Tolls are rising 15 cents to $3.15 per crossing to use the Port Mann Bridge.
The province’s Transportation Investment Corp. said the increase from $3 for small vehicles effective Aug. 15 is required to keep up with the costs of operating and maintaining the Port Mann/Highway 1 improvement project and repaying the debt.
The bridge opened in late 2012 with a one-year half-price discount for users that signed onto the TReO electronic payment system early enough.
Tolls had not been raised since then.
“There will be nominal increases from time to time,” TI Corp. CEO Irene Kerr said.
TransLink also raised the toll on the Golden Ears Bridge earlier this summer, but the increase there was not as much – five cents to $3.05 per crossing.
The Port Mann increase comes after a revised TI Corp. financial outlook made public earlier this year showed annual operating losses had climbed above $100 million per year because the number of drivers using the bridge and the resulting toll revenue has not met original forecasts.
But Kerr rejected suggestions that was a driver of this summer’s toll hike.
“We’re right on track for meeting our financial obligations and paying back the debt,” Kerr said.
The total project debt has climbed to $3.6 billion from an initial project cost of $3.3 billion and 2014 actually saw a 3.9 per cent decrease in Port Mann bridge use.
TI Corp. expects improved performance in future years.
Traffic has been up so far in 2015. There were 112,300 crossings per day on average in June, up 5.6 per cent from the same month a year earlier and up 3.1 per cent from June 2013.
Kerr was unable to provide any guidance on the pace of toll increases motorists should expect in future years.
“Our goal has been to keep the toll as low as possible and minimize increases,” Kerr said.
NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena said drivers continue to pay the price for a project that has failed to meet expectations.
“The forecast in 2006 was for almost 149,000 daily crossings by 2013,” she said. “The actual crossings are nowhere near that.”
Higher tolls may drive use down further, worsening the financial picture and the congestion at free crossings, Trevena said.
She said the province should give drivers “fair warning” of how tolls are expected to rise in the future, as BC Ferries has done by telegraphing its intent to raise fares two per cent in each of the next four years.
“There was no plan or strategy here. This toll increase came completely out of the blue.”
The TI Corp. is charged with ensuring the project costs are paid off by 2050, when tolls on the bridge are supposed to end.
Medium vehicles – cars with trailers, cube vans and motor homes – will now pay $6.30 per crossing instead of $6, while larger vehicles like commercial trucks and buses will pay $9.45 instead of $9. The toll for motorcycles rises from $1.50 to $1.60.
The tolls are what registered TReO users pay because their vehicle’s decal is automatically detected and their account is charged. Non-TReO vehicles pay an additional billing fee that reflects the costs of scanning their licence plates and mailing out paper bills.
More than 1.5 million vehicles are registered with TReO, about two-thirds of all vehicles in Metro Vancouver.
NEW TOLLS EFFECTIVE AUG. 15