Tolls? Road Pricing? Options for Fighting Congestion

A recent article on the CBC begins “It turns out, the experts were right.” The experts, in this case, were transportation planners who predicted that the removal of bridge tolls in Metro Vancouver would lead to induced demand and thus greater congestion. The tolls were removed as of September 1st and anecdotal evidence from the CBC article has some commute times doubling, with an increased number of users causing more accidents and more headaches. Overall, traffic is up over 25% on two main bridges that had previously been tolled. Not only is there an increase in congestion, but there is going to be a $132 million dollar decrease in revenue from the elimination of the tolls.


Infographic from CBC Vancouver

If not tolls, what strategies will be used to fund infrastructure projects, like new bridges, while also reducing congestion? While the prevailing belief is that the high costs associated with driving cover the cost of the roads, this is unfortunately not true. According to The Toronto Star,

“Figures published by Transport Canada suggest that in the simplest terms road users aren’t paying enough. In 2010-2011, the total road expenditure by federal, provincial, and municipal governments was $28.9 billion, while revenue from road users in the form of fuel taxes, licensing fees, and other sources was $15.5 billion.”

Other estimates give figures between 60% and 90% of total road costs being paid by drivers, thus leaving a clear gap in infrastructure costs. Across the globe, different strategies are being considered to ensure needed projects are funded. These strategies are usually a variation on congestion pricing.

Back in British Columbia, a comprehensive road pricing strategy has been sent to an independent commission for study. Will this research highlight a new form of congestion management that hasn’t yet been considered? Will Vancouver adopt a proven model like London’s decade old regulations? Or will it consider something something exploratory like the per-mile-driven insurance pricing in Oregon? Even the auto-oriented city of Los Angeles is considering congestion pricing. Road pricing is clearly in Vancouver’s future, but what this specific variation looks like is currently up for debate.


Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

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