I guess we should have expected something like this.

Last time, just before a provincial election, it was a sudden announcement of the referendum requirement for new Metro transportation taxes (in retrospect clearly designed to fail).  This time, a cap on or elimination of toll revenues

Yet another way to screw up Metro transportation planning and funding.

From the Vancouver Sun:

Neither provincial party consulted with the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation before announcing their plans, according to disappointed New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote. The New Democrats have promised to eliminate tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, while the Liberals say they’ll cap tolls at a maximum of $500 per year.

“The reality is, it’s going to be huge. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, over the long-term,” Cote said. “They’re really populist moves that run contrary to good public policy. That’s the unfortunate side of developing transportation policy in the middle of an election campaign.”

For the mayors, the campaign pledges represent a significant step backward just as they’re trying to move ahead with a 10-year transit and transportation plan. More than half of the cost of the new Pattullo Bridge, for example, was supposed to come from tolls.

“Every single project, from the Pattullo Bridge to light rail in Surrey to the Broadway Line, I’m feeling a lot less confident today than I was even a week or two ago that those projects will ever get built,” Cote said. …

Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, described both parties’ proposals as good, short-term politics, but bad public policy.

“If this sort of thing just gets pulled out for elections, how can you make any long-term commitments?” he asked.

He believes capping tolls will also limit the mayors’ ability to introduce road-pricing to pay for transportation projects. ….

 

It’s astonishing how advocates of the free market and its efficiency in allocating resources (which depends critically on ‘prices that tell the truth’) turn into socialists when it comes to roads and bridges.  Effectively the Liberals and NDP are saying that we will hide the costs of construction and maintenance of bridges by paying more from general revenue, shifting the burden from users, primarily in Metro, to the provincial taxpayers.  Thanks, Kelowna!

Both parties know this will distort transportation planning in the region (or at least they should), but clearly don’t care.

With a $500 cap on tolls to be paid on existing and planned bridges, even with small incremental increases, the economics of infrastructure will now be dependent on the willingness of the Province to pay more and more out of general revenue.  That in turn will make it easier to shift the burden to Metro taxpayers.

For instance, if the Province is making up the difference between what was anticipated in tolls on the money-losing Golden Ears Bridge (Translink’s responsibility), it will also be easier to cut that grant since it makes no difference to the users and will get lost in the overall budget of TL.  (Conceivably it will be have to made up by cutting or not expanding transit services.)

This cap also fundamentally changes the planning for Pattullo Bridge.  TransLink can no longer expect to fund half the costs of the bridge through a stream of toll revenues.  (Even if Port Mann got the numbers wrong initially, it’s still expected to cover the debt over time.)  So either the Province (Liberal or NDP governments) makes up the difference, a new revenue source is identified (will it need a referendum?), TL covers more of the cost from existing sources which it has largely exhausted for any major increase, or removes Pattullo from the 10-year plan.

Presumably, Metro and the Province could agree to tolling all the bridges in the region to deal with the inequity of tolls only for South of the Fraser.  But why?  The NDP has ruled that out, the Liberals will have a $500 cap, the politics will be brutal, and it doesn’t actually raise much revenue if the idea is to cut tolls on the SoF bridges (it might even be a loser given the costs of refitting and servicing the NoF bridges for tolls.)

And then what about mobility or road pricing?  Jordan Bateman, positively salivating, declared such a prospect dead.  It probably is under current circumstances.

But given the fiscal train-wreck that the parties, in their blatant attempts at vote-buying, have created, it might allow for a complete rethink of transportation funding in the region.

Indeed, the mayors and TransLink would be nuts to agree to anything less, given how they’ve been treated by all the provincial parties in the past.  The precedents – vehicle levy, parking tax, referendum requirement, governance changes – are not promising.

Once again, they and future of the region are being sacrificed for political expedience.  One might say they’re being played for suckers.