On Thursday, the Eno Transportation Centre presented another of their webinars, this one with an irresistible title:
The webinar hosts three authors from the UCLA Luskin Centre for History and Policy who summarize the results of a just-released study:
We examined a century of programs to reduce congestion and found that several strategies were pursued over and over again in different eras. Los Angeles repeatedly built new street, highway, and transit capacity, regulated drivers and vehicle traffic flows, increased the use of information about traffic conditions, and controlled land use to influence traffic.
So what were the consequences? No surprise, but here’s the spoiler anyway:
Congestion has been addressed in every era and in numerous ways, but always has returned.
The report gives the details decade by decade – every possibility from expanded road capacity to land use. Except one:
Congestion pricing … based on proven theory of human economic behavior promoted for a century, proven in application to sectors of the economy other than transportation, and enabled by recent advances in telecommunications technology. It has a proven track record …
Big picture conclusion: except for a handful of cities in the world, congestion (or mobility) pricing is a policy intervention that has often been proposed but never adopted. Despite the fact it works. And may be the only thing that does.
TransLink, the Province, Metro Vancouver – they’ve all studied the issue, most recently in 2018 with the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission. The conclusion was the same: some form of road pricing makes sense. And then saw the concept under whatever name rejected by most political leaders literally within a day of its release.
Within a few hours of the Eno webinar, there was another Zoomy opportunity to get a local perspective. A coalition of transportation interests – Moving in a Livable Region – held an all-candidates forum online with representatives from each party:
In a response to a question by Peter Ladner on the need for mobility pricing, the parties were effectively of the same position. Nothing’s happening anytime soon. Harrison Johnston of the Greens would consult more, George Affleck of the Liberals wouldn’t say, but turned the question on Bowinn Ma of the NDP to defend the removal of tolls from Metro’s bridges.
She was unequivocal:
Any decongestion charge must … work in a way that is socially just.
I have to be clear: it’s not in our platform … and John Horgan has stated very clearly today that it would not be supported by our government …
On the question of fairness and equity, the UCLA study is particularly interesting – and comes to a counter-intuitive conclusion:
The most vocal debates about the possibility of testing congestion pricing in Los Angeles have been about fairness. Equity challenges to the idea of charging for something that was previously free are common, and likely even more so following the spring 2020 demonstrations against policy brutality and anti-Black racism.
Congestion pricing can be quickly dismissed as a tool to speed rich white people to their destinations while charging working class indigenous people and people of color to drive on roads they have no choice but to use. …
.. several authors have shown that congestion pricing in fact tends to advance the wellbeing of lower-income and nonwhite communities. The perception that congestion pricing would harm the poor and non-white residents is intuitive, but not empirically supported, and works to promote the interests of upper income drivers who would have to pay dramatically more under congestion pricing than would the poor.
So here we are: parties across the political spectrum are using equity and affordability as a protective argument to reject (or delay any action in the name of further study) the one thing that actually works. And in doing so, they sacrifice their other priorities, from good land use to action on climate change, in an unstated but de-facto defense of motordom.
Regardless of who gets elected in BC, it looks as thought the result will be the same. We’ll call for action, we’ll commission studies, we’ll approve plans, we’ll spend billions. We just won’t do what works.