I’m old enough to remember the episode of The Simpsons when Homer Simpson, after 22 minutes of serial idiocy, wraps up the show by proudly declaring: “Marge, my friend, I haven’t learned a thing.”
Well, it seems that BC’s transportation officials are now treating The Simpsons as an instruction manual.
As I pointed out a few months back, British Columbia’s transportation planners have long been nursing a delusion that traffic across the Port Mann bridge will magically start to soar any day now…even though actual travel across the span has trended downward for the better part of a decade.
And they’ve apparently done it again:
There are 5,000 to 6,000 fewer cars a day on the bridge, compared to traffic prior to the toll being introduced a year ago, said Todd Stone…”But we expect is that those numbers will bounce back as people really sort it out, and determine: how much is their time worth?”
Revenue forecasts for the next three years are being adjusted to 20 per cent lower than first anticipated: to $144 million for fiscal 2014, $159 million for 2015 and $174 million for 2016.
So revenue is down by 20 percent…but still projected to rise rapidly in the next few years!
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I have yet to see the official traffic forecasts underlying those revenue projections. But I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that they’re projecting that revenue will rise in step with traffic volumes. Port Mann tolls don’t vary with the time of day—a car pays $3 to cross the span, whether it’s at rush hour or the dead of night. And tolls are slated to rise only at the pace of inflation, capped at 2.5 percent. Reverse-engineering the traffic forecasts, along with estimates of traffic trends over the past two years, I get this chart:
Just to be clear, the light blue dotted line may not be perfectly accurate. I haven’t accounted for changes in the mix of motorcycles and heavy trucks, or any shifts in enforcement or other toll revenue. Nor do I know what inflation rate the province is expecting. (I plugged in 2 percent into my estimates.)
Still, I bet that the blue line is pretty close. And if it is, it reveals something truly remarkable: rather than adjusting their their forecasts to match reality, BC’s transportation officials doubled down on projections that have repeatedly been proven wrong.
Marge, they haven’t learned a thing.
To be perfectly fair, this chart ought to be combined with the Pattullo Bridge chart which will show considerable increase in traffic on that bridge. (The two bridges are partial substitutes.) The total is still short of the estimates, but not by as much. However this chart does show in spades how price sensitive many travelers are. The toll is less than the price of a two-zone bus ticket, yet that is enough for many people diverted to the Pattullo. Goes to show that the toll to build over-sized infrastructure will reduce usage to the point that a new structure isn’t needed.
If/when Pattullo is replaced with a new tolled bridge, some of the traffic will switch back to the Port Mann, but the Ministry of Transportation still needs new models.
Agreed! I was actually pondering a longer post with the Pattullo trends, but it turns out that I couldn’t find much data for the decade prior to Nov. 2012. There’s daily data since then (with a few key anomalies that make trend-spotting hard).
Still, it’s clear that traffic on the Pattullo has grown pretty substantially over the last few years. It looks like there’s a quick bump after each toll…but that traffic may have grown steadily throughout 2013, as the toll was in effect. Weirdly, traffic volumes seemed to go up on the Pattullo more than they went down on Port Mann — which may suggest that total crossings on the corridor are on the rise, and that there’s something other than diversion going on there.
But if you, or anyone, have data prior to Nov 2012 for the Pattullo, I’d love to see it! I found some numbers for the 1950s through 1990s, but nothing during the 2000s.