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Mobility Pricing – The Cost of the Commute

‘Mobility pricing’ has been in the local news recently because, on June 6th, 2017 TransLink and the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation announced their launch of an Independent Commission on ‘mobility pricing’.  They did this in accordance with a ‘key action’ listed in TransLink’s 2017-2026 Investment Plan: Phase One of the 10-Year Vision in the section about managing the system to be “more efficient and customer-focused.”

Without specifically defining it, the Plan claims that mobility pricing will “reduce congestion and overcrowding, improve fairness, and generate revenue for new transportation investment.”  The TransLink website shines a bit more light on the Commission’s purpose saying it is tasked with “considering all available options for mobility pricing and making recommendations for made-in-Metro-Vancouver solutions […And it is] invited to rethink all approaches and explore new ways of doing things that are fair and make the transportation system work better for everyone.”

The TransLink website also defines ‘mobility pricing’, saying it is “the range of fees and charges for using everyday transportation services” and adds that it “can include things like road usage charges (tolls, fuel sales tax, or vehicle permit and insurance fees), transit fares, and charges for using shared use services like taxis, bike sharing, car sharing or ride-hailing.”  It also notes that London, Stockholm, Singapore, and Oregon have all put in place “different models for mobility pricing” to meet the same objectives set out in TransLink’s Plan.  Daniel Firth, the Commission’s executive director has confirmed that this broad approach to defining the term is intended in the terms of reference.

Richard Walton, the Mayor of the District of North Vancouver has also advanced the broad definition, writing this week in the North Shore News that the concept is “not new” and we already have it in the form of fuel taxes and bridge tolls.  He goes on to essentially support the Commission’s endeavors, however, because the current mix is “a flawed long-term funding option.”

Advancing such a broad definition of mobility pricing for setting the Commission’s purpose seems unhelpful.  If ‘mobility pricing’ means anything at all, it must denote levying a new-to-Metro Vancouver type of charge or fee or tax for use of parts or the whole of the transportation network.  Whether or not mobility pricing actually works to reduce traffic congestion, and whether or not it can ever be ‘fair’ seems not to be within the terms of reference—but should be. 

Narrowing the definition explains the Commission’s purpose in a more straightforward way: presumably still leaving it with much to study regarding allocating and collecting such charges, and determining what impact they might have—if any—on the many other current forms of taxation originally intended to fund transportation infrastructure.

At the time of writing former BC deputy minister Allan Seckel will chair the Commission, former NDP MLA Joy MacPhail will be vice-chair, the appointment of the remaining 10 commissioners is underway, and the budget has been set at $2.31 million.  The Commission’s findings are expected in the spring of 2018. Implementation, depending on the nature of the recommendations may require provincial approval. 

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