pricing have used an approach that initially applies the strategy to a city-centre cordon area, and they have then modified or expanded the system further based on evolving needs,” continues the report.

central london congestion charge zone map

Map of the Central London congestion charge zone. (Transport For London)

City staff believe the changes could reduce vehicle trips in the Metro Core by 10% to 20%, based on the results of London’s congestion charge and Stockholm’s congestion tax, which are essentially tolls at major thoroughfares around a geographical cordon area.

Traffic congestion could fall by 50% to 80% for some vehicle trips to and within the Metro Core.

With lower vehicle traffic volumes, city staff estimate mobility pricing could reduce demand vehicles place on public street space by up to 200,000 sq. metres. (2.15 million sq. ft.) or equivalent to up to 100 Robson Plazas.

Other examples of cities with congestion charge listed by city staff include Gothenburg, Milan, and Singapore.

Tolls were placed on the Port Mann Bridge and Golden Ears Bridge to help cover operating and construction costs, but they were removed by the BC NDP provincial government in 2017 to fulfill their election promise. The BC NDP, which have just won a majority government, have shown a clear aversion to mobility pricing such as tolls.

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