January 8, 2018

Now is the time for congestion charging

From the NY Times:

The average vehicle speed in Midtown today is just 4.7 miles an hour. That’s 28 percent slower than five years ago. Given that most people can walk up to 4 miles an hour, the human body is sometimes Manhattan’s fastest mode of transportation. …
The good news is that modern societies have developed a solution to the tragedy: Charge money to use the commons. Doing so not only discourages overuse, it also raises funds that can solve the larger need — to grow another field where cows can graze, say, or to build a well-functioning subway system. And, yes, I realize that both grazing cows and well-functioning subways sound far-fetched to today’s New Yorkers.
The charge for using clogged roads is known as “congestion pricing,” and it works well where it has been tried, like London, Singapore and Stockholm. In New York, the daily charge to drive below 60th Street might be around $8, with additional charges for vehicles that linger all day. …

The reason more cities haven’t adopted congestion pricing, (past London Mayor Ken) Livingstone says, is “political cowardice.” People cling to the idea that driving should be free, even though it imposes big costs on others.

In New York, (Mayor Bill) de Blasio opposes congestion pricing. He instead favors a millionaires’ tax to pay for subway improvements. Higher taxes on the rich are a fine idea, but won’t unclog roads. For that, de Blasio has offered a series of small, complex measures, like banning deliveries during rush hour. Good luck enforcing that one.

(New York Governor Andrew) Cuomo is more positive about congestion pricing, but has not filled in the details. He may ultimately support a charge only on taxis and companies like Lyft, Uber and Via. That’s a strangely anti-environment compromise, because it encourages people to own their own cars. The New York of the future should have fewer space-clogging cars, not more.

The most serious argument against congestion pricing is that it hurts lower-income workers. That argument also falls apart on inspection, though.

Only 3 percent of poor and near-poor outer-borough workers drive into Manhattan for their jobs, the Community Service Society of New York found. A whopping 61 percent take the subway or bus.

I understand why politicians are afraid to support congestion pricing. We all like the idea of a free lunch — or a free road. But political leadership is supposed to be just that: leadership. It involves making tough decisions for the common good and winning over citizens.
Price Tags: B.C. is at the moment when it can establish the principle of congestion pricing on service providers like Uber et al. The current study, and the Legislative response that follows, need to do that as part of the deal* to allow their entrance into the market, and on the roads publicly paid for, or government will be fighting a rear-guard action when all the opposing forces will be focused on killing congestion charging or mobility pricing.
*Another requirement: the public reporting of all data generated by Uber or any other “transportation network company.”  New York City, which has that requirement, has discovered that congestion in midtown Manhattan is significantly worsening, even as taxi use drops, because of TNCs.  (Story here.) 
More importantly, a transportation network depends on accurate data, especially as we move to real-time management.  Those who have data have power.  If it isn’t the public sector, it will be the private sector – who will then have profound but unaccountable impact on the life and design of the city.  

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  1. Mobility pricing is a complex topic, with clear winners and losers as many parts of society win but others pay for it.
    Road tolls, like high energy costs are just like PST or GST increases as they these costs eventually end up as higher prices for condo fees, groceries, CanadaPost stamps, shipping fees, building costs ie inflationary
    In Toronto, unlike New York, the (conservative) mayor John Tory proposed a road toll for the clogged Don Valley parkway and Gardiner Expressway but the provincial (Liberal) government opposed it. https://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2017/01/26/kathleen-wynne-stopping-john-torys-plan-for-tolls-on-dvp-gardiner.html
    We shall see how this plays out here. I’d say many car/truck/SUV driving folks would be happy to pay for road tolls, very happy, IF the traffic actually improved and alternatives, such as rapid transit were installed in parallel to REDUCE ROAD USE. In the meantime, we continue to build unabated to fill city coffers with CACs and fees and property taxes and then ask others (provinces / feds) to pay 2/3 to 85% of new infrastructure.
    Which taxes, btw, will likely be lowered in lieu ?

    1. NONE The money is needed for infrastructure. Right wing populists call it a cash grab, Left wing wing populists call it an attack on the working poor. Neither allow the facts to get in the way of a good story

      1. Not so simple as AMPLE taxes are collected today: PST, GST, property taxes, personal federal income taxes, federal corp income taxes, personal provincial income taxes, provincial corp income taxes, CO2 taxes, gasoline taxes, utility surcharges, CACs, building permit fees, annual vehicle license fees .. and from that we expect services incl roads !
        Canada, while not the highest, is over 30% in the tax to GDP ratio of OECD countries, lower an one would expect of EU countries but far higher than our NAFTA partners, US and Mexico: https://www.oecd.org/tax/tax-policy/revenue-statistics-highlights-brochure.pdf

  2. If taxes paid for services & infrastructure needs, there would be balanced budgets without creative accounting tricks such P3 s & so called private corporations such as Port Mann & BC Ferry s

    1. Hence the question: if we charge for roads 0 and I think we should – then what other taxes are lowered ?
      People are not willing to always pay more taxes. hence the provincial government statement “It is not us that wants mobility pricing” .. implying: it is MetroVan. Even NDP voters drive cars and don’t want to pay more taxes. Not such an easy left-right issue anymore ! Seems more like Ontario / Toronto now: (conservative / right) mayor proposes road tolls and (Liberal / left) province says no !

      1. Why don’t we eliminate tolls on bridges, and lower the MSP fees and eventually phase them out. Gives drivers something and eliminates a regressive fee/tax. Seems fair.

        1. I think, like roads, healthcare is far too cheap. 1/3 of the provincial budget is healthcare. 1/3 ! It is not free. I think we ought to charge triple for MSP, not a 50% rebate, as the average cost per BC resident is 6-7,000/year or over $500/month. More for seniors on average.
          Unclear to me why we think roads should be metered, but healthcare not ? Both are paid from general tax revenue (“subsidized’ if you will) and both can be influenced by behavior, to a degree.
          We should also double or better, triple property taxes but eliminate BC income taxes altogether, to monetize foreign investments here and to monetize the many part-time immigrants or “Canadians of convenience” / dual passport holders that merely live here in $1M condos and $3M+ houses but do not pay any income taxes anyway but often consume roads, schools, ESL, policing or healthcare services for free. Plus charge per km for road use PLUS choke points like bridges, airport access, tunnels congested roads like Hastings or Granville in the am and pm peak hours.
          Mortgage free seniors on CPP in multi-million $ estates (or mere $500,000) are the second most subsidized BC resident group, and of course to change that will be very difficult. One could give a credit for higher property taxes or, like today, allow them to accrue it and pay on sale of house or death. But marketing BC as a retirement destination from the rest of frigid Canada is not sustainable anymore with our current tax structure.
          So, in summary: properties and roads are undertaxed, and income generation by hard working middle class folks or struggling GenY folks way overtaxed.

  3. If the government promised to build a few more bridges (North Shore, Knight, Oak, Massey) and do some road widening along 1st Avenue and the North Shore then perhaps a slim majority might support road pricing in Vancouver.
    The rest of the province would not be interested, at all. I mean why would anyone east of Langley or on the Island go along with that?

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