Soon, motorists will no longer have to pay a levy to cross the Fraser River in the eastern suburbs of Vancouver.
That's because Premier John Horgan has fulfilled an NDP campaign promise and declared that tolls will be removed from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.
"This is just one of many steps we'll be taking in the coming weeks and months to make life easier for families throughout British Columbia," Horgan said.
The tolls will be lifted effective midnight on August 31. Those in arrears will still have to pay these fees.
Horgan claimed this will save families approximately $1,500 per year and save commercial motorists $4,500 or more per year.
Taxpayers will now carry the debt for the Port Mann Bridge, which connects Coquitlam with Surrey.
In the meantime Horgan said the province is in negotiations with TransLink over how to cover revenue shortfalls caused by the elimination of tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge. It connects Pitt Meadows with Langley.
"Many people have been travelling out of their way to avoid tolls because they simply cannot afford them," the premier claimed. "Getting rid of tolls will shorten commute times and clear up other routes, so people can spend less time stuck in traffic and more time with their families."
His key talking point was the unfairness of some motorists having to pay these tolls whereas drivers are not charged fees for crossing bridges in other parts of the region.
It costs $3.15 for each car, SUV, and pickup truck to cross Port Mann Bridge. The price doubles for vehicles with a trailer or motorhome, and commercial vehicles must pay $9.45 per crossing.
The province budgeted to lose about $90 million this year because existing toll revenue wasn't going to be sufficient to pay down the debt for the $3.3-billion bridge.
It costs $3.25 to $4.45 for cars to cross the Golden Ears Bridge, which has lost $35 million to $45 million annually in recent years.
Weaver slams end of tolls
Advocates of bridge tolls, including B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver, say these fees help reduce congestion and cut emissions by curbing unnecessary demand on bridges. In addition, imposing tolls makes users pay for costly public infrastructure.
This is why Weaver has described the elimination of tolls on the two bridges as a "reckless policy".
“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern," the B.C. Green leader said in a statement. "However, this policy is high cost and low impact.
"There are lots of good, high return-on-investments decisions that government can make, such as education, student housing and child care," Weaver continued. "It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt. Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs."