Vancouver City Council to decide on road tolls after October election

Jan 8 2022, 1:50 am

The key decision by Vancouver City Council on whether to move forward with advanced planning on transport pricing — such as road tolls — into downtown Vancouver will be made in 2023.

A recent internal memo by city staff states city council will make a decision to move forward and refine the recommended transport pricing (also known as mobility pricing) option sometime next year, after the October 2022 civic election.

City staff are still expected to report back before the end of 2022 on stakeholder engagement and feedback, and feasibility study findings, before bringing forward further recommendations. No pivotal decision is expected to be made at this year’s update, but it is unclear whether the update will occur before or just after the election.

Following the update, city staff in 2023 will develop transport pricing schemes that include potential boundaries and pricing, for public consultation and then consideration by city council in the key decision.

If city council approves further planning in 2023, the final decision by city council on implementing transport pricing would be made in 2024, after city staff make refinements to the scheme.

The form of transport pricing for vehicles entering and exiting the downtown Vancouver peninsula could be implemented in 2026 — a year later than initially proposed. The entire project towards implementation has four planning phases, starting with the current feasibility study.

Transport pricing was one of 32 projects within city staff’s Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP), which was approved by city council in November 2020. At the time, it was estimated that it would carry a technology and installation cost of $250 million, which would be covered by between $50 million and $80 million in annual net revenue after covering the capital and ongoing operating costs.

City council subsequently set aside $1.5 million for early planning work, including $700,000 in 2021 for a dedicated staff team and consultants to conduct an economic analysis, and perform consultation with stakeholders. The remaining $800,000 will be spent in 2022 to “complete the stakeholder engagement.”

The recent update provides city council with highlights on the preliminary planning performed to date since late 2020.

In September 2021, the city contracted Mott Macdonald, Lucent Quay, and KI Squared as the consultant team for transport pricing’s first phase of planning work through Spring 2022, which focuses on consulting with stakeholders, preparing an analysis of Vancouver’s transportation network, and preparing a “draft evaluation framework and ‘building blocks'” of transport pricing schemes.

It is noted that the City of Vancouver has since signed a memorandum of understanding with TransLink on transport pricing, and is working on a partnership to include “a regional perspective for transport pricing for the city centre.” As well, city staff have also reached out to the three North Shore municipalities — given that North Shore residents rely on traveling through the Lions Gate Bridge and downtown Vancouver to access the rest of the region — and the provincial government, which carries the jurisdictional authority over road toll mechanisms.

In November and December 2021, city staff and the consultant team conducted about 80 interviews with stakeholder organizations — representing businesses, essential services, residents, tourism, and those who rely on private vehicles, active transportation, and public transit for work — to gather their priorities, interests, and concerns.

A series of stakeholder workshops will be held in January and February 2022, followed by additional workshops or interviews with other stakeholders in March and April.

The debate on city council’s CEAP decision in November 2020 largely focused on the potential for transport pricing. At the time, the road tolls proposal for the city centre was heavily criticized by business groups — given the concerns on the impact to businesses, especially with the expected years-long COVID-19 economic fallout — and municipal government and regional leaders emphasizing the importance of a broader regional lens than what had been laid out by Vancouver’s city staff.

There have also been concerns that revenues collected by the City of Vancouver through its municipal road tolls scheme would siphon significant revenue from a possible future regional mobility pricing system intended to help fund TransLink’s operating and expansion costs. With the accelerating shift towards electric-battery vehicles, the public transit authority is in need of new revenue sources that replace its shrinking fuel tax revenues.

In October 2021, Vancouver City Council narrowly decided in a vote to kill city staff’s controversial plan to enact mandatory parking permits for all residential streets, starting in February 2022. This was the second largest project under CEAP.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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