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Proposed tolls in Vancouver a 'war on cars', Canadian Taxpayers Federation says

Last Updated Oct 28, 2020 at 8:22 am PST

Summary

New staff report floats tolls into part of Vancouver as option to gain revenue to fund climate emergency response

Canadian Taxpayers Federation calls toll proposal in Vancouver a 'cash grab'

Proposal to introduce tolls to certain parts of Vancouver is included in city's Climate Emergency Action Plan

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A pitch to charge drivers to enter parts of Vancouver has people clutching their wallets as city staff ask council to accelerate some of its key climate goals.

The idea to introduce tolls on vehicles heading into the core of Vancouver, as part of the Climate Emergency Action Plan, is expected to be in front of city council next week.

The 371-page report suggests that by 2025, mobility pricing could be the primary source of funding for climate emergency response and new methods of sustainable transportation.

Critics say the move is fleecing taxpayers and unfairly targets people who have to drive while proponents argue the move will reduce congestion and emissions, and save the economy billions.

Langley city councillor Nathan Pachal acknowledges people who live in the suburbs don’t have a lot of options to get around.

“So transit improvements need to happen beforehand. Walking and cycling improvements need to happen beforehand and then you can have a discussion about mobility pricing.”

The report acknowledges the importance of an equitable transportation system and the need to improve all mobility methods.

Pachal, who has long advocated for sustainable urban development, says mobility pricing has the potential to address climate change and free up the roads for more economic potential.

“If you look at where congestion pricing, mobility pricing has been implemented, it’s reduced the amount of vehicles, so that has a measurable impact on our greenhouse gases,” he says.

“Goods can move quicker, trades can move quicker and since we’re a major port region, it ensures we can remain economically competitive,” adds Pachal.

Kris Sims with the Canadian Taxpayers Federations says COVID-19 has taken too big a chunk out of people’s income for the plan to make sense right now.

“These costs would be unaffordable for most average working people,” the CTF spokesperson says.

“Many of us, myself included, have seen big salary reductions because of the COVID-19 economic crisis. Many people have lost their jobs. We hear from business owners all the time who are just hanging on. And to have such a really hard ideological staff report coming out of the bureaucrats at Vancouver City Hall at this time, it’s not a good idea.”

How do we pay to get around?

Metro Vancouver has grown rapidly and the demand for alternative transportation, including walking, biking, and transit, has increased. However, the question of how to pay for better service remains unanswered.

TransLink has been touting the need for an alternative stream of capital and operational funding as its current model is tied to the $0.17/litre gas tax, which decreases each year as fewer people drive and more people choose electric vehicles.

The fear of declining gas-tax revenue and demand for transit improvements were central arguments during the lead-up to the 2015 transportation referendum.

In that event, voters turned down the additional half-percent sales tax that would have be dedicated to transportation development and the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year-plan.

Thus, mobility pricing was one of the few options left on the table after the Mayors’ Council lost its 2015 bid.

In 2018, the Independent Mobility Pricing Commission released a report that suggested further study was needed.

“It is easy to characterize a decongestion charge as a “money grab” or “just another tax.” The paradox is that the less you charge, the more it would be just that. The charge needs to be set at a level sufficient to unlock the considerable benefits of reduced congestion and more efficient mobility,” wrote the commission’s chair, Alan Seckel, at the time.

The section called Round 3 in the independent report on economic benefits is a difficult read and certainly not in layman’s terms.

It lays out multiple scenarios (distance based, check-point based, and bridge based) of mobility pricing.

“There is a fundamental trade-off between congestion reduction and out-of-pocket costs. At charge rates sufficient to meaningfully reduce congestion, out-of-pocket costs to households are potentially significant,” reads the report.

The authors note other jurisdictions have taken up to as many as eight attempts at drafting a pricing structure and tolling method before settling on a plan. The commission says it believes any road pricing should have an economic net-benefit and attempt to reduce out-of-pocket costs.

The Round 3 scenarios were considerably more refined than the Round 1 and 2 scenarios. However, it is important to note that reaching an optimal scenario will require multiple rounds of iteration

Burrard to Clark, Lions Gate to 16th Ave

The proposed tolls would apply to drivers entering the “Metro Core” and staff note that further technical research and consultation would be required to figure out anything that actually resembles a full-blown plan.

“Transport pricing is most effective when combined with added capacity for walking/rolling, cycling and transit, so we need to plan to complement transport pricing with safe, convenient and affordable transportation modes,” the Vancouver city staff report reads.

If implemented by 2025, mobility pricing could rake in tens of millions of dollars each year for the city, according to staff’s estimates. However, the same report lays out a funding gap for initial operating costs of implementing Climate Emergency Action Plan.

Staff estimate the first five years of implementation and work to cost $500 million and have identified $270 million in potential funding.

“This leaves a significant funding gap of ~$230 million (roughly $45 million per year)…As we strive to reduce city-wide carbon pollution at five times the rate we achieved over the past decade, the City will need to deploy a broad suite of regulatory, advocacy/partnership, and investment tools, while also developing new sources of funding,” the report reads.

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