Barrett Bryan-Soron: Vancouver's climate-emergency parking program will reduce inequality and carbon emissions

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      By Barrett Bryan-Soron

      What if I told you that there was a simple solution for reducing air and carbon pollution in Vancouver while freeing up valuable land to help local businesses and families?

      The solution is to stop giving away public land to store private vehicles.

      This is what's proposed in the City's climate-emergency parking program. Putting a price on parking would end a long-standing injustice, where a select group of residents gets exclusive access to a quarter of public streets.

      It would end special privileges for some neighbourhoods and residents, and create the foundation needed to add fees for polluting and luxury vehicles. It could also raise up to $40 million for climate actions, like expanding transit and cycling facilities in South and East Vancouver.

      You might be surprised to learn that 40 percent of Vancouver's carbon emissions come from burning gasoline and diesel in vehicles. Yet, many Vancouverites do not own or lease a vehicle. And because wealthier people drive more and live in larger homes, a small number of relatively well-off residents are responsible for most of Vancouver's carbon emissions.

      One-quarter of Vancouver households do not own a vehicle; nearly half of low-income households do not own a vehicle. These people are choosing not to drive even though facilities for driving and storing private vehicles are oversupplied and underpriced, or, most commonly, not priced at all. Many of these people are seniors, low-income workers, people with disabilities, and children, and equity conversations must include them.

      The underpricing of parking is a regressive subsidy that harms people who cannot or should not drive. It promotes sprawl, noise, and air pollution, and it reduces economic productivity. We need to pay for responding to the climate emergency: it is fair to ask those with the most resources and who are polluting the most to pay more.

      The oversupply of parking is another inequitable part of our status quo. A stunning 81 percent of public streets are allocated to moving and storing vehicles in Vancouver. A quarter of streets are used for storing unused vehicles, and in all but a few neighbourhoods, drivers do not pay for using this land. A resident who drives can consume up to three hundred times more public space than a person who walks over the course of a day.

      Vancouver's road-space status quo is an aberration, out of step with thousands of years of human development and civilization that emphasized walkable, compact communities.

      Imagine how many people would choose to walk, roll, cycle, and use transit if more of our streets were returned to traditional uses? Streets reserved for storing vehicles should be replaced with wider sidewalks, better bus stops, and e-bike stations and cycling lanes. Facilities for walking, rolling, cycling, and transit are more fiscally responsible investments. Businesses, too, benefit, as parking for one driver is replaced with seating and space for dozens of customers.

      Today, some residents pay for parking, but not others. In the West End, parking prices are market rate, with an exemption for low-income households and long-time residents. In others, including neighbourhoods with some of the wealthiest people in Canada, city streets are made available at no cost or at a heavily subsidized nonmarket rate. Now city staff are proposing a citywide $45 permit for overnight parking that works out to just $0.12 per day. Visitors would pay $3 to park overnight.

      Let's contrast this with pricing for transit alternatives, especially those used by low-wage and vulnerable travellers. A part-time cleaner or care worker commuting from Southeast Vancouver to Surrey will pay a one-way SkyTrain fare of $5.75. A senior taking a short bus ride to and from a nearby doctor will pay $6, twice as much as a visitor parking overnight would. HandyDART, a transit service for people with physical, sensory, and/or cognitive disabilities, requires users to pay more than twice the proposed cost of an overnight-parking permit. All of these transit fares increased on July 1, no less.

      Conversations about equity need to include everyone, especially those who do not or cannot own, lease, or operate a vehicle. There are many low-income people, people with disabilities, seniors, multigenerational households, and single parents with children who do not travel by private vehicle. They deserve more equitable access to our city’s street space, and pricing parking everywhere will raise revenue to improve transit and other services in more parts of the city.

      Vancouver’s climate-emergency parking program will make our city fairer and more prepared for a hotter world. It will raise funds for safer streets, cleaner air, and climate action by pricing transportation more fairly. Tell city council that pricing parking is the right decision for reducing inequality and carbon emissions.

      Barrett Bryan-Soron is a director of the Car Free Vancouver Society, lead campaigner for Fair Streets Vancouver, and a member of the City of Vancouver’s transportation advisory committee.