The Climate Emergency Parking Plan was considered by Vancouver City Council last week. The plan has first been introduced earlier this year with refined details coming back to Council in this report. You can take a look at the report here as well as the very cogent staff presentation here.
The plan, after two days of Council listening to public comments, was defeated six to five, with the Mayor casting the deciding vote to oppose.
Some media have reported that the axed proposal cleaves City Council to the left and the political right.But in actual fact, this might have been the best move Mayor Stewart could do to save his Council.
Mayor Stewart is an excellent parliamentarian in dealing with the procedural requirements of chairing these meetings. He may have also foresaw that this curbside cost approach giving private home owners with parking spots an escape from any fee might impact this Council’s future electability. Next year’s October 15 municipal election is a scant one year away. It was Frances Bula who suggested that this kind of program is the type of thing that needs to be in the first year of a Council’s reign. Certainly it needs to be equitably applied.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart had prepared a statement about why he turned the proposal down, stating
“ I believe in strong climate action, but I also believe these actions must be just. The proposed permit parking system did not meet the test. It would have asked those renting basement suites or working in vehicle-dependent jobs to pay more, while asking homeowners with private parking to pay nothing. And these inequitable outcomes would become entrenched. For example, a few years from now, a landscaper living in a basement suite who buys a used 2023 pickup truck for work would pay over $1,000 a year while their landlord would pay nothing – even if the homeowner drives a Ferrari.”
Climate Action and Climate Justice are important factors in this century. How we address and move forward on achievable actions to mitigate climate change is a global challenge, and one that every citizen must take seriously. But defeating this proposal as presented does not mean we’ve left the barn door open against climate change. This initiative will be back in a more refined and hopefully regional way.
The actions that the City had proposed needed to stand the “sniff” test of being equitable, workable and results oriented. Duke of Data Andy Yan, the Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University summed it up on social media this way:
“Frankly, I am interested in Climate Action and Climate Justice. Change that is not performative, but transparent, accountable, and effective and don’t aggravate the divides that already exist in this City.”
That means a program that is data dense in defining the problem, looks at impacts from a regional perspective for mitigation, equitably charges all vehicle owners, has clear data on how effectiveness of policies implemented will be measured, and be accountable in that funds collected go directly back into climate change policies.
The Parking Program report produced by City staff was charged with finding a way to pay for part of the Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) outlined in these 371 pages. The plan has 32 recommendations and was to be rolled out with the Vancouver Plan to create walkable neighbourhoods throughout Vancouver by 2030, with 80 percent of trips by foot, bike or transit.
The City is also getting rid of parking minimums in development this year, meaning that staff also must also now estimate how many more vehicles will be seeking on-street parking due to that spillover impact. The plan that was presented to Council proposed a starting fee of 45 dollars per year per curbside parked vehicle. For new gas powered vehicles after 2022 parked curbside there would be a charge ranging from $500 to $1,000 annually.
This curbside space management would bring in 44 to 72 million dollars to the City in a four year time period, covering twenty percent of the estimated costs of the Climate Emergency Action Plan. However the items listed in the CEAP Plan are not new. Most have been previously covered in the current capital plans.
The example in the parking program report provides funding for street trees, walking and biking facilities around transit stations, pedestrian signals, curb ramps and infiltration bulges for rainwater. That’s already covered by general revenue in the city’s budget.
Somehow it has never been reported that the proposed curbside parking charges are a new revenue source for the city for items the city already has been paying for. With less parking space revenue in the downtown, this revenue model will augment that diminishing return.
This collected curbside funding does not and would not pay for new bus routes or increased frequency of transit necessary to get people out of vehicles. That funding is something that must be worked with on a regional level.
While many clamoured to have the report adopted, think of the sober “next day” thought: everyone that was a curbside parker would pay the 45 dollar annual parking fee, and would pay for having a newer polluting vehicle, regardless if it was provided by work, or if you required a heavy duty truck for your trade. And those that could park off street are probably the people that could buy a new gas powered SUV and contribute nothing to the parking program except emissions.
It widened the cliffs of inequality, and in this case, private property parkers monetarily did not contribute to the CEAP plan.
With a municipal election a mere year away, those inequities would be very evident as this new program was implemented. In fact potential candidates had already announced that getting rid of the proposed curbside tax would be their first priority.
That left Vancouver back at the starting line, with the Councillors who voted in favour for the inequitable plan facing potential ouster in an electoral revolt. The current proposed parking program separates citizens by home tenure instead of unifying them.
One of the recommendations in the original report was to work towards regional solutions. The mayor’s statement also reflects this:
“An effective climate action plan must be just. I’ve asked staff to find a better way forward and I am confident they will. But it’s not just about new fees in Vancouver, our partnerships with the governments of BC & Canada are also a key source of investments in climate action.”
That is also echoed in the initial Climate Change Action Plan, that asked for regional involvement in looking at reducing emissions.
The parking program report did not have data identifying where the carbon emissions were coming from: are they the vehicles that live and move in Vancouver alone, or are they boosted by the 22,000 vehicles that come in to Vancouver each day? And how are those trips mitigated on a regional level if we are serious about reducing emissions?
That is something that Metro Vancouver and TransLink can discuss with the Mayors Council.
One alternative is to go forward to the Province to explore a potential levy to be placed on every insured vehicle in Metro Vancouver. That levy would a replace the 18.5 cent gas tax which, given that there will be no gas powered automobiles sold in Canada after 2035, needs to be updated to cover needed regional transit improvements.
Of course this also raises the spectre of regional road pricing for travel zones. With a new vehicle insurance licensing fee regionally applied, capital will be available to do new transit routes and fund improvements. That is where Vancouver’s parking program plan has taken the conversation, and the staff and Vancouver City Council should be applauded for opening up this very tough but needed policy discussion.