The Golden Ears Bridge is doing better, but still not good enough.
About 12 per cent more vehicles used the tolled Golden Ears Bridge in the first quarter of this year, says TransLink.
The extra 260,000 crossings raised another $750,000 from tolls, compared to the same period of 2011.
TransLink has struggled to raise awareness of the Golden Ears and persuade drivers to pay to cross the bridge, which opened in 2009 but has not attracted as much traffic as originally forecast.
Nearly 9.8 million vehicles crossed the toll bridge in 2011 – up 12.6 per cent from about 8.7 million in 2010 – but well short of TransLink’s budget target of 10.5 million.
The tolls generated $33.7 million in 2011, about $4 million less than projected.
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin admits the acceptance of the tolled bridge has been disappointing.
But the shortfalls are decreasing, he pointed out.
“The year before, it was farther than that. There’s no one simple thing, it’s the economy, it’s the aversion to tolls. They still think they can save money by driving around. I thought that the uptake on it would be more immediate because we’ve been waiting for years for a bridge to Langley.”
But it’s a long-term project, just like the Lion’s Gate Bridge, he pointed out. “I’m still convinced that the Golden Ears Bridge, long-term, it’s all going to be worth it.”
It’s the first tolled bridge in the Lower Mainland in modern times, he added. “It’s going to grow, the usage of it.”
Motorists with a TransLink transponders pay $2.90 per crossing and $4.10 if they’re not registered and have no transponder. A middle rate of $3.45 is also available.
Pitt Meadows Coun. Janis Elkerton says TransLink should try variable rates, for an extended period, to try to change driver behaviour, just like it took people a while to start using the West Coast Express.
TransLink briefly experimented with variable tolls last year.
She says the standard rates should apply in rush hours, while fares for crossing on weekends and evenings should be a dollar or two cheaper.
Smaller tolls of about $2 should be applied on every Lower Mainland bridge such as the Lions Gate Bridge, Ironworkers Memorial and Alex Fraser bridges, she added.
“So everybody has to pay their fair share.”
It’s not fair to slap tolls on to Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge residents when there are no real alternatives, Elkerton said.
“We really don’t have a lot of bus service in the area.”
TransLink expects the Golden Ears numbers to improve in 2013, after the new Port Mann Bridge opens with tolls and ceases to be a free crossing.
Elkerton agrees. Motorists are still driving through Coquitlam dodging the tolls, she said.
TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said the first quarter numbers were helped in part because of fewer snowy days prompting motorists to stay off the roads and drivers choosing the Golden Ears to avoid construction elsewhere.
“More and more motorists are discovering the value of the Golden Ears Bridge as a much-needed direct link across the Fraser River,” he added.
The Golden Ears Bridge is built to last 100 years.
– with files from Jeff Nagel