The cyty released a staff report on April 13th, 2016. Thought one could expect such city staff reports should present an as objective picture as possible of the poos and cons of the different solutions, to guide the council into its decisions, they rather tend to be drafted to support foregone conclusions dictated by the council.

As an example, thought my frequent readers will recognize me as supporting a skytrain solution on Broadway, I will have no difficulty to recognize that the 2012 city staff presentation against a broadway LRT [3] was embarassingly biaised to the point of ludicrousness [4]. After a “privatized” consultation process organized by the VPSN [9], on behalf of the city in October 2012, leaving no doubt on the intention of the later. the latest report concerning Robson square [5] doesn’t escape to this plague [7]. We just summarize its short comings below:

On the transit rerouting aspect

The report fails to recognize the whole implication of the proposed bus 5 Transit re-routing. More particularly it fails to states that

  • it will affect connections to the rest of the transit network ( it  mentions only that it reduces access to major destinations on Granville) [8]
  • It will involves an additional $300,000 operating cost per year [6]

On the shared space concept (bus/bike only going through the square)

The report quickly dismisses this solution on  “the expectation is that events within this block would be more frequent and/or prolonged in nature”.

One will note that the redesign of the North Plaza – today hindered by the centennial fountain- will enable this square to host many events, and this square has been designed flexible enough in this intention…in such a way that the need to close Robson square for specific events could become a rare oddity.

While it is not acceptable to have  months bus rerouting for event which could be located elsewhere such as the Viva Robson redux, it is understandable to see ponctual closures (what is already happening): The city report falls short to identify an example of event which could require the closure of Robson square for longer than a week-end.

Clearly exceptionnal transit rerouting  are not enough of an argument to provide inferior transit on day to day basis. As in most place, it is not either in Nice, France :


Google street capture, Nice France

On the square genesis

We have written a post serie on its history in 2012: The architect, Arthur erickson  clerly stated that:

“The only traffic through the square will be inner city buses, linking the Westend and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square,…

That is in obvious contradiction with the report account of the square history, however the above quote (as well as the rest of the history and its context) can be easily verified in the original records held at the Vancouver archives.

Similarly the 2009 VPSN competition identified the North Plaza as the Vancouver focal point, not Robson square: the city reports seems to be purposely confusing on the issue.


Vancouver Red Carpet – Hapa Collaborative – winning entry of the 2009 VSPN Where’s the Square Competition

On the Accessibility issues


Place de la Comédie- Bordeaux : the tram is mingling with pedestrian and bike, in a very natural way, everyone enjoy equal access, and the sqaure is welcoming to people with mobility challenge thanks to its transit

The report briefly refers to the Westend seniors, but doesn’t recognize  any accessibility issues involved with the bus rerouting.

The court house, the VAG, as well as Robson square will be de facto less accessible. Transit could be one block away, but can  already be a lot, even too much, for people with mobility challenge…that de facto tends to make the square less inclusive of people of all abilities.

Ironically, the city report mentions 3 example of inspiring central square:  Trafalgar square in London, Pionner Square in Portland, Yonge and Dundas square in Toronto): all  abundantly serviced by Transit…right on the squares.


Pioneer sqaure in Portland as well as Yonge and Dundas sqaure in Toronto are abundantly serviced by Transit

Why not have taking an example of a sucessful “central square” not serviced by transit? does that even exists in a city comparable in size with Vancouver)?  It be interesting to know?

Beyond Robson square,  the Robson retail strip will be much less accessible by Transit,  both due to a less legible route and poorer connection with rest of the network. As well it will create a gap on this major East/West corridor. all this will potentially affect the retail strip attractivity.  A reason why succesful pedestrian mall flourish is because they are well irrigated by Transit as is the case on 16th street in Denver:


Denver 16th Mall, is seamlessly irrigated by Transit: this allow an extensive pedestrainization scheme, without compromising accessibility

On the competition of both squares (800 Robson and North Plaza)

The report tries to paint it as complementary: this is rather unconving since it ignores the redesign of the North Plaza which will affect its functionning pattern.

Furthermore, the report fails to recognize the changing pattern of focal square in Vancouver. Thought Robson square is an important one, Viva has consummed lot of energy (and $tax payer) with mitigated result on it. With the introduction of the Canada line, it is very possible that the “natural” meeting point has slipped more North: Nowadays Georgia#Granville is a popular focal point, also a location for demonstrations, but it is very possible that a more welcoming North plaza take precedence on both this point and Robson. At the end , if there is lot of pedestrian in down town, there is not necessarily enough of them to activate both place at the time (even if those square are made more “sticky”). Time will tell, but prudence could have suggested to wait the completion of the North Plaza redesign and to be able to evaluate its impacts.


The report is lacking  of metrics, be number of impacted bus riders   (3 million a years), pedestrians count or even car count. the surface of the envisionned square is not even mentioned, but the road surface in question amount to 560sqm (80x7m).

Notice that in a shared space, this surface could have surrendered by pedestrians which could have been slightly disturbed only from time to time. Smart design (like one) way could have reduced the bus footprint to a 3m wide path. However the surface is not the most important, it is its location.


The report doesn’t mention it directly, but HUB, as well as the Committe on Active transportation (involving in fact the same people) have made it clear they expect the square to be still a bike thoroughfare. Whatever the final design, due to the geographic location of the square, it will be on the desire line of cyclists.

So at the end the square will certainly be divided in 2 by a bike path, be a formal one or not. The former will be probably preferred, certainly by ideological biais of the city council, but also because cyclists could become a hazard for blind and other people with limited vision.


The tangible benefits of a square not including transit versus one including the bus are not obvious and the report is failing to mention any. What is more obvious is that the bus rerouting compromise the inclusivenes of the square, its accessbility as well as accessibility of other downtown destination by Transit.

It is  a place making clearly done at the expense of transit, and not so much at the expense of car. on a block level it could looks nice, but globally it is counter productive, since it doesn’t help to reduce the overall reliance on the car in the city. However, it is not integrated in a comprehensive pedestrian strategy able to reduce the car presence in downtown

More importantly, it is a place making excluding citizen based on their ability to walk or cycling.

At some point in the future, the decision on Robson square will be reversed, because it is simply the sense of history: place making is good, but place making done at the expense of accessibility is just bad and should not happen in our century.

…It is just sad that  Vancouver has not matured to this point yet.


What is wrong with this idea of Robson square? answer has still not been provided – credit photo City Of Vancouver

[1] part 1, Erickson 1966 proposal and

part 2, the final Erickson proposal

[2] 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974

[3] Broadway rapid transit, City of Vancouver Engineering department, November 27, 2012

[4] In fact, the most ludicrous slices have been removed of the official city report, but they are still available on a copy posted by the Vancouver mayor office

[6] Downtown bus review serivice, Phase 2- Technical summary for phase 2 consultation. Translink & City of Vancouver, April 2014

[7] Some blogs following closely the city affairs tend from time to time to end on the same conclusions, on other matter, that is notoriously the case of CityHallWatch

[8] In fact this point has been underlined first by a contributor on Pricetags Thanks to him.

[9] the VPSN raison d’etre has always been the uncompromised pedestrianization of Robson square, this group being hostile to the shared space concept.

A previous post already largely endorsed the last October 2015 Transit optimization proposals. Most of it got recommended to be implemented in a report released on March 30th [3], noticeably:

  • Create a B-Line along Hastings
  • Improve travel time and reliability along the 49.

That is very good. More remarkably, the media reporting is overall positive [4]: a welcome change here too!

A preliminary comment on 2 highly controversial changes, route 49 and 258

The route 49

Not surprisingly the last change (object of a 2014 post), involving the retiring of the Champlain Heights detour was one of the most challenged by a well organized opposition [5].



The executive director of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods, Heather Mac Cain, happens to be directly concerned by the 49 re-routing. She were also instrumental to mobilize the opposition  to a bus change. A rare snow fall happened to help the campaign too  [1]

On March 11th 2014, the Vancouver city council, apparently assuming that  money flow freely on Translink, unanimously opposed improvements of the the bus 49, by adopting a motion moved forward by Geoff Meggs. However, in the 2014 proposal, no mitigation measures were proposed to address  some concerns of the Champlain Heights residents. Our post dedicated to this route suggested an alteration of the route 26, something also done in the 2015 proposal, enabling to maintain the statu quo in term of bus accessibility in the Champlian Heights neighborhood. So the change is poised to be implemneted in summer 2016.

The Medias had framed this change as a “bus cut” in 2014 [1]: the same change is now and finally framed as an improvement [4]

The route 258

The discontinuation of this route to the benefit of service improvements on both routes 44 and 250, which it duplicates to propose a direct connection between West Vancouver and UBC, was mostly a measure toward a rationalization of the network (which include legibility improvement by pruning routes which duplicate existing service), as well as rationalization of the rolling stock (buses 258 are 40 footer operated by West Vancouver Blue Bus, while the buses 44 are 60 footer operated by CMBC). This proposal was not changing the “geometry” of the network, but could have eventually resulted in some operating cost reduction. The change came as surprisingly controversial, and Translink has preferred to defer it. However the “B linization” of the route 44 should move forward, and it is probable this change will need to be considered again.

The main topic of the post
The East Hastings Trolley routes.

The main change here was to merge the route 4 (Powell) and 16 (Renfrew), a proposal already done in 2005, already then to remove excess capacity in the Hastings corridor [2].

  • the main drawback was that East Hasting  was loosing a direct connection with the Millenium line.
    • A drawback compounded by the discontinuation of bus route 190 and 160 (West of the Kootenay loop) connecting the East suburbs to Vancouver via the Hastings corridor: Those later change being are the consequecne of teh advent of the Evergreen line

The proposal is hence sent back to the drawing board: A good time to expose an alternative proposal grounded on a couple of principles:

  • One artery, one local bus route (+ an optional “B” line route):
    • – On East Hasting: route 14 (doubled by the limited stop route  135)
      – On Renfrew route 16
      – On Nanaimo, route 7
      – On Powell, route 4
  • Each route should be strongely anchored
    • – Kootenay loop (14)
      – Nanaimo station (7)
      – Renfrew and 29th station (16)

The above principles call for the rationalization as proposed by Translink. However, as we have seen, it could deprives the East Hastings corridor (or at least the 2 blocks between Commercial and Renfrew) which happens to be a commercial area.

The below solution doesn’t put in question the east trolley routes 4,7,14 and 16…However, it short turns  all “heavy” North South routes operated by artics trolleys  (3,8 and 20), at the North end of their corridor: A suggestion we have already did for the DownTown bus service review, but which was already present in the 2005 plan also [2]. The route 4 is also extended to  improve the network connectivity.


A proposal to streamline the trolley services on the East Hastings corridor

The advantages of this solution:

  • Ii removes lot of excess of capacity in the corridor (if too much, some 20 run could be maintained on Hastings)
  • It frees lot of articulated trolley, which are in very short supply (and inherently more expensive to run than conventonal trolley)
  • It allows to achieve much gretaer reliability ofon route 3,8 and 20 (consequence of shorter route and more noticeabily teh avoiding of the often congested Hastings section)
  • It maintains a direct connection between the Millenium line and the expo line and the Hastings corridor.
  • It increase the network connectivity: all NS routes connect with both the Hastings and Powell corridor (and bus 4 is extended to improve the network connectivity), as well as the bus 201 and other peak hour route connecting with the North Shore


The solution has some drawbacks:

The case for routes 3 and 8 has already been discussed in a previous post

  • The connection of Hastings with the M line is less good than the one insured by the route 20 (for the section West of Commercial)
    • The penalty cost is 4mn in peak hour peak direction (West bound ~8am), but could be less whether CMBC had the decency to relocate its very frustrating timing point on the route 16  from Broadway to Renfrew station which is just one stop away! (after 15 years of M line service, it could be about time!).
  • The connection of Hastings with the Expo line is less good than the one insured by the route 20
      Thought that the 16 connects with the Expo line – and route 7 servicingthe nearby Powell corridor – can provide a transfer free option for people sensitive to it, it is effectively  one of the main drawback. However, on can notice: there is no obvious  reason to offer this direct access from the Expo line to the section of Hastings West of Commercial and not to do the same for its East side?

It is probable those drawbacks are not enough to offset the benefits of the above proposal. It is likely that most of the customers arriving by Skytrain could still prefer to use the route 20, even if that involves  a transfer to reach a final destination along the Hastings corridor. it will be still the fastest option (especially considering the higher frequency of bus 20): That also explains why it is important to keep an efficient transit connection along Commercial, a topic for another post!

Translink responded present to the first. We are still waiting the proposition of the municipalities for the second…

[1]  Bus service cut worries Champlain seniors, Vancouver Courier, February 25, 2014.

[2] Vancouver/UBC Transit plan, Translink July 2005

[3] Transit Network Review, Translink, Spring 2016,

[4] TransLink modifies bus routes across Metro Vancouver Kelly SInosly, VancouverSun March 31, 2016
Improved bus service may be coming to some routes in Vancouver, Janet Brown, iNews880am, Vancouver, March 31th 2016
TransLink gets 12,000 service comments, Martin van den Hemel, Vancouver24hrs, March 31, 2016

[5] “HaveAcow”, on the railforthevally blog, vividly explained the dynamic at play on such change proposal in a comment on a Dec 17th, 2014 post titled
“Incresing Transit Capacity By Reducing Transit Stops – A New Stragety For Broadway”

The compass card/fare gate deployment has been a big disapointment so far, it is also a mismanagement tale, as reminded in a March 4th,  CBC article, as well as other surprise, such  the discontinuity of the fare integration between buses and skytrain, a result, among other of unconsequential choice done by Translink and presented as fait accompli to the public, this under the watch of a  very absent, if not complicit  Council of mayors, when transit fare policy is supposed to be a political choice (to be decided by the council of mayors, not Translink on its own)



a rfid reader in Jianshui, China

We will pass on the lame excuse of the “new high tech technology” to justify all the troublef deployement of the Compass card. That could have been true in the 90s…Since then rfid systems have been deployed flawlessly in countless cities around the world: North America could have been slow to catch the trend, but that doesn’t make any excuse for Translink and its supplier to not deliver…and they didn’t,  as reminded by Stephen Rees.

Even the procurment contract seems to have been botched: Translink has pay Cubic for a solution (tap-in tap-out on buses) which doesn’ work




The recent system accessibility controversy

At first, one could think of it as another manufactured controversy. After all, even with the faregate, Translink will stay one of the most accessible transit system in the world: the overwhelmning majority of people in wheelchair will be still able to access the skytrain, indeed with the impediment of a fare gate: but as a barrier, it creates an impediment to everyone, so no much of a big deal…. However when the concerned people have very limited manual hand dexterity, the barrier can become an unpassable “wall”: Gated transit system around the world have staffed station, which enable them to handle those and other unforseen cases. Many people will rightfully ask: Don’t those people have anyway to use their hand to call a lift to access the platform? …not necessarily:


people with mobility challenge, including hand, can rely on diverse solution, to assist them. Pressing a  button can be a  relatively simple task for an assitance dog – tapping a card is another story


How much a Transit system needs to be accessible?

or should we be content with what we have, or should we pursue ever greater inclusion of people with mobility impairment?

The discussion is  deja vu: it used to be a not so distant time where buses, trams, and subway was not accessible at all to wheelchair…and old  subway system have to deal with the stigmate of such time. In Vancouver it was not judged necessary to install an elevator at Granville station until 2006.

Relevance to switch to low floor buses or trams was not considered obvious  up to very recently:  <em>yes they are accessible, but carry less people…and people in Wheelchair have access to specialiazed transportation such as Handydart, so why go to the expense to accomodate them on the main system? [1][2]

Many choices done as late as the 90’s, which compromised transit accessibility, on the altar of finance, could be politically not palatable nowadays, and it is a progress.

It is true that each time, we need to accomodate people with special needs, this has a cost (supported by the transit agency), but exclusionary solutions have also a social cost (not necessarily supported by the transit agency). so a right balance need eventually to be found, and at the end it should be a political choice (system accessibility is a political choice), not an adminsitrative one.

It appears  Translink didn’t foreseen any accesibility  issue with unattended faregate, in despite of its own 2005 fare gate study suggesting otherwise, or at least didn’t communicate publicly on such limitation [3].

Why this Translink accessibility issue popped-ip so lately?

The faregate has been there standing still for years now, and the controversy seem to have just popped up days before the scheduled closure of the gate! What has happening?

Are the disabled people associations guilty of not have warmed Translink soon enough or is it effectively a deliberate  Translink choice to not address the problem and not even mention it?

The second solution seems als the most likely:  The discontinuation of the integrated fare system has been hidden until presented as a “fait accompli”. It is likely a similar strategy has been pursuing here.

Is the accessibility problem solvable?

Technical and ergonomic solutions able to accomodate people with little or no hand ability in a dignified manner exist: you can see them at work at Whistler:


RFID check to access to the Whistler/Blackcomb lifts: this check doesn’t require any other action of the customer, than moving along the sensor, providing the RFID card is stocked in the right pocket.

It could have been fairly simple to have a  solution  where gates are activated by a compass card attached on the side of a wheelchair.  Obviously, when this come as an afterthought, the retrofitting of existing gate can be much more  complicated (hence expensive).

Why that has not been explored is a mystery: Translink seems fully accountable for it (unless it proves it could not be reasonnably aware of it, but the 2005 study tends to prove otherwise), and that give reason to its contemptors: why pour more taxpayer money on an organization running out of control?

Now, we are faced with the obvious: the infamous 2009 business case [2] presented by Translink to the council fo mayors to justify the fare gates, was unprofessional and worse, unethical. Only the Mayor of Burnaby openly critized it while  the council of mayors voted the fare gates program on the base of this disgracious business case.

This disgrace and the on going mismanagament of the Compass/fare gates implementation, mark a very low point for Translink and cast serious doubt on how much trust we should put in this organization.


At the end, one has to observe it is  under the impulse of the Province, that some people with mobility impairment will be still able to use the Skytrain… the council of mayors has stay silent, way too much silent on the topic …it’s also true all this fare gate debacle has unrolled under their watch!



[1] In fact, Low floor bus became a defacto standard in the transit world not so much because they are accessible than they in fact tunred out to provide greater productivity than high floor buses, due to fastwer baording/alighting.

[2] We have access only to a 2011 summary. as far as we know, Translink never publicly released the complete 2009 report.

[3] In fact , at the demand of the Council of mayors, Translinkissued a business case summary in 2011, which stay silent on the  limitation of the implemented solution, not only in term of accessibility, but also in term of fare integration ( fare issued on a bus can’t be used on the skytrain: a technology tradeoff  decided by Translink which is not presented in the business case either)


February 16, 2016

Notre Dame de Paris

Somedays, we will demolish Notre-Dame to enhance its parvis [2]

Old Hôtel-Dieu hospital -as photogrpahed by Charles Marville in 1865, in front of Notre Dame moved North of it in 1867

Maine Montparnasse

Then there is gare Montparnasse, the railroad station of the Bretons, which means the travelers are Bretons and consequently well known to Paris, whose population includes a large number of Bretons. This also means those who work in The station are Bretons and the neighborhood around the station is Breton. Lastly and most important […] this Breton railroad station is neglected by the power that be, as everything Breton. [1]

View toward Montparnasse railway station, in 1930...and in 2000 (the railway station has been replaced by an office tower in 1970)

[1] “The Assassination of Paris”, Louis Chevalier 1994. (from Original french edition: L’Assassinat de Paris, 1977)

[2] “Oeuvres illustrées de Victor Hugo, Volume 3, J.A Beauce, C Nateuil and Lancelot, Paris 1855

The 2015 referendum on Translink new sources of revenue initiated by the BC Province, has been painted by most of the observers as a leadership abdication on tough decisions to be taken by the Province, and as a double standard policy, where road investments, such as the Massey Tunnel replacement, are not submitted to referendum. That reading supposes to confound the referendum on new taxes with a referendum on new investments.

The BC Liberal government could have brought the referendum idea in an awkward way, but when it is time to introduce new sources of revenue, such as road pricing, referendums tend to be commonplace (e.g Stockholm, Edinburgh, Milan), or at the minimum, people give mandate to elected official through normal election process to do it (The London Congestion charge was a campaign promise of Ken Livingstone, Singapore is a city state…). All those respect a cornerstone value of our democratic systems: “no taxation without representation”.

Within the current Translink framework, Mayors have absolutely no mandate to introduce new taxes such as a sale tax (they have not been elected for that but they have all legitimacy to raise property taxes…)

To introduce new regional taxes, there is no other option than

  • to get approval of the provincial assembly, so that is put the region fate under control of mainly out of town MLA, and indirectly to a majority of people whose have no stake in it.
  • to hold a referendum, so putting the region fate directly in the hand of local people

Considering the general appetite for more direct and local democracy, the legislator should prepare for more direct input of people on the matter of regional taxes. That would infer more referendum to come.

However, if Translink is reformed, in such a way it is put under control of a directly elected regional assembly, this assembly would have the legitimacy to introduce new taxes for the region.

The real question, is then: how we get there?

The piano: Imagine

November 15, 2015

A guy, hauling a piano, on its bike in front of the Bataclan, the day after Paris attack


It’s to play “imagine” by John Lennon.

(this song has also been played on the piano, at the vigil this night in Vancouver, but the piano didn’t came by bike)

We refer here to the Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission report on congestion pricing, which received very large coverage in the medias, but also on Pricetags and the Stephen Rees blog.

We did a post series in 2011 on congestion pricing applied to Vancouver:

Frankly, I have failed to see a more comprehensive study since our 2011 series, putting hard number, and making “hard choice”. I am afraid the Ecofiscal report misses the mark too, however it is getting lot of media air, what can’t be a bad thing for advancing the congestion pricing case. We are going in a detailed analysis below:

The good

The report recommends a cordon pricing (in the form of a tolling of all water crossing in the region), something we have also recommended:

    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.

Such scheme seems to raise many opposition we had already noticed in 2011. The mood is to not oppose frontally 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

Those critics 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.
Some people are against road pricing, inferring it is unfair on the poor. - same could be said of pay parking, transit fare...

Some people are against road pricing, inferring it is unfair on the poor. – same could be said of pay parking, transit fare…

Of course, a cordon pricing is a cost/benefit trade off which is not perfect- driving from Langley to Ladner could be exempt of toll, when short haul using the Pattullo bridge could be… but the “choke point” are on the bridge not on the Highway 10… Of course the very idea of road pricing involve that poor people could also pay…but all the argument raised against also apply to:

  • Pay parking or gas tax
  • Transit fare, especially the zone system with its arbitrary boundary making the trip across the Fraser twice more expensive that the long trip from Langley to Ladner…

…and like the transit fare structure, the type of congestion pricing structure has not to be seen as permanent, but is a trade-off which can be reviewed in function of the technology progress.

The inescapable reality is that the road space is a scare resource, and so far the best known way to manage a scare resource is to put a price on it to align the demand with the offer. This can have some social and fairness implication: let’s address them, instead to use them as an excuse to do nothing.

The bad

The Ecofiscal report seems essentially geared for media consumption. Beside giving some air to the idea, what is already a lot, the report doesn’t seem as well researched as one could have expected, and it doesn’t bring any new element to the discussion. Data from [1] are mainly used afterward to make our points.

What is congestion?

Some, in their hostility to road pricing, don’t hesitate to argue, that road congestion is a good thing: doesn’t are vibrant and economically prosperous cities, crowded places? assuming that crowding is another word for congestion

It is not. here we take the pedestrian paradigm to illustrate the difference, since usually crowded pedestrian places are considered as a positive quality

pedestrian congestion in New York (left): people can't move freely and smoothly, traffic is typically stop and go and unpredictable: that is Level of Service F- heavy pedestrian crowding in Istanbul (right): it is dense traffic imposing slow speed, but still smooth and predictable moving: that is Level of Service E. Credit photos (2) and (3)

In the above examples: one could consider that the Istanbul picture is a desirable outcome for a place, the case is more difficult to be made with the New York picture. Transposing the above paradigm to the road traffic:

  • Busy roads are a desirable outcome, since it is a sign that the urban land space use is maximized
  • roads congested to a level where the traffic become not smooth and predictable is undesirable

Finding the desirable sweet spot is an exercise in itself, but generally speaking, people will agree that the congestion at the approach of the tunnel or the Pattullo bridge has well past its point of desirability. However we could have wished from the report a relatively clear definition of the researched “desirable” level of traffic.

Toll and Congestion Pricing

To clarify the conversation, it is critical to characterize what discriminate congestion pricing of other road tolling types. the report is at best fuzzy, and seems to mention the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges toll as examples of congestion pricing. They are not, they are here to finance an infrastructure. A typical Congestion toll varies according to the level of congestion -and eventually become free on low level of traffic (night and week-end). below are the 3 main types of road pricing.

tolling type Main objective toll structure classification typology
financing finance an infrastrcuture vehicle size | weight classification
environemental reduce pollution vehile emission classification
congestion reduce congestion time of day/day of week

It is also good to feature the different congestion pricing coverage types:

tolling type tolling method example
infrastructure vehicle using the infrastructure Sydney harbour bridge/tunnel, HOT
cordon vehicle crossing the cordon Stockolm, Milan
zone vehicle moving inside a zone London

Some other more comprehensive or “ideal” coverage, mainly relying on GPS, to price the exact trip could be under study, however, so far we are unaware of a deployed one: let’s keep down on earth and rely on proven collection methods

Congestion pricing scheme around the globe

it is good to come with a general overview of what is existing today, to identify some possible trend, category, all this to identify more successful model, but also to get a better understanding of some failures (the failed experiment of Hong Kong, modeled after the successful one of Singapore should deserve a explanation):

urban toll overview, graph/classification from (1)

urban toll overview, graph/classification from (1)

the graph above purposely excludes most of the american city using HOT, or the Toronto ETR407 (at considering its purpose is to relieve congestion, what is open to discussion), under the rational they are usually located in a suburban context

Congestion toll Effectiveness

Cordon or zone tolling tend to significantly reduce the congestion by 15 to 85% [1], the case is more moot for infrastructure tolling.

In short: The Toronto ETR407 could have lot of merit and purpose, but general experience shown such type of infrastructure doesn’t reduce existing congestion

A recurrent and unfounded critic is that congestion toll revenue doesn’t cover the toll collection operation. In that instance the Eco-fiscal report would have misreported some numbers on the Copenhagen congestion pricing operation (see [5] for more detail on it). However the trend is toward lower operating cost.

Case studies

In the context of Vancouver, Stockholm is an interesting case study since it seems to share many characteristics with Vancouver, and its congestion pricing model can be transposed to Vancouver. However, it could have been interesting to study the difference, such as in term of transit ridership, urban form, and tolling area.

toll area surface and ratio tolled area/urban area

toll area surface and ratio tolled area/urban area

For reference Vancouver alone is already 115km2: a cordon pricing using the Fraser crossing could make the Vancouver area the greater area subject to congestion pricing.
The implication of this could deserve further investigation. Notice that, in theory the bridges surrounding the downtown peninsula doesn’t support enough traffic to justify a congestion toll [6]


Beyond the technicalities of road pricing, the acceptability need to be studied: Stockholm having passed the test of the referendum after experimentation is a good starting point: [7] gives some pointer toward acceptability.

  • Benefits may turn out to be larger than anticipated. Several authors have noted that a major reason for the resistance to congestion charges is that they assume they will not work.
  • The downsides of charges – increased travel costs and/or changes in travel behaviour – may prove to be not as bad as expected. Once the charges are in place, many people may discover that the charges do not in fact affect them as much as they had thought
  • Once the charges are decided, resistance may decrease due to the psychological effect known as cognitive dissonance. A phenomenon that can be simply summarized as “accept the unavoidable”. In other words, once the charges are in place, it is less worthwhile spending energy on opposing them.
  • Familiarity with road user charging may reduce the general reluctance towards pricing a previously unpriced good. There is evidence that “people in many cases do not like prices as an allocation mechanism”, but once familiar with the concept that road space is in principle a scarce good that can be priced – much like parking space – this reluctance may tend to decrease.

One will notice that the above paradigm would apply to bike lane too!

[7] mentions also the “environmental card”. It should also be noticed that the transit offer has been increased in the experimental phase, however most of the added transit is “self financed” by increased transit revenue from higher ridership according to [5].

Milan and its referendum

The “environmental card” should bring us to Milan, Italy, where road pricing has originally been introduced in the objective to reduce the pollution. However in 2011, Milan got a referendum. the question was

Would you like to extend the toll zone to the whole city and to all vehicles categories to fund transit and other sustainable alternative to the car?

The answer has been a resounding yes: 80%!

Needless to say, Vancouver has one thing or 2 to learn from Milan, …and we could have expected some element of response from the Ecofiscal report.


The Ecofiscal report is short on the technicality and specific of the proposed congestion pricing sheme. It could have been good to past the generality and get some hard and substantiated numbers to help the conversation.
While the Ecofiscal report apropos suggests experimentation, it doesn’t substantiate the rational for it (more especially its importance for public acceptability). More generally, the report falls short on recommendations enabling the acceptability of road pricing by the public. It doesn’t bring a new narrative making the whole congestion pricing concept more “sellable” to the “commons”. However, its main merit has been its ability to gather tremendous media coverage triggering conversation on road pricing: so it is probably good enough

[1] “Etat de l’art sur le péages urbains” (in french), Ademe, June 20142014

[2] Flikr user “Howard Brier

[3] “The Pedestrianization of Historic Istanbul

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

[5] see the Cost-benefit analysis of the Stockholm congestion charging system, Jonas Eliasson, Transek AB, 2009. for more detail. This is inline with the used reference [4] in our 2011 post on the toll economics.

[6] see our previous post

[7] The Stockholm congestion charges – four years on. Effects, acceptability and lessons learnt, Maria Börjesson and al.