City of Vancouver seeking contractor to identify road toll options into downtown

Jun 4 2021, 2:59 am

Staff with the City of Vancouver appear to be actively working on planning for the implementation of road tolls within the Metro Core towards the middle of this decade.

A newly published request for proposals (RFP) by the municipal government seeks a consulting contractor to conduct preliminary feasibility study work on charging vehicles to enter the Metro Core.

This is funded by the $1.5 million set aside by Vancouver City Council late last year to specifically study the rollout of mobility pricing within an area that includes the downtown peninsula and the Central Broadway Corridor, known together as the Metro Core. City council previously approved the direction of implementing mobility pricing in this core area under the Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP).

The RFP states the consultant’s work under the first of four phases towards implementation would cover technical analysis, including accounting for potential post-pandemic traffic and transportation mode changes, identifying potential technologies and fee structures, and helping determine the exact boundaries.

At this early stage of planning, the boundaries are “preliminary defined as either the downtown peninsula or Metro Core,” with consideration to factors such as “natural, network, or structural features” that could indicate potential boundaries — such as waterways and bridges.

Other key areas of work for the consultant centre on developing and implementing an advocacy and communications strategy to rally support from both the public and stakeholders, such as the business community and regional bodies. To date, the municipal government’s idea of rolling out its own city-based mobility pricing has been met with immense controversy.

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)

Several years earlier, TransLink evaluated potential options for a regional mobility pricing strategy that would address broader considerations and serve to help reduce congestion, while also providing the public transit authority with a new stable revenue source to help fund transit expansion.

There is no guarantee the revenue raised by the City of Vancouver for its own scheme would be redirected back to TransLink to help support regional obligations instead of towards the city’s general revenues. City staff previously estimated its own mobility pricing scheme for the Metro Core would carry a one-time installation and technology acquisition cost of about $250 million, with the system generating between $50 million and $80 million annually in revenue once operational.

The selected consultant would begin the city’s first phase work later this summer, and a final report with recommendations would be submitted by May 2022. This timing positions mobility pricing as a potential key issue ahead of the October 2022 civic election.

If the scheme receives further approvals from city council, the second phase starting later in 2022 through 2023 would develop feasible scenarios in detail and initiate public consultation. These plans would be further refined in 2023/2024 for implementation sometime between 2024 and 2026.

The municipal government does not have the legal authority to implement traditional mobility pricing such as tolls, which is under the provincial government’s jurisdiction. The RFP suggests Vancouver’s mobility pricing could be pushed through by circumventing provincial jurisdiction and developing a less-than-ideal “minimum viable scenario” that “works wholly within the constraints of an existing City of Vancouver regulatory and jurisdictional environment, subject to and based on technological and regulatory reviews.”

“It is understood that such a scenario would be of lower optimality, unlikely to reflect the documented interests or most stakeholders, and may constitute a modified (lowered) fatal flaw or objective-meeting criteria and may not be easily evaluated within the main evaluation framework,” continues the RFP.

“The outcomes of this sub-task would contribute toward a set of prescreened scenario options available for City Council to consider through the Vancouver Charter; however, they may also be refined going into and through the detailed options evaluation phase.”

Under CEAP, the municipal government is also planning to enact mandatory parking permits for all residential streets across the city, starting as early as late 2021.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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