Delta motorists waiting in the daily traffic jams to get through the George Massey Tunnel might end up having to pay a toll for the privilege.
That possibility could be made reality if Metro Vancouver and the province support the suggestions in a recent TransLink report examining potential revenue streams, including tolling major bridges and the tunnel.
The report, Evaluation of Revenue Sources to Support Transportation Improvements in Metro Vancouver, looked at a wide range of new funding options, including tolls on existing crossings over the Fraser River. For Deltans, that would include the Alex Fraser Bridge and George Massey Tunnel.
A special committee comprised of senior bureaucrats with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, TransLink, and the cities of Vancouver and Surrey is also looking at such options.
Although the crossings are not named, the report found that up to $100 million could be raised annually by charging $1.60 per crossing on vehicles.
Currently, the new Golden Ears Bridge is the only tolled crossing, but the new Port Mann Bridge will have a toll when its completed. A new Patullo crossing is also expected to have a toll.
Tolls could become a reality everywhere, however, as the region's mayors scramble to avoid implementing a property tax hike to help fund future TransLink projects
Last summer, the provincial government and Mayors Council on Regional Transportation announced their support of the Moving Forward funding plan.
The supplement for TransLink proposed an additional two cent gasoline tax to be implemented this spring. It also includes a three-year "time limited" property tax, to a maximum of $23.13 per average household, in 2013. The property tax could be replaced by other funding options
The prospect of tolls on existing crossings doesn't sit well with Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington, who said it's going to be residents living south of the Fraser who will unfairly end up with the brunt.
"It's a totally inequitable tax that's being proposed, absolutely inequitable, and I don't think TransLink rates should rise. I think the public are being expected to cover costs that are becoming unreasonable," she said.
"We're going to have to wait until the economy turns around to start spending this kind of money again. It's not fair to take it out of the taxpayers' pockets like this, especially taxpayers south of the Fraser. If they are going to proceed, then I think they should find increases that are equitable across the board. If you live in Vancouver, the transit system certainly exists for you," Huntington said.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson told the Optimist tolling all river crossings or charging drivers by the amount of kilometres they travel can't be seen as equitable. She said many people in the suburbs who work in Vancouver have no choice but to drive due to inadequate bus service, compared to what Vancouver residents enjoy.
She said an analysis of fair solutions is needed because Vancouver homeowners are paying the same property tax levy as those south of the Fraser who would ultimately end up paying the lion's share of toll charges.
While it seems to be gaining steam now, the idea of tolling existing crossings isn't a new one.
A 2005 report for the Gateway Program noted that people fear road pricing revenues are seen as a blank cheque to the transport authority or as a case of double taxation, since motorists pay road user fees such as fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.
However, direct user fees are generally the most equitable way to fund improvements because they can represent the actual cost of providing capacity on a particular stretch of roadway, the report stated.
A 2007 report to Metro Vancouver supporting tolls as a revenue option notes fuel taxes and property taxes have their limitations when used to fund transportation. When it comes to collecting funding through the TransLink property tax levy, that report stated there is no direct link between property taxes paid by a person and the use of the transportation system at any given time, so it has no influence over travel choice and behavior, and therefore no effect on congestion levels.
"Property taxes as a source of transportation funding are also somewhat regressive, since they shift transportation funding away from the people who actually use the roads and bridges - car and truck drivers - to the general public, and they place a heavier burden on lower income households."
That report also looked at several tolling methods, including fixed tolls, tolling during peak periods and tolling bridges and highways. The report pointed out, "The diversionary effects of tolling can be offset to a degree by improvements to public transit, but without a system-wide approach to road pricing, some traffic diversion could persist."
Huntington noted bottlenecks at the tunnel and Alex Fraser Bridge as a result of motorists not wanting to pay a fee at new crossings gives the government more excuse to implement region-wide tolling.