New Mobility
November 27, 2020

Congestion Charging is so last century. Welcome to the new age of Transport Pricing

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congestion charging as it has been demonstrated in a handful of cities so far, notability Singapore and London, is way out of date – so 20th century.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.

An approval in principle is a powerful tool.  Other municipalities and levels of government start to pay attention, as has happened in almost every working example of TP so far.

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.

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[Update: Do read Geoff’s comment at the end of this post.  Powerful and provocative.]

 

SFU Vancouver – the downtown campus – is now 30 years old since SFU came down from the mountain.  It’s what President Andrew Petter says helps make SFU the engaged university.

Engagement is the particular work of the Centre for Dialogue, Public Square, City Conversations and the City Program – all of which had events happening on Thursday, and two of which featured Mary Rowe, the speaker for this year’s Warren Gill Lecture.  They certainly engaged me, with more questions than I had a chance to ask.  Here are some.

INEQUALITY AND DIVERSITY

When considering the rural-urban divide in Canada, Mary began with two points that are pretty much taken as self-evident in academia: diversity is good, inequality is bad.  Policies for healthy cities should encourage the former and reduce the latter.

But what if inequality is a measure of diversity?

Since a diverse city is one in which there are many different kinds of people and pursuits, do those differences of equality become magnified with greater diversity? In fact, is increasing inequality how we know the city is more diverse?

Let’s say public policies were effective at reducing inequality by redistributing benefits, by building the infrastructure, physical and cultural, to build a stronger middle class.  Isn’t the result a more homogenous city, perhaps less likely to generate the cultural and economic energy we associate with places like New York in the 1970s, London in the 1800s, Florence in the 1500s?  Does equality mean boring and less diverse?

 

MAKING CHOICES IN A CLIMATE EMERGENCY

At noon, at City Conversations the topic was the climate emergency, with Councillor Christine Boyle (who introduced the climate emergency motion at council and is interviewed here on PriceTalks); Atiya Jaffar, digital campaigner for 350.org;  and New Westminster Councillor Nadine Nakagawa.

I had three ‘tough questions’, with the opportunity to ask only one – itself somewhat facetious:

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Like some unprecedented mass shooting, it’s the kind of record-breaking news one tends to think twice about discussing at the breakfast table.

As reported by Popular Science, among many other media outlets, late last week the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measured carbon levels in the atmosphere at 415 parts per million. That’s more than 100 ppm higher than any point in almost 1 million years’ worth of atmospheric data available.

For nearly a million years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have maintained an average of about 280 ppm, not going above 300 ppm or below 160 ppm…the latest human-caused warming event is occurring over just a couple of centuries, which is so quick in comparison that the trend line appears vertical as it approaches today.

Do we actually still need to wonder why this is happening?

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During a Vancouver Council meeting on January 16, 2019, a motion moved by Councillor Christine Boyle to declare a global state of climate emergency was carried unanimously.

With nine “whereas” clauses — referencing the impacts of BC and California wildfires, the emergency debates at various levels of government following the UN’s recent IPCC report on global warming, the estimated future costs of climate-related disasters to Vancouver, and our current vulnerabilities — plus half a dozen amendments from Boyle’s peers, the motion ended with a series of directives, and a clear call to action.

In short, the motion called for an admission that we’re in a climate emergency. It reminded us all that, despite progress in recent years, we’ve failed to meet our previous targets. And it directed staff to formulate, within 90 days, new targets, actions and timelines to aggressively reduce carbon emissions, in-line with IPCC goals.

Boyle, one of nine first-time Council members, made time over her lunch hour recently to chat with Gord at City Hall about her motion — what inspired it, the potential implications of climate disaster on vulnerable populations in particular, and where we go from here.

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