Drivers get dollar-fifty discount

Cheaper toll will be offered from December opening until March

 
 
Commuter Dean Thomas of Port Coquitlam says it would be a 'big mistake' if B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak increases the toll on the Port Mann Bridge.
 

Commuter Dean Thomas of Port Coquitlam says it would be a 'big mistake' if B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak increases the toll on the Port Mann Bridge.

Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG , The Province; With Files From The Canadian Press

Dean Thomas thinks a dollar would have been a better toll for the Port Mann Bridge.

A dollar-fifty is pushing it.

"To raise it more than $1.50 will be a big mistake," said Thomas of Port Coquitlam, as he filled his gas tank at the Chevron at First Avenue and Rupert Street in Vancouver. "If they do, they are only killing them-selves."

Thomas was reacting to B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak's announcement Wednesday that a proposed $3 toll on the Port Mann Bridge would be slashed to $1.50 for up to a year.

The $1.50 discount will be offered between the December opening and March, unless commuters register for an auto-pay account to get the reduced toll until all lanes open at the end of 2013.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she was glad to see the tolls reduced, at least temporarily, but vowed to continue lobbying for all Metro Vancouver drivers to share the burden.

"Eventually I'd like to see [the $1.50 toll] come down even lower if there is an opportunity to look at region-wide tolling," Watts said, citing tolls on some U.S. roads as low as 35 cents.

Watts has argued for tolling of all new road infrastructure, including the Sea-to-Sky Highway, as well as future renewals of the Pattullo Bridge, Massey Tunnel and other highway and road projects, to more evenly share the toll burden among citizens.

Gord Price, director of Simon Fraser University's City Program, thinks "spreading the pain" is where the region is headed.

"It's just not going to be the bridge that's going to be tolled," said Price, also a former Vancouver city councillor who used to sit on the Trans-Link board when it was made up of elected officials. "It's not fair that only the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridge [have tolls]."

Price sees the tolling system introduced Wednesday as the precursor of a system that can institute "road-pricing" - charging people for the transportation they use.

Price applauded the discount. "I think the 'loss leader' is going to get a lot of people registered," he said.

Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese praised the preferential pricing accorded HOV lane carpoolers and commercial vehicles in the off-hours as ways to reduce congestion. "I think it is certainly a step in the right direction," he said.

However, Froese too maintained he would also continue to push for widespread tolling to spread the burden beyond the Fraser Valley: "I am still going to advocate for fair and equitable tolling in the region."

On Wednesday, Polak denied a claim by NDP transportation critic Harry Bains that the toll reduction was a political move in the lead-up to next May's provincial election.

Polak said the decision was made because it was unfair to commuters to pay the full toll until they get the full-time savings - which she estimates could reach up to an hour a day - when the project is complete in December 2013.

Scott Olson, president of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, said Thurs-day the toll will impact real-estate prices south of the bridge.

"Our market is growing, regard-less," he said. "It's not going to have a major impact, but it will have an impact. Tolls act like an economic wall."

Olson would have preferred a different way of paying for the Port Mann and other infrastructure.

"What would be ideal is if we adapted a more thoughtful approach to tolling and basically created a sys-tem that would be a reduced fee on all bridges and tunnels," he said.

"That's really where we should be going, as opposed to putting the brunt of all that work on one area," said Olson, who feels residents south of the Fraser River are being impacted more than anyone else.

PORT MANN BRIDGE TOLLS

DEC. 1, 2012 TO FEB. 28, 2013:

? Cars, pickups and SUVs: $1.50

? Light trucks, cars pulling trailers: $4.50

? Semitrailers: $9

? Motorcycles: $1

MARCH 1, 2013 TO NOV. 30, 2013:

Account holders registered by Feb. 28, 2012, by single trip (unlimited monthly pass in brackets):

? Cars, pickups, SUVs: $1.50 ($75)

? Cars pulling trailers or light trucks: $4.50 ($225)

? Semitrailers: $9

? Motorcycles: $1 ($50) All other vehicles (unlimited monthly pass in brackets):

? Cars, pickups, SUVs: $3 ($150)

? Cars pulling trailers or light trucks: $6 ($300)

? Semitrailers: $9

? Motorcycles: $1.50 ($75)

- Source: B.C. government

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