On the Topic of Tolls

A toll.

To some, it may as well be a four letter word. (Well, OK, it already is, but you get our point.)

To others, tolls are just the cost of doing business.

There are even those who extoll the virtues of tolls and look forward to paying them whenever they can. Honest.

Toll booths for the George Massey Tunnel circa 1960

No matter how you feel about them, tolls are an important part of paying for major infrastructure investments. And they have been for a very long time.

There was the Lions Gate Bridge, back in 1938, with a toll of 25 cents. The George Massey Tunnel opened up in 1959, again with a toll of 25 cents, which increased to a dollar before it was removed in 1964. More recently there was the Coquihalla Highway, which had its tolls removed in 2008 and the new Port Mann Bridge, which was tolled between 2012 and 2018.

But have you ever wondered why we toll what we toll? Not surprisingly, we’ve got policy for that, the latest version of which was implemented in 2003, following significant stakeholder input. You can look up the details on our website, but here’s the gist:

  • Tolls can only be considered for new, major projects. So there’s no tolling existing roads and bridges.
  • Reasonable, untolled options must be available for people to take. This is one of the main reasons the Sea-to-Sky Highway wasn’t tolled when it was upgraded a few years ago.
  • The public must be consulted. This one’s one of the most significant points, because before implementing a toll, we need to understand how it will impact local communities, and what we can do to tailor the toll for those who are going to pay it. Interesting fact, in the case of the new Port Mann Bridge, consultations showed 56 per cent of participants were in favor of tolls, and that increased to over 70 per cent when options were included for reduced tolls for HOV users and truck drivers during off-peak hours.
  • There must be an obvious benefit for people that use the new, tolled infrastructure.

What do those benefits look like? Well, the new tolled route will help you get where you’re going faster. That alone is a pretty big deal. After all, would you rather have more time with your family and friends or more time being stuck behind the wheel?

Then there’s saving money. Which might seem counter-intuitive, but think of it this way: the less time you spend on the road, the less you’re spending on fuel and on your vehicle’s wear and tear. That can make a big difference for some drivers. Directly related to that is emission reduction. If you spend your time on the road driving at a decent speed, your car is running more efficiently, and you pollute less than if you’re caught in congestion. Couple that with less time spent driving, and taking a tolled route means you’re helping out the environment, too.

The new Port Mann Bridge was tolled between 2012 and 2017
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Page 1 of 4 comments on “On the Topic of Tolls”

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  1. I was fortunate to have been hired for two summers–1961 & 1962–to work as a toll collector on the Oak St. Bridge and Deas island Tunnel. Most of my senior colleagues were veterans and they were a remarkably kind and generous group with whom to work. My summer toll collector job almsot paid my entire way as an undergraduate at UBC. My final summer was 1962 when my wife–from North Vancouver (and the Lions Gate Bridge) and I were married and moved to Toronto–she to teach and myself as a Grad student at Uni. of Toronto. We did fondly hope to either bring culture and civilisation to eastern Canada or, failing that, return home eventually to B.C. We failed on all counts and now live almost as far south as you can possibly get in Canada. However, the toll booth memories live on.

  2. This is a good article on Tolling BC Roads and Bridges. I don’t think many people know the guidelines on MOTI for setting up tolls.

    Historically there have been many tolls in BC, which I am compiling as part of a Historical Transportation document. In addition to the ones you mention these are some other bridges- Agassiz-Rosedale Bridge, Spences Bridge, Pattullo Bridge, Oak Street Bridge, Massey Tunnel, New Westminster Bridge (road over rail).

    This is an interesting subject that usually comes up around election time or when a new bridge is being considered.

    Thanks for sharing.