At the next Vancouver Council meeting our elected reps will be voting on a staff plan to introduce new city-wide parking fees including a sliding scale of pollution surcharges based on the type of vehicle. Staff claim that the anticipated revenues of up to $70 million would be used to pay for for some elements of the city’s Climate Emergency Action Plan.
Green Councillor Adriane Carr called the idea “a necessary step” and suggested it would go toward “changing consumer behaviour.” The pollution surcharge could be up to $1,000 a year for high-end vehicles, and Carr commented: “If you can afford to buy an SUV or high-end sports car that may well run you over $100,000, but certainly $80,000 and up, I think a $500 or $1,000 fee is not very much.”
That sounds reasonable but ignores the fact that many if not most of those who can afford such cars have garages and therefore will escape paying any part of the fees or surcharges. Because they will not have to pay, it will have no effect on the behaviour of the owners of the worst-polluting vehicles and thus will have little or no environmental impact.
In fact, the main burden of this new taxation will fall on the low-and-middle income workers in the city who have no garage and who need a vehicle for work. It is a situation that will get progressively worse as more people move into new apartment developments that, under this Council’s zoning policies, include fewer and fewer parking spaces.
This proposal is weighted in favour of the rich and will do very little to improve the environment. It is, in fact, a classic case of a greenwashing cash grab. I empathize with the policy’s declared purpose of moving people out of their cars and onto transit (or bikes or walking) but this is not the way to achieve those ends.
A far better solution, I believe, is to lobby the Provincial government to include a sliding scale emissions tax onto auto insurance. That way would oblige the worst polluters to pay in a way that cannot be avoided just because they are fortunate enough to have a garage.