Some Addendum on Nov 23, taking finding of [8]

The Clark government has decided that the George Massey tunnel need to be replaced, why?

The tunnel is congested

Of course, but how congested is the tunnel (see our bridge traffic post for more context)?

bridges traffic counts show some congestion, but nothing unreasonable in the tunnel

By reasonable standards, the level of congestion in the tunnel is manageable noticing that there is a significant amount of time where traffic is free flow. Beside the lack of substantiation, the announce, that the Delta port extension will generate an additional 1700 daily truck trips [3], has to be taken with a grain of salt:

  • It represents only 2% of the actual traffic, what the Tunnel used to handle in the past
  • It represents only 1% of the actual Tunnel capacity

The question one should asks, is:

Why we should build a new infrastructure, in the name of keeping the Deltaport truck traffic moving when this traffic could be easily shifted during non congested hour? The rather limited current Deltaport hours of operation is not allowing this today [1], why not change that?

Never mind the present (or the port),

population growth will make the tunnel congested in the future anyway?

The past trend suggests otherwise: the region has already experimented a significant population growth, which has not prevented a declining trend for the traffic into the tunnel:

George Massey average daily traffic years 1996-2011: the trend is slightly decreasing in despite of population growth in the area (number from (4)

But why people see it differently?

The Province has engineered a funnel effect at the tunnel portals, that is feeding the tunnel with more lanes than it can handle, this in the disguise of Transit investment:

A true bus lane, or HOT could certainly make transit faster than car, and reduce the funnel effect (due to lane reduction at the tunnel portal when no reverse lane is in place). (8) believes this measure by itself can allow a doubling of the transit ridership

In light of the above, one must asks: Is the George Massey tunnel replacement the best we can do to improve the lower mainland traffic?

The Clark government seems already have made his mind on it, but where are the studies and analysis supporting the replacement choice?

Is building more road the way to alleviate congestion?

Is it some other solutions?

At least two avenues deserve to be explored: better transit and road pricing, both working better hand in hand

Better transit

Currently, the transit modal share in the tunnel is nothing to cheer about:

Transit modal share Lions gate Bridge George Massey Tunnel
overall (all day all direction) > 20%[6] ~ 11%[7]
AM peak hr To Vancouver direction > 36%[6] ~ 19%[8]
PM peak hr leaving Vancouver direction > 28%[6] ~ 18%[8]

It is not better than the average mode share in the region, way far below than what is witnessed on the Lions gate bridge, and even much lower than the 2020 provincial transit plan’s target, 17% [9]. There is no reason for such dismissal modal share when a level of transit similar to the one witnessed on the Lions gate could remove enough car (~12000 per day, or 1200 peak hour NB, that is almost the capacity of a full lane!) to make the tunnel virtually congestion free. Transit offer could be much better for people coming from south of the tunnel. It doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment (Proper bus lane and queue jumper are among them) and we believe a lot can be done in the current Translink budget, some suggestion below:

A Vancouver network more accessible from the South of Fraser

First, Translink needs to recognize that not all people are heading to downtown and has to provide a larger access to Vancouver from south of the Fraser. A suggestion already made in a previous post is to extend most of the North South Vancouver bus route to either Marine Drive or Knight Bridge.

suggestion for bus route 3,16,8,20 and 100

A slight re-structuration of Vancouver bus route, can improve general access to the city from South of the Fraser

…To have them connected to a network of regional bus routes, as we have suggested before, more noticeabily a Ladner-Metrotown via Knight bridge route (we here call route #630)

A comprehensive network of regional bus line is necessary to attract long distance commuter.

A Richmond network more accessible from the South of Fraser

That is the trail, wet and muddy in winter, dry and dusty in summer, to reach the SB Hwy 99 bus stop at Steveston!

Leverage of the Steveston#99 interchange can seriously improve access to Richmond from the Ladner area

A Proper branding

Lastly, when the service level is objectively good, people need to know it. Branding is important as we have already seen with the suggestion of code sharing to create a B #699 line between Ladner and BridgePort, leveraging the existing #601 and #620 routes.

a well branded bus toward the customer base. a driver following this bus can’t really ignore where it is heading, at what frequency, where it stops and how much it cost.

Road pricing

What is the cost of congestion in the tunnel?

Phenomenal will tell some…some more substantiated studies will tell at which level a toll needs to be set to avoid congestion (That is the real economic cost). In the case of the George Massey tunnel, it is at a level such that the congestion toll need to be in effect not much more than 5hr per day, and could rise only $46 millions [2] as we have already seen in a previous post.

…that barely pay for the interest of a $1Billion debt…

Regarding the George Massey tunnel, the choice the Vancouver region should face is not “do you prefer a tunnel or a bridge as replacement” but do you prefer:

  • Pay an infrastructure toll, at all time, to help to finance a new crossing, knowing the toll will probably not be enough and taxpayer money will be required
  • Pay a congestion toll, that is a toll only at time where congestion could occurs, the toll revenue helping to finance transit alternative reducing the demand pressure for road space (see our congestion charge post for more detail)

The first solution needs 10 years time frame to be implemented and doesn’t resolve transit funding issue. The second solution, which doesn’t preclude the first one in due time [5], can be implemented overnight and resolves the congestion issue now as well as provide transit funding. Which alternative is the best?

We humbly suggest that the best alternative is the one requiring the less tax-payer and user fee money.

Additional consideration
That said, some other parameters need to enter in consideration, like

  • Structure resilience to earthquakes
  • Road safety issue
  • Marine traffic

On the later, some rumors suggest that the presence of the tunnel is limiting the possible amount of marine traffic, due to draft restriction. The Nautical chart of the Fraser river tell another story. In fact the depth along the channel is around 11 meters, 12 meters above the Tunnel.

The nautical chart doesn’t show the tunnel location as being the shallower point of the channel, in fact opening the channel to greater draft ship could require considerable dredging of the whole channel.

Allowing ships with greater draft than allowed now could require considerable dredging of the Fraser channel, from the Stevenson jetty far end to East of the tunnel, as well as significant on going maintenance, due to constant build up of sandspit. That certainly has a non negligible ecological cost as well. The economic rational of this is pretty unclear, and we notice that around the world, ports don’t seem to develop operation inland…beside barging (option here restrained by the railway bridge at New West)… since not all ports can count on a government building road for free to them.

[1] Delta port truck gate hour of operation are 7am-12pm and 12:30pm 4pm Monday to Friday

[2] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008

[3] Christy Clark announces plans to replace George Massey Tunnel, VancouverSun, September 29, 2012

[4] BC MOT

[5] Congestion charge: the case for Vancouver

[6] Lions Gate Bridge / Marine Drive Transit Priority Study: Summary of Technical Study , Translink/IBI. peak hour number are extrapolated of hourly traffic graph

[7] Number are considering all ridership of bus route crossing the tunnel, as provided per Translink (BSPR 2011) and tunnel daily traffic assuming 1.2 person/vehicle, as provided by the BC MOT

[8] Highway 99 corridor assessment, draft v.1.5, Januray 2009, BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (report got thru Notice: thought the transit numbers of this report pre-date the advent of the Canada line, they are based on a bus count (36 in peak hour/direction), which is the same as of November 2012.

[9] The Provincial Transit Plan, 2008


Congestion in Vancouver

The cost of congestion in greater Vancouver has been priced at up to $1.3 Billion per year in 2002 [1] (for matter of comparison, all combined motorist gas taxes will raise less than $800 million in metro Vancouver in 2011 [8]). Thought the Congestion numbers could look high, it is eventually not high enough to justify to invest billions of $ in new road infrastructures, which are not the most efficient allocation of capital to address congestion issues observed usually no more than 4 hrs a day.

The discussion below, grounded on a previous article as well as traffic data [6], starts of the viewpoint of what it takes to alleviate the congestion in Metro Vancouver using a road pricing model. From this conclusion, we have 2 questions to answer:

  • What is the most efficient road pricing model? that is what is the one involving the less overhead cost and still achieving its goal to reduce the congestion?
  • What is the better use of the money raised by a road pricing model?

Thought that in the context of Vancouver, road pricing schemes are mostly invoked to address Translink woes, it shouldn’t be the primary goal:

  • The cost of a congestion toll should not be designed to match the Translink deficit

The primary goal should be to get the most efficient use of a scarce, because expensive to create, resource: space on our Transportation network.

The allocation of the proceeding of a congestion toll needs to be seen through this lens:

  • What is the more efficient use of this transportation revenue stream?

It could not be always the case, but as mentioned in introduction, the general level of congestion in Vancouver-mostly due to SOV- and the general cost of new road infrastructure, suggests it is better to invest it in the Public Transit network. This to provide alternative and efficient transportation means, able to effectively keep the level of the congestion charge under control. This option could be revisited overtime if necessary.

Pricing model

It could be discussed at length about what could be the better road pricing scheme for Vancouver:

  • Area charge (London)
  • “ideal” Road pricing (all road are priced according a complex formula and complex tracking of vehicles thru GPS…)
  • Cordon pricing (Stockholm)

The today municipal politicians mood, is to not oppose to the road pricing idea, but it is to rationalize the inaction toward it:

Anything other that the “ideal” road pricing is not “fair” to the motorists

They could be right, assuming the generalized economic gain largely offset the implementation and operating cost of the proposed model. Considering the overwhelming complexity of implementation of such a model, and the limited amount of congestion in the lower mainland, which limit the potential revenues, it is probably wrong headed:

The model could be fair to the individual motorists, but could be unfair to the general interest: It could cost more to operate than the general economic gain it allows

..and if there is a drawback to the model followed by London, it is this: the operating cost of its pricing scheme absorb largely the economic gain expected of better traffic conditions [7].

Considering the Vancouver topography and the choke points responsible for most of the lower mainland congestion, the equivalent of a “cordon pricing” on the bridges seems the natural way to go.

It is probably the best one from a benefit/cost perspective. Due to the relatively insulated location of Vancouver, we consider an all “transponder” technology (on the model of Singapore), this to limit the operation cost.

Cordon pricing Model for Vancouver

Below, is a list of the Vancouver area bridge with their number of lanes, where toll gantries could take place, to give an idea of the required gantries investment

Bridge Number of lanes Estimated annual revenue (M)
George Massey Tunnel 4 38
Arthur Laing Bridge 4 7
Oak Street Bridge 4 7
Knight Street Bridge 4 10
Queensborough Bridge 4 7
Alex Fraser Bridge 6 48
Pattullo Bridge 6 14
Port Mann Bridge 10
Lions Gate Bridge 3 15
Second Narrows Bridge 6 15
Cambie Street Bridge 6 0
Granville Street Bridge 8 0
Burrard Street Bridge 5 0

Cost: $25 Millions/year

If we consider all or part of the bridges above, we can easily see than the gantries investment is pretty limited, and should be apriori lower than in the Stockholm case, and is estimated at $100 millions. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, the geographical location of Vancouver make worthy of consideration the outfitting of at least all lower mainland vehicles (they are around 1.5 millions) with a transponder. Here we consider the outfitting of all of the 2.5 millions vehicles registered in BC:

  • Transponder investment: ~$30 millions (2 million of on board sticker at $1.6 + 500,000 exterior unit at $8)

The total initial capital cost of the system can be conservatively fixed at lower than $150 million. Assuming an all transponder based scheme, the maintenance and operating cost couldn’t be higher than the one in Singapore, and is estimated around $10 millions/year. the cost to operate the system is summarized below

Capital cost (M)
Gantries $100
Transponder $30
Annual cost cost (M)
capital Amortization (15years) $15
Operating & Maintenance (15years) $10

Revenue, ~$150 million annually

Traffic on Main bridge of the greater Vancouver area. Toll could be in effect once traffic reach max capacity of the bridge (red line), this is 4hr or less per day. in yellow example of toll fare for some bridges (see (6) for more detail)

It is probably the greater unknown of such a scheme. Based on traffic counting [6], and pricing modelization of a previous study [9], the estimated revenue per bridge is given in the above picture, and achieved by charging bridge crossing an average of 4hrs per weekday only…letting plenty of opportunities for people to move across the region free of charge.

The Impact on the transportation system

While some part of the peak hour traffic will shift toward off-peak, a significant part of it will shift to Transit. For this reason, one could expect:

  • a lowered revenue from Gas and parking tax : we estimate this in the tune of $20 millions loss for Translink
  • a significant demand increase for Transit : based on the Stockholm experience, the congestion charge could be responsible for an increase of 10% in Transit usage [2]

Whether there is an impediment to the implementation to a road pricing scheme, it is not as much the implementation cost or the effectiveness to reduce the congestion than the capability of the transit network to absorb the modal shift involved by a congestion pricing scheme.

In that aspect, the relatively low public transit usage in the Vancouver region, compared to other jurisdictions which have introduced a road pricing scheme, creates certainly some challenges for Translink:

For that reason, as well as political acceptance, a significant Translink service extension could be required, and that means the $70 million moving forward plan, could be only a starting point in transit increase.

On the other hand, the congestion reduction will help to increase the buses productivity, while that the increased demand will improve the fare-box revenue.

With a congestion charge, this bus could be probably travelling twice faster, and offering twice the frequency – so dramatically improving the service to transit customers- this for virtually the same operating cost. Same could apply to the truck industry.

In Brief

After deducting operating cost and infrastructure amortization, as well as accounting the lost revenue in gas tax, the congestion charge could generate a revenue of $100 millions/year for the Translink coffers.

The lost of gas revenue affects also the Provincial and Federal Government, but one can fairly assume that this is more than offsetted by lower healthcare cost, due to accident reduction, reduction of greenhouse gas emission as well as more active living style associated to public transit use…

From it $70 millions could be already earmarked for Translink extension program as stated in its “moving forward plan”, but due to the effect of the congestion charge, such plan could prove much cheaper to implement.

That lefts extra money to address other woes in the transportation network, like on Broadway.

When to build new road infrastructure?

After good but reasonable alternative transit has been provided and the toll price need to be at a price point considered too high to alleviate congestion: it is time to question the need for new infrastructure…But when the revenue of the congestion toll could not even cover the debt service of a new infrastructure: it indicates not only there is no need for that, but that it is a bad investment if the matter is to address the congestion. That is eventually what illustrates the table above.

The Pattullo bridge congestion toll needs to be priced at a point where it raises “only” $14 million to alleviate the Congestion on it: the debt service of a new $1 billion bridge could be anywhere north of $50 million…

Where Translink stands?

  • Mayors of Metro Vancouver have already spent money on road pricing studies [4]. They are apparently not publicly available, but it is not like there is no material around.
  • Some mayors of the region have explicitly called on a road pricing scheme, which is also supported by a host of influential people, like the Translink commissioner Martin Crilly or former premier Mike Harcourt and Dale Parker [5], as well as organization like the Surrey Board of Trade
  • Mayors of Metro Vancouver have explicitly expressed the request to fund transit on transportation based revenue source only

Considering this favorable environment for a road pricing scheme.

  • Why Translink has been unable to come with nothing better than a $0.02/l gas tax?

It seems the main obstacle to a road pricing implementation strategy is now Translink itself: it should have at least put on the table such an option as a base for discussion.

That could help to clarify all the points raised in this blog, eventually debunks some myths …but unfortunately it is not the route chosen by Translink so far…

[1] this number could look suspicious, since pretty much at odd with the one provided by Statistic Canada, but it is the one used by our government to justify investment in road infrastructure ( Canada pacific’s gateway ) which not only include time lost in congestion but also extra burnt fuel and cost of GHG, so it is only fair to use the same metric.

[2] The introduction of the congestion charge in Stockholm has translated in an increase of 5% of transit usage ( Transport planning in the Stockholm Region, Hans Hede, METREX International workshop, Moscow, June 2006 ), but the modal split was already at 30% for public Transit. It is at 16.5% in metro Vancouver.

[3] That is at least the opinion expressed by the Mayor of Richmond.

[4] GVRD votes to continue study of road tolls, The Province, February 25, 2007

[5] Opportunity for Metro Vancouver transit foundation is now, Mike Harcourt and Dale parker, Vancouver Sun December 7, 2010

[6] Traffic to downtown and traffic on Metro Vancouver’s bridge

[7] The London congestion charge: a tentative economic appraisal, R. Prud’homme and J.P. Bocarejo, Transport Policy Volume 12, Issue 3, May 2005, Pages 279-287

[8] 29.06c provincial tax including 15c Translink tax + 10c federal tax per liter. number from Ministry of Finance Tax Bulletin as in June 2011

[9] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008

Some toll economics

March 22, 2011

…in the context of a congestion charge…

Toll Revenues

They are mostly driven by the price elasticity of demand (PED). In a nutshell, it is about how the demand for a service (here road access) is affected by a price change.
The greater the decrease in demand for a given price increase, the greater the elasticity will be.

It is an important concept since it can allow to estimate what should be the price of a toll to reduce the congestion to a certain level or what could be the revenue of a tolled infrastructure at a given price.

It is a common occurrence to see the PED under estimated: it has been under estimated in London, in Stockholm, on the Golden Ears Bridge as well as on most of the tolled urban road infrastructure around the world.

According to [5], the elasticity to a congestion charge has been notoriously under estimated by the MOT in the case of Port Mann bridge study. One reason here like elsewhere is that the lower the elasticity is, the easier it is to justify a new infrastructure…while the greater the elasticity is, the lower the congestion charge need to be to address the congestion (or the more difficult it will be to charge high price on a new tolled infrastructure).

That is, the common denominator is that usually a congestion charge scheme is successful at achieving its main goal of reducing the congestion, but that also means it yield usually to less revenue than expected. Here after are some elasticity numbers. the bigger (in absolute), the easier it is to reduce congestion

Study Estimate Comment
Vancouver 2008 study [5] -0.25 Public transit as in 2008
Vancouver 2006 study [3] -0.32 from survey (variance -0.23 to -0.41)
Seattle [4] -0.9 to -1.6 from a pilot project (2003-2005)
Toronto 407 ETR [5] -0.7
Spain [5] -0.2 Congested bridge
France Expressway -0.3 Government recommendation
New York bridge [5] -0.1 Average parking price in Manhattan is $431/month
Singapore cordon [5] -0.19 to -0.58 average tax on car purchase is S$45,000 (~$37,000)
London Congestion area [4] -0.53 to -0.96 computed on the initial £5

Operation cost

A toll system incurs some operating, maintenance and capital cost. Usually it is a reason advanced to not implement it:
the most part of the revenue could be absorbed by the operating cos of the system”, and skeptic people will advance the case of London [9][10]. figures hereafter show that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case, like Stockholm or Singapore examples show

City Capital cost (M) Operating&maintenance cost (M) Revenue (M) Gantries Transponders
London [4] $180 $150 $280
Stockholm [4] $150 $26 $120 18 unknown
Singapore [6] $116 $10 $90 45 700,000
Golden Ears Bridge [1] $60 (8 years) 1 5,000
Port Mann Bridge [2] $18 (5 years) NA 1 200,000

But if we talk more of road pricing today than yesterday, it is not because there is more congestion today than yesterday but because it is dramatically much more cheaper to implement it nowadays.

Below are the answers to a recent procurement to equip a HOT lanes on the I85 by the Georgia DOT the terms of the contract being [7]

  • 410,000 sticker tag transponders ( 350,000 regular interior windshield tags + 60,000 external readers at 37 gantry locations
  • 37 readers at 37 gantrries location
Bidders TransCore neology SIRIT Kapsch
Transponders 1,005,300 1,076,500 1,697,500 8,680,000
RFID Reader Subsystems Equipment 134,665 175,299 297,66 1,600,975
Support Service 22,400 28,000 34,000 22,086
Total Bid Pric 1,165,235 1,279,799 2,019,163 10,303,061

Detail of the Transcore winning bid shows that the contract is based on

  • $1.59 per sticker tag transponders [8]
  • $3000 per RFID reader and matching antenna

What seems costly is the video identification (not included in the procurment above), but when a sticker (transponder) can cost as low as $1.59, one has to consider the alternative to outfit the whole vehicle park of its jurisdiction with it

That is what has been done in Singapore. Metro Vancouver is not a city state, but 65% of the BC vehicles are registered in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver could be considered isolated enough of out of Province road access, to make this option certainly worth of consideration for the whole province park.

Effect of the Congestion charge

By virtue of the PED, it reduces the congestion and make trip more predictable, for the remainding users, so those get some value (in time) for the toll.

That applies on Transit as well. bus speed has increased by 6% in London congestion charge area, and 3% in the surrounding (notice that is including an increasing dwelling time due to significant higher patronage, and previously existing bus lanes) [4], but more important is the very significant increase in reliability allowing the agency to reduce lay over and realize significant operating saving.

The shift on public transit can be very significant (numbers from [4])

  • In London, the bus service got a 37% patronage increase in the congestion charge area (notice that people also shift from subway to bus, eventually due to more attractive bus ride which became more predictable and faster after the CG came in service).
  • In Stockholm, patronage has increased 5% network wide, in a city already having a high modal split in favor of transit (30% trip on transit region wide [11])

Thought that could be the goal of the policy maker, the shift on the public transit system could be a cause of headache if he is not designed to absorb the increased patronage. In Stockholm, the introduction of the congestion charge has been coupled with a significant increase in the public transit offer.

The congestion charge in addition to reduce traffic, has also allowed to increase the road safety wherever applied, and obviously reduced the pollution and inherent health hazard due to it [4]

All in one, though initially not necessarily well received by the opinion, the congestion charge, wherever applied long enough, has sustained the test of time, and greater acceptance by the public [4], that eventually in recognition of the social benefits it is able to deliver.

[1] Open road tolling for BC Golden Ears Bridge – $60m contract TOLLROADSnews, feb 05, 2007.

[2] CS signs $18m toll system contract with BC gov toiler for Mt Mann Hwy 1 AET TOLLROADSnews May 11, 2010.

[3]Estimating commuter mode choice: A discrete choice analysis of the impact of road pricing and parking charges“, K. Wasbrook, W. Haider and M. Jaccard, Transportation (2006) 33:621–639.

[4] Road Congestion Pricing In Europe: Implications for the United States H. W. Richardson and C. H. C. Bae , Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008.

[5] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008.

[6] Road Pricing Volume 9, Theory and Evidence, Georgina Santos, Elsevier 2004.

[7] TransCore win GA/I-85 HOT lanes tag-reader contract with $1.59/tag 6C GEN2 TOLLROADSnews, Sep 16, 2009.

[8] For matter of comparison, Translink leases Golden Ears bridge transponder at $1 per month

[9]Without denying the efficiency improvement, in direct economic term as well as in more indirect term (pollution…), some experts consider that those efficiency gains or social benefit, are not enough to offset the operating cost of the system [10]

[10] The London congestion charge: a tentative economic appraisal, R. Prud’homme and J.P. Bocarejo, Transport Policy Volume 12, Issue 3, May 2005, Pages 279-287.

[11] Transport planning in the Stockholm Region, Hans Hede, METREX International workshop, Moscow, June 2006

Bridge Traffic

December 1, 2010

For purpose of illustration, below is a map overlaid with the traffic volume on the main bridges of the Vancouver area.

Traffic on the Main bridges of the greater Vancouver area (click on the map for more detail)

Some comments on it:


  • Traffic volume distribution is hourly, for weekday, and estimated when data is not available [3]
  • truck traffic on Knight bridge is estimated at 15% of the overall traffic
  • Red line indicate the capacity of the bridge, assuming a 1400 vehicle/hr capacity per lane
  • For bridge over the Fraser, A suggested Congestion pricing toll [5] has been added in yellow

below is the tabulaton of weekday daily traffic, and source for the considered bridge

Bridge Juridiction Lanes Traffic
Arthur Laing Bridge YVR 4 84,000 [2]
Oak Bridge Province 4 80,700 [1][4]
Knight Bridge Translink 4 99,500 [2]
QueensBorough Bridge Province 4 84,000 [2]
George Massey Tunnel Province 4 89,500 [1]
Alex Fraser Bridge Province 6 117,500 [1]
Pattullo Bridge Translink 4 74,500 [2]
Port Mann Bridge Province 5 116,000 [1]
Iron Workers Bridge Province 6 127,400 [1]
Lions gate Bridge Province 3 63,000 [1]

Comments on the Congestion pricing data

They come from the thesis of Peter Wightman [5], which is the most complete work I have uncovered on the topic applied on the Vancouver area, but still limited on the Fraser crossing bridges.

  • toll is applied once the traffic volume exceed the road capacity
  • Price elasticity demand is assumed at -0.2 peak hours, and -0.25 off peak, That is pricing evaluation has been done in 2006, assuming the transit option of the time, i.e. no Canada line and no transit over Port Mann bridge. Another study suggests a price elasticity demand closer to 0.35, in case of improved transit (i.e. Congestion regulation could be achieved with significant lower toll that those envisioned by [5], and revenue of congestion pricing too)

For information, below are the estimated revenue of congestion pricing, in the case of all bridge crossing the Fraser tolled (this assuming the 2006 situation, and a relatively low elasticity of -0.2 peak, and -0.25 off peak period) according to [5].

Bridge daily revenue (South dir) daily revenue (North dir)
George Massey Tunnel 89,600 64,400
Alex Fraser Bridge 126,000 67,200
Pattullo Bridge 35,000 21,000
Port Mann Bridge 271,600 90,300
Total (daily) 765,100
Total Annual 191,275,000

It is worth to note that congestion pricing could apply only when bridge reach capacity. At the exception of the Port Mann bridge West bound, that is an average of only 4 hours per bridge (or put in other way, crossing a bridge could be free 20hours per day),… but still generating close to 200 millions of annual revenue only on the bridge crossing the Fraser river.

it is also worth to notice that under a congestion pricing scheme as proposed by [5], the Port Mann bridge toll could have been lower than the one considered by the province (in green on the map above) most of the time…and the Pattullo bridge needs to be tolled less than 3hrs per day (per direction).

[1] Number from BC MOT as of Sept 2010 (weekday average on the month

[2] Number from Bridging the Infrastructure Gap, Get Moving BC, Sept 2008. Data are mostly from 2006

[3] I got hourly distribution only for BC MOT bridge, hourly distribution is estimated for other bridge to provide an idea of level of congestion on them (and eventually pricing level/period). While data Provincial bidge are from 2010, and other bridge from 2006, it has been no noticeable increase in traffic in the interim, what is consistent with a longer trend already exhibited in a gateway program definition report of january 2006

[4] There is a discrepancy with number from the MovingBC report[2] eventually due to the fact, that the authors of this report overlooked the fact that the traffic counter is installed south of the Sea Island exit ramp on the Highway 99 south bound. That explains why there is a traffic increase on that bridge

[5] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008

[6] Estimating Commuter Mode choice: A discrete choice Analysis impact of road pricing and parking charge, Washbrook, Haider and Jaccard, Transportation, 2006.

[7] Toll for new Port Mann Bridge will be $5.15 for casual users, Damian Inwood, The province, June 2010.

The explanation by Translink of the more than 30% shortfall in traffic on the Golden Ears Bridge (GEB) turns to the pathetic farce [6][7].

Blame the economic downturn

The economic downturn is a usual scape goat for lot of things, including the miserable failing to secure private financing for the Port Mann bridge. A reality check is needed:

The Vehicle mile traveled has decreased by less than 1% in the heavily affected US since their top. source (11)

As indicated by the graph above, Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has decreased by less than 1% in the heavily affected US economy since their top. More important, one should note the halt of the progression in the VMT dates back to 2004-2005. In fact the steep increase in oil price, consequence of global growth has affected the travel pattern before the economic down turn.

One could argue that things could be different on toll roads and in Canada; but an examination of the Toronto’s toll road 407ETR recent results [5] confirms that the economic downturn has got little effect on the traffic, which didn’t prevent the 407ETR revenue to constantly grow up to now (2.5% in 2009).

traffic on the Toronto ETR has decreased only marginally. source (5)

One could argue that the truck traffic could be more affected by the economic downturn. That is fair, but from its own study [3] , Translink was not expecting more than 5% of truck traffic (what say a lot on the argument justifying such investment on the need to move goods).

Blame the lack of sprawl and transit usage

It could be a farce, but unafraid of the ridicule, it is what said the Translink spokesman, Ken Hardie, to the VancouverSun and other media outlet [6] [7] . That is clearly a shame for an agency supposed to be committed to creating a transportation system for a sustainable region and that is probably the bigger problem raised by this incestuous affair of Translink with the roads:

Translink is saddled with a money loosing investment, and in deep conflict of interest:

  • transit development in the area can’t do any good to the GEB financial sheet.

One should note that this pathetic deviation to the shaping of a “sustainable region” was already read in the translink GEB frequentation forecast study happily considering a linear infinite progression of car ownership and traffic in the region [3] , hitherto giving up on any transportation mode shift in the area.

Obviously those are not the real reasons, for the failure of the GEB to meet its traffic and revenue forecast. The real reason is the structure of the project itself:

The Pork Barrel theory

THE GEB case is not isolated, and example like the Clem7 in Brisbane, or the A14 [10] in Paris show that there is worse elsewhere. In fact a Standard&Poor study has shown that most of similar projects see their actual traffic as only 76% of the predicted one [1]. Lame excuses as worded by Translink has been advanced for such poor return on investment [4]… But a study sponsored by the European Investment Bank, has tried to understand why most of the P3 contracts are awarded on very optimistic forecast bias [2]. The conclusion – notice we don’t refer to the first populist rant found in your favorite tabloid– is that those P3 are often crafted to be a Pork barrel where lot of actors have a vested interest while they get exposed to little if any liabilities.

The GEB P3 doesn’t make exception

The Private sector obviously hasn’t put a penny on the phony forecast: It is no accident that Translink supports all the risks tied to the revenue side. In the meantimes the initial private parties have constituted some more or less shady adhoc companies to manage the GEB, companies with which they could easily severe ties whether liabilities could become a concern.

GEB revenue forecast (in 2003$). In yellow is the induced traffic by the bridge, in red is the traffic generated by sprawl. source Steer Davis for Translink (3)

A “phony” forecast can be achieved by means of “strategic error[2]. In the GEB example, we have already noticed the, not only undesirable from a sustainability viewpoint, but also unrealistic linear and infinite, growth in car ownership and vehicular traffic. More, the GEB forecast [3] takes account all the contributive investment inducing more traffic, like road widening, but carefully ignores the competitive ones, especially the then already under planned twinning of the Port Mann bridge [8]

Ironically, the Port Mann bridge twinning and all the Gateway projects in Lower Mainland rational are grounded on the same flawed studies, sometimes provided by the same consultant [9], which have proved widly inaccurate…That doesn’t prevent the province to proceed full steam ahead…

[1]Traffic Forecasting Risk Study Update 2005, Robert Bain and Lidia Polakovic, October 2005

[2]Why traffic forecasts in PPP contracts are often overestimated?, EIB University Research Sponsorship Programme, December 2007

[3] New Fraser River Crossing: Traffic and Revenue Forecasts, Steer Davies Gleave for GVTA, May 2004

[4] Error and optimism bias in toll road traffic forecasts Transportation, Netherlands, February 2009

[5] On The Right Track: Continuous Improvement In P3 Delivery, By ETR407 presented at BMO Capital Markets Infrastructure & Utilities Conference, Feb 18, 2010.

[6] noticeably it is said that “TransLink blames the poor economy, worse-than-expected development around the bridge and a jump in transit ridership on the buses and the West Coast express” by NEWS1130, June 3rd, 2010.

[7] TransLink considers reducing Golden Ears tolls, Kelly Sinoski, VancouverSun, June 3rd, 2010

[8] Opening up
, MOT, 2003

[9] Abstract of Studies – Gateway Program Traffic and Tolling Analysis, MOT, May 2006

[10] Autoroute A 14 Bilan LOTI, CGPC, November 2005 states an observed 2004 traffic at 61% of the forecast, on the A14 toll freeway opened in 1996

[11] Number of the US Federal Highway administration as of March 2010