Defeating parking fee a loss in fight against climate change, say experts

Defeating parking fee a loss in fight against climate change, say experts

Planners said city needs to do more to curb greenhouse gases

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Vancouver city council’s decision not to adopt an on-street, overnight parking fee was a major missed opportunity in efforts to battle the city’s contribution to climate change, planning experts say.

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Last week, council defeated a proposed $45 yearly residential street parking fee covering the entire city — up from about 10 per cent of streets now. It also defeated a tax on buying gas-powered vehicles, which would have been $500 or $1,000, depending on the vehicle.

The fight was between a fee to raise money for fighting climate change and the view that city residents have the right to park their cars free on their own streets.

It came down to one vote. Mayor Kennedy Stewart broke a tie on council to defeat the city’s climate emergency parking program, which had been recommended by staff.

Mark Jaccard, professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University, said most experts agree that all levels of government need to tackle carbon pollution through a carbon tax or other taxes and fees, and by regulating polluting technologies, such as by banning gasoline-powered vehicles.

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“The city’s proposed parking fee policy was excellent, and climate-sincere politicians would have passed it, which is a sad commentary on the mayor,” he said.

Stewart and councillors who voted no said the fee would place an unfair burden on those least able to afford the fee, such as those who live in basement suites or apartments without access to off-street parking.

A record 19,000 respondents, mostly opposed, answered the city’s online public survey and an online petition at change.org drew close to 25,000 signatures against the proposal.

Council unanimously voted for a climate emergency plan in 2020, which directed staff to come up with ways for the city to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. The defeated proposal came out of that.

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The mayor, who faces voters in the next civic election a year from now, asked staff last week to come up with a “better way forward.”

Staff didn’t return a request for comment on next steps on Friday.

There is a global trend to reclaim streets from the car for pedestrians, cyclists and other non-car use, said Werner Antweiler, a UBC associate economics professor and one of the experts that city staff consulted.

Cities need to address the issue of the price of parking, he said. “There’s a very high cost of free parking.”

Motorists who circle around neighbourhoods looking for free parking have consequences on traffic flow, for instance, he said.

“Parking should never be free and we should move it from the surface of the streets into (pay to use) parkades,” he said.

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He said the other lost opportunity is the missed revenue from the parking fee and the pollution charge, which could have been used to install curbside charging station for electric vehicles.

Antweiler said staff should have been more specific about what the new revenue would have been used for when drafting the defeated proposal. Such specifics, he said, tend to increase acceptance for ratepayers.

He said the city should have earmarked the expected $44 million to $72 million in revenues over the first four years specifically for charging stations, a direct benefit for those without home charging stations.

He said an even more effective way for cities to deter car use and raise revenues would be a congestion charge, as used in some European cities. Drivers pay a toll to enter into an area where space for driving and parking is at a premium, like downtown.

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“It works,” he said, because the fee targets vehicles in motion, not the ones that are stationary. “It results in significant changes to traffic patterns in the cities where there is congestion pricing.”

Brent Toderian, a former Vancouver city planner who now runs a planning firm called Toderian UrbanWorks, said the debate around parking and pricing has always contentious because of the perception of a right to free parking.

Speaking generally, he said pricing is an “incredibly strategic tool” because “cities almost always need more revenue because cities are chronically underfunded.”

And “pricing is one of the strongest levers in behaviour change, particularly for car use and ownership,” he said.

“Almost anything you need to address about parking will likely be unpopular,” he added, noting for many, “anything I currently enjoy for free I should never have to pay for.”

But, “if you take the climate emergency seriously, you can’t afford to let the fact that hard, imperfect or unpopular measures stop you or you won’t be getting very far on the climate emergency,” he said.


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