Business chiefs launch attack on parking tax
Don Cayo in the Vancouver Sun has a longish opinion piece on a new campaign of opposition to the increase in parking taxes downtown. It is all very predictable – with the usual suspects lining up to vent – including Charles Gauthier, who has regularly featured on this blog.
It is perhaps a little late for the campaign. Much more effective, surely, would have been some activity while Translink was still in consultation mode. After all, regional bodies here are much more responsive to organized business interests – the truckers and the Gateway Council for instance – than they are to community groups or public opinion. What transit users think, of course, has never mattered at all.
But campaigns by groups like this have worked. After all, the leaders of these organisations also tend to be, or be close to, BC Liberal Party insiders. As Cayo notes, an earlier, regional parking tax was killed by a similar effort. Though this one seems to be more aimed at public opinion than politicians.
Actually, the people who pay to park are not a very significant component of the region’s population. Most of the parking spaces in the region are still “free” and a lot are on private land. Most are tied to other activities – shopping or employment. Increasing parking charges ought to be one of the more effective ways of influencing driver behaviour. After all, the parking charge is applied at the end of the trip, when the trip is made. So it can be avoided only of the trip is not made or diverted elsewhere. Except, it turns out, a lot of people do not pay themselves for the space they occupy. It get claimed on travel expenses or written off as a business expense. Some employers pay for parking as a benefit. Parking charges in Vancouver are, comparatively speaking, quite cheap. Much cheaper than major urban centres like London or New York – and that is partly because there is still, comparatively speaking, quite a lot of it. Though perhaps now less than there was, and probably it wil become scarcer, at least in the dense downtown core and the major business districts.
I think this is just as it should be. The areas where the new rates apply are those that are best served by transit, so if there is an effect of encouraging car users to switch modes that should become apparent. It cannot happen in most of the rest of the region since transit capacity and service levels are so woefully inadequate, you have to be a “transit captive” to use it.
Translink is, of course, cash strapped becuase it does not have access to adequate operating funding from senior governments. Not enough from the province, none at all from the feds. And the parking tax is part of a program of funding stabilization that also hits transit users and property tax payers – as well as drivers in general, since the gas tax has gone up too. Again, in a world where carbon emissions have to fall, just as it should be. Transit is well worth paying for: it is a public good which needs to be supported. Translink also pays for roads too, as it happens. So on the whole I do not see that this campaign really has much merit. Nor do they seem to be really on the ball in coming up with some alternative way of keeping this essential service going. Of course whenever taxes are increased there are howls of protest. But since governments in Canada have been doing their best to lower income taxes and cutting services in general, I think the limit to the protesters demands may well have been reached.