Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority has created a stir with the disclosure that tolling revenues on the Golden Ears Bridge, which have been below expectations since the bridge opened in 2009, are falling even further behind. After hopeful signs in 2012, the public subsidy on the bridge is going up, not down.
This is significant because the Golden Ears is the first modern-era toll bridge in urban British Columbia. The bridge was supposed to introduce a user-pay system for the funding of roads and bridges.
We’re embarked on a long-term trend that Golden Ears Bridge planners probably underestimated when they ran the traffic forecasts ten or fifteen years ago. I’ve referred before on this site to the decline of driving in North America, and this decline is continuing. A new state-by-state analysis from the US Federation of Public Interest Research Groups sees an unbroken eight-year decline in per capita miles driven in the United States. In Washington state, a kind of mirror to B.C.across the border, per capita driving has dropped by 5.5 per cent since 2005 and 9 per cent since 1999. This is not the end of driving, but it means the revenue curve for road and bridge tolls is increasingly far from what was predicted.
Vancouver transportation blogger Stephen Rees has written on how the decline of driving will depress fuel tax revenues, another key source of transportation authority revenues. Mr. Rees draws in turn on an an article from NewGeography.com, which offers 11 not always consistent reasons for the decline of driving. Here are my own ideas on what’s causing the trend, entirely subjective:
- Shopping from home.
- A general perception that fuel costs are high, and may rise further, causing working-age people to look for employment closer to home, or to move their homes closer to work.
- Working from home.
- An ageing population, less likely to drive long distances for entertainment and less likely to drive for fun.
NewGeography makes the point that the North American automobile market achieved something like saturation in the 2000s, after a very long period when the number of cars per thousand population was rising. Everyone who wants a car now has a car, and we can only drive one car at a time.