Toll roads: it’s a topic that both urban planners and commuters alike love to debate. While some may claim that charging cars that enter a city is the solution to solving endless congestion, there are just as many who insist that it can have the exact opposite effect.
The fact that Vancouver suffers from congestion is nothing new and likely comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the city. It is equally unsurprising, then, that one of the creative efforts that have been suggested as a way to fix this overabundance of traffic is to ask cars entering the city to pay a fee. This may seem like a novel idea, but it’s actually one that has been successfully implemented in other cities, such as London, Singapore, and Stockholm — just to name a few.
What are Vehicle Fees?
In short, toll fees (sometimes called vehicle fees or congestion pricing) are designed to work as a deterrent for drivers who are considering whether or not to bring their private vehicles into the city center.
Although the main motivator for these fees is often environmental, reducing congestion is not only good for the planet — it can also contribute to a higher quality of life for city residents who would otherwise be breathing in high pollution levels and suffering from high noise levels. It can also encourage public transit ridership, which can, in turn, translate to more government funding and smoother transportation systems for all residents.
Why Implement a Toll in Vancouver?
Proponents of a Vancouver toll fee state that it is a vital part of the city’s climate emergency action plan, a plan whose purpose is to reduce carbon emissions produced in the city. In this plan, the environmental benefits are theoretically twofold: not only would the threat of a fee hopefully encourage commuters to leave the car at home, but the fees that are collected can also be spent on improving carbon emissions.
Presently, the pricing details of this toll plan have not yet been publicly released. However, we can look to over cities for a possible clue as to what the pricing structure could look like — in London, daily fees account for the equivalent of around 25 Canadian dollars.
Vancouver is known around the world for being an environmentally friendly city, so the suggestion of a toll does not come as a surprise to many people. In fact, the vehicle toll plan is just another ambitious plan to emerge from the city, joining other goals such as cutting the city’s carbon pollution in half by 2030 and to have zero-emission buildings account for 100% of all new construction by 2030 as well.
Do Vehicle Tolls Work?
As ambitious as this goal may be, it also begs the question: do vehicle tolls actually work? The answer to this question is not simple and largely depends on who you ask.
While several success stories do exist — such as Stockholm successfully cutting their pollution levels over a period of only five years and Seattle reporting less driver stress — criticisms of car tolls point out how difficult it is to measure the direct effects of these measures, and also point out the possible social costs.
To elaborate on this, several academics have pointed out that the benefits that are often attributed to congestion vehicle pricing — such as reduced traffic — can also be contributed to by other changes such as road reconfigurations.
As far as possible social costs, activists have pointed out how high vehicle tolls are effective at forcing poorer motorists off the roads and allowing the upper middle class to continue to have free reign, contributing to a city that is designed with only the rich in mind.
If there is one certain thing to be gathered from all of this debating, it is that being a driver can be taxing, both literally and figuratively. If thinking about the logistics of having a car in urban Vancouver — toll road or not — brings you stress, there are solutions available to you. One option is to leave the car at home completely and rely instead on a Vancouver designated driver service, such as the ones provided by Safe Designated Drivers. Whether you are at a party and in need of a safe and sober ride home or looking to avoid the city traffic, a designated driver company is here for you.