Jonathan Cote, Mayor of New Westminster and Chair of the Mayors’ Council Funding Strategy Committee
Taking a principled approach to reducing congestion
Transportation has become a big issue in the B.C. provincial election campaign.
That should be good news for the Mayors’ Council, which recently introduced the ‘Cure Congestion’ campaign to engage Metro Vancouver residents in a discussion about traffic on our roads and overcrowding on our transit system. We’re educating residents about our region-wide transportation plan, the 10-Year Vision, and talking about the specific commitments needed from the next provincial government so that together we can make it easier for people to get around the region.
However, the debate so far has focused on whether to continue charging tolls for crossing certain bridges. The BC NDP proposes to eliminate tolls altogether, while the BC Liberals want to cap the amount charged per year at $500.
These proposals have understandable appeal for voters who are rightly concerned about affordability and the cost of living in this region. But the so-called “cap” or “scrap” policies won’t help affordability of transportation over the long term, nor improve our region’s quality of life.
In fact, the Liberal and NDP proposals are an acknowledgment that the current tolling system is broken and in need of a re-think. Local and provincial governments should be working together to introduce more equitable and affordable solutions for reducing traffic congestion, improving public transit and paying for the transportation infrastructure we will need to serve our ever-growing population.
As Mayors, we are prepared to work with whatever party forms the next government, and we’re looking forward to getting to the table with that government to move forward on completing the 10-Year Vision. But before that day comes, those of us who have a role in shaping the future of transportation in Metro Vancouver must agree on some key principles that should guide all of the decisions we make – independently and collectively. These principles are:
1. Mobility. Changes to our transportation network must improve mobility for people and goods in the region, by providing more choices, reducing travel times and improving the experience of users.
2. Accountability. Every dollar raised from fares, fees, taxes or other revenues intended for transportation must contribute to improvements that benefit the travelling public and that will help meet our objective of reducing congestion.
3. Fairness. Benefits of new transportation infrastructure and services, and revenues to support them, should be applied in an equitable way throughout the region. Our transportation network is integrated – all users should contribute to maintaining it.
4. Affordability. A high quality transportation network that improves mobility gives residents more choice where to live and work, which helps combat the region’s housing affordability challenges. At the same time, building and maintaining this network must respect taxpayers by making smart choices to keep costs low, and maximize return on investment.
5. Engagement. Metro Vancouver residents and businesses should have a say in establishing priorities and making choices about transportation improvements, and how those improvements are paid for.
So where do we go from here? An important study is about to begin later this spring that will provide recommendations on a made-in-BC solution for pricing transportation in this region, and will tackle the issue of tolling head-on. The Mobility Pricing Independent Commission – led by experts and local community leaders – will undertake extensive research and public consultation, and look at best practices from other jurisdictions around the world.
The commission will recommend ways to improve our current approach to pricing roads, bridges, and public transit to ensure we have a system that is fair for residents across the region, contributes to reducing traffic congestion, and helps us fund new transportation services. Once the commission completes its work and residents have had their say, the Mayors’ Council and provincial government can then make decisions about the best way forward.
While this research gets underway, there remain some urgently-needed public transit and road projects that our governments must invest in immediately.
TransLink started rolling out the first phase of the 10-Year Vision earlier this year – providing some relief for overcrowding on our transit system and making improvements to the Major Roads Network – thanks to a funding partnership between the region, provincial and federal governments. These initial investments are introducing more choices for Metro Vancouver commuters, but it took more than two years after the plan was finalized by the Mayors to get the senior governments to the table.
We still have a long way to go before we can really address congestion and we can’t afford further delays. That’s going to take continued partnership and a commitment from the next Premier to work with the Mayors’ Council immediately after the election to follow through with the next phase of the 10-Year Vision. The benefits of doing so are clear: just by completing the Vision, we can reduce road congestion by up to 20 percent and save commuters as much as 30 minutes on their daily travels.
During this provincial election campaign, the Mayors’ Council is asking the major parties to clarify their commitments to Phase Two of the Vision. In addition to new rapid transit projects in Vancouver, Surrey and Langley – which the federal and provincial governments recently committed matching funding for – the Phase Two plan includes replacing the aging Pattullo Bridge; upgrading the existing SkyTrain system to deal with growing demand; expanding bus service; improving HandyDART service; ongoing improvements to road conditions for drivers, and safety improvements for cyclists and pedestrians. More information is available at CureCongestion.ca.
Assuming provincial commitments are secured for all of the Phase Two projects, the Mayors’ Council will step up with matching regional funding to ensure that the Vision can be fully and quickly funded in a manner that is fair and equitable to Metro Vancouver taxpayers.
Jonathan Cote is the Mayor of New Westminster and Chair of the Funding Strategy Committee for the TransLink Mayors’ Council