February 12, 2014

Lecture: Andrew Coyne on “Easing Congestion in Metro Vancouver: Prices Without Subsidies” – Feb 25

The SFU City Program, thanks to support from TransLink, is able to offer a first-class line-up of speakers on the highly relevant theme of transportation.  Last month was Anne Golden from Toronto.  Now up for registration: national columnist Andrew Coyne.

Reserve early – but only if you fully intend to come.  Otherwise, others will miss out.


Easing Congestion in Metro Vancouver: Prices Without Subsidies

February 257 pm 

Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (at SFU Woodwards), 149 West Hastings,

Vancouver  Admission is free, but reservations are required. Reserve here. 




Andrew Coyne, a national columnist for Postmedia/National Post,  will talk about a unified approach to pricing cars and transit.

Transit advocates commonly suppose that subsidizing transit more heavily will induce more people to give up their cars, thus alleviating congestion. The evidence for this is scant, while a better solution is at hand: pricing roads.

Pricing road use is the only effective way to induce people to drive less: indeed, as road use is at present rationed by time rather than money, other proposed methods (wider roads, carpooling, synchronized lights, etc) end up inducing people to drive more, since they reduce the time-price of using the roads.

Put the revenues from road tolls toward subsidizing transit? No: subsidized transit suffers from much the same defects as subsidized roads — both mask the real price of resource use, and both encourage sprawl. Moreover, to the extent subsidies make transit less dependent on riders for revenues, they lessen incentives to innovate and improve service.


Lecture Series Details

Live webcast will be available here.


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  1. Like most goods or services (except for “inferior goods”, in economic jargon), people consume more when the price is decreased. And less when the price increases. This is the law of demand.

    I firmly believe the key to building good cities is not making transit cheaper, but making roads more expensive.

    There’s no reason for the government to tax everyone to subsidize people who move around a lot. People who like to move long distances should pay their own way for that service, like everything else. Right now there is too much movement, to a economically inefficient degree, thanks to perverse government subsidies. We subsidize goods and services which have negative externalities, which is nuts.

    1. People like to move around cheaply and feel their costs (whether they are right or wrong is irrelevant, it’s how they feel) are already too expensive. So arguing on which costs should go up to control their behaviour is about as pointless as arguing which one of us should be appointed King of the province.

    2. Spank,

      Other than through gas tax, it is not fair (or even possible) to tax more those individuals who move around more than others. Movement is often a necessity, not a choice, and not trackable by individual. We should all be taxed for infrastructure because we all can or must potentially use it. I have to pay school taxes, but I have no children (whether by choice or circumstance).

  2. Yes, driving by car is far too cheap in Vancouver, but so is transit at $2.10. Both have to be raised, the former far more drastically than the latter , but both have to cover costs more or less. So road tolling, parking fees in residential neighborhoods and annual license fees by engine size have to be introduced, then increased significantly in Vancouver. But public transit also has to have its price. The main price today, or disincentive for wage earned like me is time, through slow buses. Once speed is improved, say through subways, LRTs or dedicated bus lanes, prices have to go up too. Only if the Lexus or Mercedes or Mazda is passed three times by the bus on the dedicated bus lane will people switch behavior! especially if the Granville, Burrard or Cambie bridge crossing is $10, per direction.