Let’s try some carrots instead of sticks to reduce carbon emissions and change behaviour

Like many cities around the world, the city is striving to reduce GHG emissions from buildings and vehicles to address our changing climate. There is no denying the science that points to climate change and at a city level buildings and combustion vehicles are the biggest emitters. To this end, last fall Vancouver City Council passed a series of recommendations to help reduce these emissions. As a mom of two young daughters, I care about their future and the world they will inherit. This is why I supported many of the recommendations to reduce our carbon emissions; however, I took issue with the approach to mobility pricing and citywide parking.

The issue that dominated the discussions was the proposed Metro Core transport pricing framework. And while congestion pricing is likely the way of the future for the lower mainland due to our growing population, I was opposed to a Vancouver only approach that red-circled our downtown core. The independent commission on mobility pricing was clear that a regional approach is essential to a successful transport pricing framework and that revenues should be reinvested in public transit to enable people to make different choices. Neither of these ingredients were part of the transport pricing framework proposed by city staff. There was no economic impact analysis to look at the implications for small businesses in and around the downtown core, nor to consider the current pandemic. While this issue will be studied further by city staff as a result of a last minute amendment, we would be wise to wait and see the results of Translink’s Transport 2050 report due later this year and focus on a regional approach.

Two issues that got little or no attention in last fall’s staff report were a proposed citywide parking permit program and the proposed expansion of electric vehicle charging stations.

The proposed citywide parking permit would impose not only a parking permit system, but also a non-market rate fee for drivers who park their cars on residential streets. This parking program would include market rate fees in later years, such as the West End currently has in place to manage curbside use ($400/year). The rationale for the proposal was that it would help reduce the number of vehicles in the city and allow us to use the curbside differently.

Staff presented a technical briefing today of what such a program could look like: a citywide street parking permit of $45/year, plus a carbon surcharge for newer, combustion vehicles ($500 – $1,000/year) and an overnight parking fee for visitors (10pm to 7am). The proposal is now positioned as a pollution charge.

While I believe we need to do our part to reduce carbon emissions, I opposed this proposal last fall because I don’t believe it is the right tool in the toolbox.

This proposal makes the city less affordable for both renters and homeowners who have been struggling through the current pandemic. Now is not the time to add more taxes and fees to already beleaguered residents, particularly in neighbourhoods where parking is not a problem, public transit is limited, and there has not been adequate consideration for social equity issues.

This proposal is also inequitable. It imposes a base permit fee on 50% of vehicle owners in the city (if you are lucky enough to have a driveway, parking pad or underground parkade, guess what – you don’t pay because the city can only manage and charge for street use.). If you’re not lucky enough to have private parking and need a vehicle for work or family reasons, then you may be a resident who can least afford the new base permit fee.

If we want to encourage people to move away from combustion vehicles or reduce the number of vehicles in the city, then a few more carrots and less sticks would be the route I would go. Explore incentives like reduced property taxes if you park your vehicle on your property or provide laneway housing on your parking pad. Improve public transit access to all corners of the city so that travel across the city is more seamless. Improve pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in higher density areas. Invest in complete neighbourhoods so people can more readily access services near where they live.

We have a robust carbon tax framework in British Columbia, which municipalities benefitted from until the Province recently cancelled the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP). Let’s work with the Province to get more equitable access to carbon tax revenues for necessary civic infrastructure and encourage the Province to introduce additional rebates towards the purchase of electric vehicles and hybrids.

Last fall we invested in EV charging infrastructure at public facilities, neighbourhood hubs and in existing and new buildings to enable the adoption of EVs. This was one of the most understated and underreported aspects of the climate report that I supported. The public is moving in this direction – the number of EVs in the city has gone up 700% over the past five years.

We have socially and environmentally conscious residents, let’s support them in a positive way to make informed choices on their next vehicle choice (if at all). Let’s also respect their pocket books and their concerns about affordability.

Residents have an opportunity to have their say on this proposal starting June 14 until July 5, 2021. I urge residents to weigh in and inform Council’s decision. https://shapeyourcity.ca/parking

Lisa Dominato
Vancouver City Councillor (Independent)