TransLink CEO suggests road tolls should be decided by the regional level

Nov 5 2020, 10:33 pm

In his annual address to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade today, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond touched on the City of Vancouver’s proposed road tolls for entering the Metro Core area.

Last week, city staff revealed their intention to push forward with a municipal mobility pricing strategy for downtown Vancouver and the Central Broadway corridor as part of its new Climate Action Emergency Plan.

When directly inquired by the audience in today’s virtual event, Desmond said mobility pricing needs to be contemplated on the regional level instead.

“It has to be a regional approach because it gets to regional mobility, it gets to where our centres are, it gets to where our jobs are, and this region works best when it thinks regionally,” said Desmond.

He brought attention to the opposition of mobility pricing from regional residents who live outside of the more densely populated urban areas, within lower density areas where public transit services are less than optimal. Desmond said these individuals often say, “well, don’t start pricing my travel if I don’t have good options.”

The concept of mobility pricing, he says, was thoroughly investigated in recent years by the public transit authority, which concluded with the 2018 findings of TransLink’s Mobility Pricing Independent Commission (MPIC).

TransLink and the Mayors’ Council had always envisioned the use of a mobility pricing scheme in the region to help cover dwindling gas tax revenues from the inevitable transition to electric-battery vehicles. Implementation would also help fund regional public transit expansion and improvements linked to mobility pricing.

About $400 million or 25% of TransLink’s annual operating revenues typically come from the $0.185 tax per litre on fuel.

However, the municipal government has indicated the revenue collected from its Metro Core mobility pricing scheme would be funnelled into its own transportation and climate change action priorities. Whereas the regional mobility pricing scheme would see the revenues completely return to TransLink to help achieve regional transportation needs and priorities that are determined by regional consensus.

The city estimates Metro Core mobility pricing could have a one-time installation and technology cost of $250 million. The system would generate between $50 million and $80 million in annual revenue after net operating expenses. City staff intends to launch the system by 2025 or earlier.

“There is a cart before the horse issue, and we have to confront that. If mobility pricing is a revenue source, but you don’t get the revenue to mobility price in place, then how are you going to build the transit options and opportunities? We’ve got to figure it out, that’s a conundrum,” said Desmond.

“It is true that it’s going to be hard to sell this for people out in the suburban communities, the Tri-Cities, and south of the Fraser River. If they don’t have good transit, they are going to get turned off to that. We need to crack that nut, there is no question about it.”

Desmond added regional mobility pricing should learn from other regions that already have such systems, such as London, Milan, Singapore, and particularly Stockholm, while also taking into account the unique differences of each region.

“Every metropolitan region in the world thinking about mobility pricing will have its unique characteristics. Any examination of a concept, and development of an approach, along these lines, will have to fit into the unique reality of our geography and mobility environment without a doubt, but it should be based on what other metropolitan regions who have either done it or are planning to do it,” said Desmond.

He says Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle are considering mobility pricing, and New York City has already approved its implementation.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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