Some drivers

Some drivers

Few trying to evade tolls on Golden Ears

Cover your licence plate with mud or shiny plastic – get a free ride across the Golden Ears Bridge – providing the cops don’t catch you.

But most motorists are paying their way, helping cover the costs of the new span that for the first time joined Maple Ridge to Langley in 2009.

“The fact is, very, very few people are doing it, which means believe it or not, even in this day and age, the vast majority of people are pretty outstanding and honest,” said TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie.

Hardie said without a visible licence plate or numbers, the cameras which track vehicles that don’t have transponders can’t identify the vehicles, and thus no billing can be done.

“The plate is the key,” Hardie said. “If the plate can’t be read, the bill can’t be sent.

Hardie didn’t have exact numbers on dollars lost to fare cheaters on the bridge.

“We’re gratified it remains low.

“I wouldn’t say it’s not a concern. Obviously when somebody tries to cheat the system, everybody pays for that.”

Langley RCMP recently did a two-day blitz, checking for altered or obscured licence plates.

Their findings confirmed what TransLink seems to say: the number of fare evaders is low.

After a total of five hours looking for evaders, Sgt. Gerard Sokolowski, with Langley RCMP, said they found only two motorists trying to beat the system, in both cases by putting clear plastic covers over their licence plates.

“We thought we’d find a lot of plate covers, but we didn’t encounter that.”

While clear plastic is fine for reading plates at street level, the shiny material makes it difficult for cameras to read at high angles, from the sensor gantries located at each end of the bridge. Under the law, anything that obstructs a camera is obscuring the plate, so it has to be removed.

“We don’t see it as a huge problem. It wasn’t a huge issue when we were there.”

Cops also found 10 vehicles with only rear licence plates and dump trucks with dirty plates that were difficult to read.

Hardie said that under the tolling legislation, vehicles must have both plates.

Motorists from outside of B.C., however, still get a break. There’s no arrangement for fare collection with agencies in other jurisdictions, so motorists from Alberta to Newfoundland cross for free.

“If you’re from out of province, the bill will not find you.”

As with any checkstop, the Langley one turned up other infractions.

In a two-hour period, officers wrote 35 tickets for everything from failing to have a driver’s licence, distracted driving (cellphones), cracked or tinted windows and not wearing seatbelts.

According to Ridge Meadows RCMP, all three detachments are working with TransLink on a Golden Ears Bridge anti-evasion enforcement campaign, but that hasn’t started yet.

Ridge Meadows RCMP say some motorists are removing their plates before driving beneath the toll gantry, then stopping mid-span to put them back on.

With vehicle traffic on the bridge down from projections, traffic is generally light on the Golden Ears span, unless an accident has jammed traffic.

But there haven’t been many of those.

“We’ve not had a serious collision or a fatality since the bridge opened,” said Sokolowski.

Langley and Ridge Meadows RCMP share policing duties on the bridge.

The bridge does see its share of speeders, often zooming down the off ramps. “Every time we do it we end up with quite a few in the excessive range,” said Surrey Sgt. Phil Hasenpflug. His detachment will work speed traps on the Surrey sections of the bridge’s off ramps, and do joint operations on the bridge with Langley RCMP.