Anyone who's visited the Victoria Transport Policy Institute website is aware of the magnitude of subsidies for private automobile users.
One VTPI study revealed that each dollar spent on a vehicle's operating expenses imposes $2.55 in costs on society.
Here's an excerpt from its executive summary:
Vehicle owners have little incentive to limit driving to trips in which benefits exceed total costs, resulting in economically excessive vehicle travel that reduces transport system performance. Problems such as traffic congestion, traffic risk, and pollution are virtually unavoidable with current pricing.
This price structure is horizontally inequitable because people must bear significant costs imposed by others. It is vertically inequitable because it tends to benefit the wealthy and reduces travel options for non-drivers. Whether price increases are regressive depends on how revenues are used. Actions that increase travel options for non-drivers, such as better transit service, improvements to the pedestrian and bicycling environment, and reduced urban sprawl, tend to be overall progressive because they benefit disadvantaged people.
Because the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and most journalists don't pay attention to the research of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, this doesn't get much attention in the mainstream media.
But when there's a relatively small subsidy for cyclists—such as two new electronic bicycle pumps on well-travelled bike routes—it generates howls of outrage and massive cynicism.
That was apparent after the city installed the $3,000 pumps on the Adanac bike route at Hawks Avenue and near Science World.
There was a predictable rant in the Province newspaper. The morning tabloid thundered that cyclists should buy their own pumps and the city "should not be bullying property owners into paying for the luxuries of other citizens, especially Vision Vancouver's pals in the cycling crowd".
Of course, the Province never publishes editorials slamming outrageously expensive left-turn bays for drivers' convenience, which are sometimes created through the purchase of land at public expense. These engineering marvels routinely cost more than $1 million each.
Way back in 1993, a joint B.C. government-Metro Vancouver study called Transport 2021 declared that there was a $2.7-billion subsidy in the region for drivers.
Here's my defence of the city's decision to install the bicycle pumps. Many cyclists have traditionally filled up their tires at gas stations. However, there aren't nearly as many of them in the northern part of the city and particularly downtown, mainly because they've being replaced by real-estate developments. The remaining stations gouge cyclists with a 50-cent fee every time they use their pumps.
The city and motorists benefit when more people ride bikes, because it frees up roadspace for the movement of goods and services. So a $6,000 expenditure on two durable, high-quality bicycle pumps along well-travelled cycling routes is not a big deal. Especially when compared to the massive subsidies provided to the relatively wealthy community of automobile users.
Vancouver is also well-positioned to profit from the growing popularity of bicycle-related tourism. Having a welcoming environment, including free cycling pumps, could be something other cities don't offer.
Perhaps it's time for the Province editorial board to get over Vancouver's minor free-air subsidy to cyclists. Unlike middle-class and upper-middle-class journalists, lots of cyclists can't afford to buy cars. There's nothing inherently wrong with diverting a few tax dollars toward cycling to make their ride go more smoothly, especially when they're contributing to a cleaner environment.