Vancouver aiming to add to its arsenal in city hall’s war on drivers

It is called an RFP. It does not stand – but could – for Really Freaking Perturbing.

Rather, it is an acronym for Request for Proposals. Two of them are the latest battlefield weapons by the City of Vancouver in its war on the driver.

The collateral damage posed to the city’s economy is anything but friendly fire.

The first salvo comes next year, when your vehicle will need an annual pickpocketing permit to park anywhere there isn’t already a meter on the city’s streets.

The city requests a proposal on licence plate detection technology for three vehicles soon, up to 14 later, to tour and determine if we are permitted where we are parked – violations sent gently at first by mail, vigorously later by windshield notice to offenders.

As much as this is annoying enough as a surcharge of sheer greed and solves no problem anyone can define, it is a mere appetizer for the main course.

Salvo 2 comes about three-and-a-half years hence, in 2025, when Vancouver will demand drivers pay for the privilege to keep entering the city core. Possibly they’ll be taxed even if they don’t.

The core is defined generously to ensure healthy cash flows (Burrard Inlet to the north, English Bay and Burrard Street to the west, 16th Avenue to the south and Clark Drive to the east), but leaves open the possibility of a broader geographic reach. The RFP asks the winning applicant to identify “applicable vehicles” that might be subject to a distance-based fee, regardless of whether they enter that zone.

Indeed, the Vancouver-first effort is designed to set the stage for a vast regional play.

To say the least, it is a curious way to encourage the local economy so necessary to pay for the services in the city, rather like affixing leeches instead of injecting Pfizer.

But fear not, the RFP argues there are virtues aplenty.

So-named mobility pricing, if you did not know, would “enable more people and goods to move into and through the city centre with more reliable travel times.” Which stands to be true about travel, in that more people and goods will be repelled to move into and through the city centre, so are bound to be more expeditious when they dare.

It’s not as if the city core is snarled, except by construction crews to meet new demands for housing and offices, nor is the downtown the only place to shop, work or tour. Just watch consumption behaviour change to bare-knuckle the core.

“The fee may vary based on vehicle type, distance, time of day, user type, how busy the roads are, or other factors. If done thoughtfully, it will provide the city with the opportunity to work towards resolving inequities in the current transportation system.” That If is in the Big If category. Spoiler alert: there is no happy ending for drivers or the businesses that either pay them or need them to come into town.

If you’re wondering about the basic method in this burgeoning madness, the RFP hints: “Our wealthiest residents are typically responsible for more carbon pollution and have greater access to the solutions for transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy or lower energy use.” Thus, the need to “focus regulatory and pricing actions on those most able to afford them.”

Rather than reason with people to ditch their cars – with, say, more efficient public transit, or incentives to work remotely like, say, a decade-overdue citywide Wi-Fi, or business tax reform to, say, fortify walking-distance merchant districts – Vancouver is choosing to punish drivers for doing what they feel they need to do, what they would do without if they thought it was a better idea. They are over a barrel, which is where the city seems to want them, particularly the wealthier among them.

What the RFP is light on is the mobility pricing motive. It can be painted as a saviour of our environment, as much-needed social engineering to mitigate inequity, as an epiphanous initiative that makes us realize we’ve been wrong to ever own a car, even as some sort of glorified traffic efficiency for those who do not come to their senses.

But what is it, really? Some clues: it moos, possesses udders and will fill buckets passively and regularly. As productive as it wishes its milch cow to be, the RFP also seeks as an alternative plan a “minimum viable scenario” of compromised objectives within the Vancouver charter.

Regardless, there isn’t much time. The RFP worries “vehicles volumes are expected to be one of the first modes of transport to reach or exceed pre-pandemic levels, further elevating the need to assess the feasibility of a transport pricing solution.” Heaven forbid that looming menace of resurgent activity.

Also on page 18, it makes the sort of generalized comments that in places are a bit of a reach. Parentheses are mine: “Equity-seeking communities are disproportionately reliant on transit service (true everywhere); women are more likely to use transit and run multiple errands in a single trip (not so true everywhere); older adults often ‘age out’ of driving (not often, but sometimes) or have fixed incomes that make financing a personal car difficult (but meaningful to their agency).”

No matter: “The overall societal cost of driving a car is high and is subsidized by the general population, while other modes of transportation are less subsidized or provide an overall societal benefit.”

The point of discussing personal choice is obviously of little value. If you choose to drive down the road, don’t say the city didn’t warn you. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.