congestion pricing

This week on the movmi blog we will be addressing the implementation of mobility pricing in the region of Vancouver, which includes transit fares, bridge tolls, road usage charges (congestion pricing) and fees for any other services involved in the movement of people and goods.

Metro Vancouver is an ever expanding area. By 2040 there are expected to be around a million more residents and half a million new jobs. This growth in population brings challenges, one of which is providing urban dwellers with efficient, affordable, and sustainable transportation.

We will look at city based initiatives and research such as COV ‘six big moves’ and TransLink50 as well as some discussion points from our last Mobility Mingler which was under Chatham House rules. We will see how congestion pricing (CP) will shape the future and success of these projects. We will review current pilot schemes in other countries implementing mobility pricing strategies and how it affects both public and private mobility services.

VANCOUVER CONGESTION PRICING: The Future of mobility in the city

congestion pricing
Source: – Gabriel Santiago

Vancouver’s Mobility Pricing Report

On May 24th 2018, the TransLink Board of Directors and Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation received the final report from the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission. The report showed that mobility pricing will provide a long-term, sustainable and transformative way of meeting the region’s future transportation challenges. The main questions and concerns the report addressed were focused on fairness, affordability, technology, and costs.

Mobility pricing is integrated using price signals in a way that can manage congestion and encourage the use of different modes of transportation. Decongestion charging addresses this by charging more to drive at busy times of the day or in heavily congested areas. Congestion pricing has three objectives:

  • Reduce congestion
  • Reduce Green House Gas Emissions and
  • Create another revenue stream.

When designing mobility pricing for the Metro Vancouver, two ideas were explored and shared within the report. Implementation of;

  • A regional congestion point charge with charge points at or near, some or all of the regionally important crossings, complemented by further point charges at locations within the Burrard Peninsula; and,
  • A distance-based charge based on vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) with two or more zones with varying charge rates throughout Metro Vancouver.

Both concepts showed promising results within the report but both require more analysis, including further study of the potential for decongestion charging to coordinate with transit fares and other forms of mobility pricing.


Other cities around the world have implemented decongestion charging to combat their congestion problems including London, Stockholm, Milan, and Singapore as well as Pilot projects in Oregon, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

The mobility pricing report acknowledged lessons and successes from these schemes, such as:

  • Reduced traffic congestion by 15-20% using well-designed and implemented decongestion charging.
  • Travel times and journeys have been decreased.
  • There has been a shift in the way people use transportation: Carpool and car share users have increased as well the use of public transit systems and individual smaller vehicles methods, like bikes/motorcycles.
  • All the systems studied have produced revenues that can be reinvested in public transit or used to reduce other costs of driving.
  • Other benefits have included improved public health, air quality and safety and a reduction in car accidents.


congestion pricing transit
Source: – Diego Mazz

The Mobility Pricing Report addresses how to increase public health and the City of Vancouver pushes this agenda with their recently released ‘Six Big Moves’ Report. The strategies outlined in the report would help Vancouver reduce 1.2 million tonnes of carbon pollution by 2030.

To meet this goal, Vancouver needs to drop 92,000 tonnes per year over the next ten years. To reach this, the city’s climate change department has developed six moves/actions, three of which focus on the transportation systems within the city.

  1. A walkable city. Vancouver aims to create more “complete neighbourhoods” that allow people to walk/bike to their work/school/parks/shops easily.
  2. Safe and convenient transportation and transit. By 2030, the city aims to have two-thirds of all trips in Vancouver made using public transit, biking or walking. Residents will be encouraged to do so when the city adds 500 electric bikes and charging stations to public bike share scheme, Mobi by ShawGo.
  3. Pollution-free cars, trucks and buses. By 2030, the COV aims to have 50% of all trips to be done in electric vehicles. To achieve this, a large amount of charging infrastructure needs to be rolled out across the city as well as zero emission zones that may discourage residents from driving polluting vehicles. Vancouver also aims to allow car share vehicles to park free at meters.


TransLink is also leading the development of Transport 2050, a strategy that will help shape the next 30 years of transportation within the region. Climate change and new technologies are creating new opportunities and problems that need to be considered by all major cities. The project timeline will consist of three phases:

  1. Public Opinions & Idea (May – Sep 2019)
  2. Consideration of Trade-offs (Early 2020)
  3. Creation of Transportation (Late 2020)

The key components of future transportation that need to be addressed are:

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES: Automated vehicles are already being tested in cities around the world. In just two decades, most passenger vehicles sold in North America could be capable of self-driving.

INTEGRATED TRANSPORTATION: In just a few years, vehicles of all types will be able to communicate with each other increasing reliability and convenience. By 2025, it is expected that all new road vehicles will be capable of communicating in some way.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES: By law, all new vehicles sold by 2040 in British Columbia must have zero tailpipe emissions.

SHARED MOBILITY: Instead of personal cars, shared scooters, bikes, and cars are starting to become common in most cities around the world. Worth over $1 billion per year, Canada’s sharing economy is on the rise.

It will be important for a congestion pricing system that takes into consideration future mobility practices and how new technologies will affect ridership levels and vehicles numbers, particularly autonomous vehicles. Creating a system that is fair across all household incomes within the region, is vital for public support.


The Mobility Pricing report found that the main concerns the public have regarding congestion pricing are the costs and the impacts for equity. The discussion at movmi’s last Mobility Mingler  (under Chatham House Rules) showed that an estimated $1billion could be generated in the region per year through congestion pricing. That’s equal to the annual TransLink operating budget.

However, the best way to ensure that congestion pricing is equitable, is to make sure revenues from new tolls support better transit systems and not just build more roads and highways. Perhaps a solution could be offering discounted transit fares in response to congestion pricing. Many cities, such as Seattle, Denver, New York already offer discounted transit fares to low-income people.


The speakers at the Mobility Mingler agreed that congestion pricing is also a revenue generation tool that neither TransLink or the City of Vancouver can implement alone.

In order for a congestion pricing strategy to be successful and effective, it would need to be a policy set province wide. The City of Vancouver has tools that can be used on a smaller scale and collect data, but not the authority to implement pricing. However Vancouver can promote a pilot and use that to push bigger legislation within British Columbia, a recent example being the autonomous shuttle.

HOW SHOULD congestion pricing BE IMPLEMENTED?

stockholm congestion pricing

The Mobility Pricing report estimates that a 25% reduction in traffic could be achieved in the Vancouver region by utilizing congestion pricing. This all hinges on successful implementation and a well designed system. Exactly how should CP be rolled out in the area?

During the Mobility Mingler it was suggested that – no matter if it’s a toll bridge, a cordon approach or a VKT system – technology plays a key role in the implementation of Congestion Pricing.

stockholm case study

In Stockholm, congestion pricing is a fully automatic fee payment system through number plate recognition by cameras. The car owner is then sent a monthly invoice for the total tax incurred during the month, which they can then pay by mail, electronically, or via direct debit. The cordon area is 35 square kilometers.

After the initial few weeks of the new system, the decrease in traffic volumes across the cordon during the trial period stabilized around 22% compared to 2005 levels, resulting in congestion reductions around 30-50%.

singapore case study

Singapore was the first city to pioneer road pricing with the first cordon scheme established in 1975. Today, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority operates a newer system. The ERP scheme is fully automatic on specific routes, times of day, and directions, with variable pricing designed to respond to congestion in real time.

The Singapore Land Transport Authority showed that by 2015, average daily traffic entering the inner city was only 300,400 vehicles and in the same year, the daily ridership on public transportation was 2.7 million trips. Revenues from ERP have supported public transit, street safety, and transit-oriented development. An example of this is Singapore’s expanded the bus and rail system and intermodal transit hubs around the city.

Successful implementation of congestion pricing within the Vancouver will hopefully encourage people to use public transportation and shared systems more frequently and show successful results like Stockholm or Singapore. Speakers at Mobility Mingler commented that a distance-based congestion pricing scheme is the way to go for Vancouver as it doesn’t punish infrequent users of personal vehicles. One idea discussed was a distance and time based pilot with a tiered launch: initially shared mobility providers could be subject to CP because they already have technology in place to record time and distance of trips. Learnings from such a pilot would then guide implementation of the public scheme.

WHO SHOULD BE EXEMPT from congestion pricing?

Reducing their amount of car/road trips to decrease congestion is the main aim for the implementation of CP. But most cities allow for exemption: London f.i. many vehicles (taxis, buses, commercial vehicles, even Uber) do not pay the charge at all while local residents receive a 90% discount, meaning only about 30% of vehicles actually pay the charge. New York on the other hand, only has two exceptions for emergency vehicles and vehicles carrying people with disabilities (how those will be identified has not been decided). What metrics should be measured for such exemptions? 

For carpooling, such as Poparide, that measure vehicle occupancy. According to the speakers at the Mobility Mingler, the number of occupants of a vehicle should not affect the price charged. There is still one car on the road. However, the cost per person will be lower if the charge is shared amongst the occupants – particularly in a distance-based pricing system.

In current CP pilot schemes, such as London, cars capable of achieving zero emissions – such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles are also exempt from congestion charges. This will be changing in 2021 again when only full EVs will quality for exemption. If the city of Vancouver hopes to reduce its carbon emissions in the next decade, this could be a solution. The attendees of the Mobility Mingler observed that the electrification of vehicles within the city would not help with the current congestion problems, as an electric car is still, after all, a car. Therefore EVs should be subject to the congestion charges as well. However, as there is a push to encourage residents to drive electric vehicles to help with air pollution and quality, one option would be to offer discounts on any congestion charges that are introduced.

This article and the latest movmi Mobility Mingler only scratched the surface of this topic and we will continue to look at congestion pricing and how it may impact shared mobility in the future.

Do you have a specific topic that impacts shared mobility that you’d like to see covered in our trend series? Tell us about it here.


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