$4 million in unpaid Golden Ears Bridge tolls

Delay expected, but interest charges are adding up.

TransLink tried a pilot project last year, reducing tolls in off hours, but it didn’t generate significantly more traffic.

TransLink tried a pilot project last year, reducing tolls in off hours, but it didn’t generate significantly more traffic.

Many motorists using the Golden Ears Bridge would rather pay later, about $4 million worth, and are waiting till their car insurance becomes due before paying their fares.

“For whatever reason, they don’t seem too worry about paying the interest on the overdue amounts and they just let it roll and, finally, they just clear it up,” said Ken Hardie of TransLink.

“It’s a phenomenon that exists because of the electronic toll system.”

While people don’t have to slow down to pay tolls to cross the bridge, they can delay paying their bills, which they get in the mail, and which are subject to two-per-cent monthly interest charges.

Hardie said it was expected that some people would delay paying, although the agency would rather people pay sooner, rather than later, and is looking at ways to encourage that.

The outstanding amount is part of the learning process for the public-private partnership that saw completion of the $808-million bridge in July 2009.

The $4 million in outstanding fares fluctuates month to month, he added, and doesn’t affect the financial plans for the bridge.

And it’s no different than “any other commercial enterprise which has receivables.”

But it’s not a concern given the provision that motorists have to pay up when they renew their vehicle insurance with ICBC. The insurance company will refuse to re-insure if motorists have more than $25 outstanding in unpaid bridge tolls.

Hardie said average daily ridership has climbed to within the low range of the 30,000 to 40,000 daily crossings that were projected in 2004.

In August, the daily average crossing hit 29,500, up by about 3,000 the previous year.

“We are at the low end of projections, that’s quite clear.”

TransLink’s budget called for toll revenue to climb to $37.8 million in 2011, from $30 million in 2010 – the bridge’s first full year of operations.

In August, for the first time in a monthly period, more than 900,000 (916,400) motorists used the bridge.

Hardie said even if there’s a revenue shortfall, the bridge is still being paid for, mostly by the users of the bridge rather than taxpayers. “We still have a bridge that’s being substantially paid for by the people who use it.”

The opening of the new Port Mann Bridge either late this year or early next could also increase use of the Golden Ears Bridge. The new Port Mann will be tolled, removing a toll-free alternative to the Golden Ears.

“I think there will be some pretty good ripple effects coming out of that,” Hardie said.

TransLink tried a pilot project last year, reducing tolls in off hours, but it didn’t generate significantly more traffic.

Current tolls are $2.90 for vehicles with transponders and $4.10 for those without.p