Translink has been surveying drivers who use the Golden Ears Bridge.

Translink has been surveying drivers who use the Golden Ears Bridge.

Where are you going? Why are you using the Golden Ears Bridge?

Translink survey drivers over the Victoria Day long weekend

TransLink is trying to solve the user puzzle so it went straight to the source on the Victoria Day weekend – motorists on the bridge. Lanes on the far right side in each direction were closed off with traffic cones, while people in bright, yellow vests with “slow” signs waved people over into the lanes. Once they had stopped, motorists were asked why they were using the bridge and where they were going. “We’re trying to get as good a handle as to why the Golden Ears Bridge is being used as possible,” spokesman Drew Snider explained Tuesday. About half a dozen questions were in the “origin-destination” survey and as of Sunday, about 3,000 motorists had answered the questions. That method was preferred over online surveys or mail-in questionnaires, “largely because we find that’s the best way to get the information, just by catching them as they’re doing it.” He didn’t know exactly what questions were asked or the hours the poll was taken. If motorists didn’t want to participate they were marked down as no, and “off they go.” Snider heard at least one complaint from a motorist who was stuck in the lineup, even if they didn’t take the survey, while media reports also aired that concern. He didn’t know if TransLink would try to do the questioning again. TransLink is struggling to find a way to increase use of the bridge so that toll revenues get closer to projections. The survey took place on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, on the second-to-last weekend of the variable toll project. It ends this month. As part of it, fares were discounted 30 per cent in the evenings after 7 p.m. and on weekends. Car tolls dropped from $2.80 to $1.95 for transponder-equipped vehicles. Two questions drivers were asked were whether people were using the bridge before the April 15 start of the discount toll project and if the bridge had changed their travel habits. Everyone who was stopped, whether they answered or not, was given a $2 Tim Hortons gift card. “We really appreciate that because that’s going to help everybody, really.” TransLink is also trying to boost use of the bridge as the number of crossings falls below expectations. Average daily use is about 25,000 trips, whereas projections from 2004 called for between 30,000 and 40,000 crossings every day. TransLink’s budget calls for toll revenue to climb to $37.8 million from $30 million in 2010, the bridge’s first full year of operations. But it will have to pay $71 million this year for debt servicing and contractor payments. Spokesman Ken Hardie said previously that TransLink can absorb the $30-million-plus shortfall and that the variable tolling is one of the strategies expected to increase use and prevent having to cut other programs to make the bridge payments. Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said people still be resisting tolled bridges and admits, “I thought it would be busier, sooner.” But it’s the first toll bridge in the Lower Mainland in 30 to 40 years. “I think in five to 10 years, it’s going to be forgotten.” Some people still drive around using either the Mission Bridge or Port Mann to save the $2.80 toll. “I guess there’s some resistance to tolls and if you go back to eastern Canada there’s lots of tolls.” He questioned why the tolls were removed from the Coquihalla Highway said tolls should be considered on the Sea to Sky Highway. “Why not look at it?” Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean has similar thoughts. “Realistically, I think every bridge should be tolled.” Once the new Port Mann Bridge opens, which also will be tolled, then more motorists will use the Golden Ears Bridge, he added. Rising gasoline prices and the opening of the new Port Mann Bridge, which will have tolls, in 2012 are also expected to increase use of the Golden Ears Bridge.