When I first heard about the proposal for ‘Transport Pricing’ in the City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan that went to council a few weeks ago, I thought, sorry, that’s a lost battle.
The political capital required to start ‘taxing the road’ is so high, reports that recommend it – like this one – are typically dead on arrival. As elections approach, political leaders jump over each other to reject even a suggestion of anything that looks, sounds or smells like a toll. Here’s Bowinn Ma from the NDP, passing along the blunt words from John Horgan (who won the 2017 election by taking tolls off the Port Mann): “I have to be clear: it (congestion pricing) is not in our platform … and John Horgan has stated very clearly today that it would not be supported by our government …”
No matter, congestion charging as it has been demonstrated in a handful of cities so far, notability Singapore and London, is way out of date – so 20th century. Using gantries, cameras, IED passes and other visibly intrusive technology to establish a geographic cordon for pricing entry and exit for one particular part of a region will never pass the fairness test. Why not include other places – notably the North Shore – where congestion is bad and getting worse? (Minimally, there will have to be ‘discussion’ among the municipalities on either side of Lions Gate Bridge.)
Again, so much political capital required. Add in an equity requirement*, and good luck in getting a majority vote. That’s why so few cities have done it.
So I was impressed when Council, by a bare majority, voted to support the part of the report that had actually recommended Transport Pricing (despite media, and my own, perception of what was being proposed.) Staff, having played in this rodeo a few times (the plan listed the previous 14 reports), really wanted one key thing from council: ‘Authorize us to develop a road map that will get us to Transport Pricing (TP). Do not take it off the table, ship it off to the region, qualify it into irrelevance or remove any deadline for response’ – and that’s what they got.
Actually, despite the expected hysteria (road pricing is the new bike lanes!), it was never intended that a specific pricing mechanism would roll out in the first half of the 10-year plan. Implementation would occur starting around 2025, still in time to reach the transport target (two-thirds of all trips by foot, bike or transit) by 2030. In the next five years, the latest technologies and strategies would be explored, consultations occur and partnerships with the region and province established. (Implicitly, the expectation is that climate change crises, combined with technological momentum and financial necessity, would make transport pricing not politically suicidal but politically inevitable.)
Also, not at all coincidentally, by 2025 the Broadway line will be up and running along with more reallocated road space for bus priority lanes to provide the increased transit service that every critic demands before vehicle pricing is implemented. Further, if 11 percent of road space is to be shifted from vehicles to other modes or for more public space, as already mandated by council, then TP is essential.
Why such a specifically odd number as 11? Well, New Westminster had previously made a motion for 10 percent – so, you know, Vancouver has to lead. And strategic leadership is what Vancouver does well – not by being first but by being successful. TP will be the same.Read more »