City’s war on automobile owners set to shift into overdrive in 2022

The City of Vancouver’s incessant guerilla assault on car and truck owners has taken on many shapes over the years. But 2022 offers the prospect of an inflection point, from a period of annoyance to one of absurdity.

A proposal before the city’s council this week would smack the owner of a 2023 vehicle with an annual fee of up to $1,000, depending on the model’s emission rate, and hits all but low-income owners with an annual overnight parking fee that will start at $45 but can be banked upon to climb. No other North American city tries this combo, but this is Vancouver after all.

The pretense is that this is designed to contribute Vancouver’s “fair share” in the fight against climate change. But the plan is really just another in a ceaseless series of tax seizures. We all pay at the pumps for carbon emissions, and the city already imposes a property tax surcharge for its environmental scheme.

The staff report on the proposal admits Vancouver has “extremely limited jurisdiction and tools to impact emissions,” but that won’t stop it from leveraging whatever it can grasp. This new confiscation does not solve anything and indeed avoids what would be a more effective application of its principles. It simply makes people with more money pay more money.

It also proves that its Climate Emergency Action Plan was charted without public consent on a coherent process to pay for it. It is making it up as it goes, and it is going to reach further into household budgets in what is already an excessively expensive city.

“Without question, the City’s climate goals will not be achieved without significant investment and, absent other revenues, would be solely dependent on senior government transfers or increases and/or reallocation of property tax,” it says.

So, here comes another wave of fees in 2022 that further isolates the city from surrounding communities on the other side of its boundaries. Of course, their polluting vehicles can venture into the city with no such fees – at least, for the time being. They will, however, face a $3 overnight parking fee between midnight and 7 a.m.

If the city were serious about tackling climate change instead of signalling virtue, it would dare to restore the equivalent of the notorious provincial AirCare program. The annual fee would hit the tens of thousands of older Vancouver vehicles on the road today, not the more efficient ones yet to roll off the manufacturing lines.

Of course, council and staff know that their support largely comes from those who want a larger role for government and a larger bill for others to pay for it. Thus the proposal targets those who will buy fuel-conscious and pricey new cars of the future, not those who possess the coughing and haggard beaters of the present and past. Public comment on the proposal was withering, but we are used to council skipping past that inconvenience when it has its mind set.

How much will this tax grab? On this, like all projections into the future of vehicle ownership, the crystal ball is likely more cloudy than the intellectual certainty of the staff report.

The report suggests between $44 million and $72 million will be raised over the first four years from the annual and overnight fees. Net revenue will be $40 million to $60 million. It is claiming the program will cost $1.7 million to roll out and $1 million to annually administer. Anyone who has done the math in this paragraph will realize its revenue and expense projections are off-kilter at either end.

“Note that these forecasts depend on factors such as how frequently people purchase new vehicles, their willingness to choose an EV when they purchase a new vehicle, and their ability and choice to park off-street,” the report notes. Ahem, yes.

What could this buy? The staff report has a lovely eight-item shopping list coming straight from the vehicle owner’s budget: 20 kilometres of bus efficiency projects, on-street connectivity initiatives at two (yes, only two) transit stations, 25 new pedestrian signals, 100 curb ramps, 1,000 trees, four kilometres of rainwater capture projects, 15 fast chargers for the public and 500 Level Two ones primarily in rental buildings. Let’s remember this list for review in 2026, because the city isn’t talking about any increases in fees (particularly the overnight one, which will almost certainly rise).

The city’s war on the car over the years has featured disproportionate parking rates and fines, poorly chosen arteries to retrofit bicycle lanes, and lately the prodigious street patios to diminish spots to stop and shop. We were told to build laneway houses to densify the neighbourhoods; now those parking spots behind the house have gone, and parking fees for the ones in front are arriving.

Brace for even more, because the ownership and parking ploys would only raise about one-fifth of the cost of the climate change initiative.

Next on the agenda will be mobility pricing to charge everyone for the privilege of taking the car out of a parking spot and putting it on the road – but, shrewdly, that will come a little later, around 2025 or 2026. This is what we would recognize as the boiling frog approach, the temperature going up and up and up in the pot of water until the taxpayer is cooked.

The city embarked on a conceit more than a decade ago to create the Potemkin Village, a paltry council on a multilateral mission insinuating itself on matters that it cannot affect to make its citizens feel they can.

The aspirational, extra-territorial bluster has attracted a senior administrative echelon that thinks it has arrived at the United Nations, not Cambie and 12th.

Our council believes it is occupying the legislatures of Victoria or Ottawa.

Both are lost in space. •

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