October 10, 2021

The Climate Emergency Parking Program: How the Mayor of Vancouver Saved His Council

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.





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  1. The mayor may have been playing safe politics but his argument is deeply flawed. And just repeats the assumption that the the home owner with on site parking space avoids the fee. I can assure you the tax on a piece of land the size of a parking space is more than $45. That homeowner could park on the street for a mere $45 and get much much better use of that valuable space on their property. As most do now for free. The parking fee is not unfairly applied. The lack of one is. Now I pay for somebody else to park for free. I don’t own a car precisely for the reason for the fee. That is absurd.

    The declaration of a climate emergency were obviously hollow words for most of council.

  2. I couldn’t disagree more. This was a sound and sensible motion that would have had zero political repercussions beyond some entitled motorists grousing for a few weeks. The Mayor miscalculated. We can’t sit on our hands and wait for the world’s first perfect solution. This supposed fear of inequity is too convenient an excuse to do nothing. It’s very frustrating.

  3. While I supported the idea in general, there are serious flaws with it. It seems like they were trying to deal with two separate issues in one motion; climate change and the underpricing of street parking.

    They need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that properly prices street parking, to discourage the use of this valuable resource and come up with a different plan that deals with vehicle emissions.

    1. The plan did both – imperfectly, of course. It created minor disincentive to own a private vehicle, especially a polluting one; and created revenue to at least partially defray the actual costs that cars impose on our lives. Every single plan off “the drawing board” is going to be imperfect. Every one. We can’t afford to navel gaze like this.

  4. What I heard over 8 hrs of council meeting was1/ not an equitable tax 2/ tax proceeds not related to climate change fight 3/ Not regional and so unfair to so many! Rubbish.
    Taxing residents in the west end $400 p.a but only $5p.a for those who couldn’t afford $45 is not equity but a massive inequitable tax but requiring subsidy for the administration of $5. That is not equitable or accountable. The city would be actually paying the owners to park for at that rate.
    The tax should not be used to pay for curb cuts and other items that are paid for by general revenue. Neither should the general revenue pay for e charging stations. The parking tax could be used for that very purpose. I park. I pay. Stick and carrot. Q.E.D
    Tax for Trees. Great. They fight pollution directly and give us back oxygen. What’s not to like?
    Not regional. Not Fair. Vancouver couldn’t/ shouldn’t do it alone. Rubbish. Twenty odd years ago we did it at UBC. Introduced “ No free Parking at UBC. Result parking in B lots dropped from Over 14,000 per day to 9000 plus. Carrots? B-Line bus service and bus passes for students at low rates. Affordable rental for faculty and staff. Built on the original parking lots. These carrots are not applicable to Vancouver. It’s a matter of focussing benefits more strategically than what was proposed in the failed city initiative. So what should a parking tax look like. First, everyone charged the same. You know. Equitable. This is not the right tax to play Robin Hood. Or robbing the rich. A roadside parking of 3mx6m spot costs in the order of $3600 to construct. Over twenty years life $180 p.a. A tax of $45 is dirt cheap. Love to see this increased at $15. p.a over 9 years to full cost of $180. That would at least be a soft beginning to an equitable tax.

  5. Respectfully, this blog headline is inaccurate.

    The Mayor is just one vote amongst the majority that established this policy proposal, at least this version at this time, would not proceed further. Thus, why is the media and public falling for this savior thinking? Might make for good TV drama plot, but given the Mayor had already prepared remarks to why the vote in a particular direction, does anyone really believe that the Mayor was somehow swayed at the deciding moment to save the day, or at least the Mayor’s version of acting to avoiding untold calamity?

    And while I did not follow public process closely, overall appears pretty much evenly split on views, so the Mayor did NOT get overwhelmed in the public discourse to to follow one path – so why did the Mayor decide to ignore other compelling voices, when the Mayor routinely cloaks himself with statement over statement over the Climate Emergency and need for action ???

    Rather, politicians routinely float such trial balloons, and let’s NOT forget the Mayor is the head of the CoV public service, so this proposal did NOT magically appear out of the ether without the Mayor’s initial knowledge this was going on. The Mayor could have deftly blocked/re-directed the resources necessary to prepare the proposal for release onto the public docket had he considered this a failed political initiative.

    And we now hear about the regional impacts. Well, what did the Mayor do at any of the prior TransLink Mayor’s Council meetings about getting other communities on board. Apparently nothing, or worse, the Mayor quietly tried but the proposal fell on deaf ears which left the Mayor and other CoV Councillors hanging on to fight this battle alone.

    You may notice I make NO comment about the proposal itself, although suffice it to say the ability to practically implement the CoV go-it-alone-plan was dubious at best as many forget the 2nd part involved dealing with new auto registrations, which most likely immediately draws in the provincial government, via ICBC, into the mix. So why would the current crew in Victoria, which the Mayor has done a good job alienating through the Pandemic, come to his rescue now? And the CoV new vehicle fee is quite similar to the failed Vehicle Levy that cost George Puil his job many years ago, which will NOT be forgotten in Victoria, albeit, appears to have gone unnoticed at City Hall.

    In closing, if one was rather cynical, which I might suggest provides a good dose of reality when one sees this kind of political theatre going on, could this all have been orchestrated to position the Mayor as a centrist, with a steady-hand to protect taxpayers and the disadvantaged all given we are now in spitting distance to the next poll?

    Who knows, but to believe the many headlines that the Mayor saved the day makes for a good laugh.

    1. Post

      Just a quick note that “the Mayor is the head of the CoV public service” is inaccurate.
      The Mayor is not the head of the City of Vancouver public service. He has one vote just like the rest of Council. The City Manager is the manager of public service and translates Council direction to staff.

  6. Cars in the Hood.

    There are 1.4 billion vehicles on the planet today, a tiny fraction (0.004%) of the total are electrics. In the year 2035 US major auto makers will stop building gas engines, this means that in the intervening 14 years, automakers will build a mix of gas and electric cars. In the mean time many of the gas cars built in the last 15 years will continue to operate well into the future. It seems that the clean conversion of the car to electric will take decades.

    The above scenario, ‘cars in the hood’, is ‘the climate change emergency’ in terms of the transport sector world wide. We humans of course came to where we are today because we adopted a polluting technology and then designed it without a thought of the environmental consequences. Now we know the problems, and we also know from a design perspective how to solve many of these problems. All we need to do is get moving building new technology right here where we are. The only way to reduce auto emissions while maintaining our current standard of living is by using the productivity of the economy to transform our base energy to electrons. With in our rich cultural history lies the seeds of a renaissance, ‘electrics in the hood’, we can do this just not right away.

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