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FILE PHOTO: The Main Press Centre and Canada Place are seen in the background as traffic tries to get through downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
FILE PHOTO: The Main Press Centre and Canada Place are seen in the background as traffic tries to get through downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

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Charging drivers to fund transit is an idea whose time has come Add to ...

This week I was stricken with a nearly incurable ear-worm, which rendered me almost unable to function. No, it wasn't Gangnam Style or any of its unintentionally amusing parodies. Nor was it the Owl City/Carly Rae Jepsen song that has burrowed its way into the brains of so many unsuspecting parent-chauffeurs. It wasn't a song at all; it was a phrase. A phrase spoken by Jeff Bridges as The Dude in the 1998 Coen brothers film, The Big Lebowski. The Dude delivers the line while slouched in an expensive antique chair. He's speaking with the wealthy, powerful Lebowski with whom he has been confused by a group of inept, Kraftwerk-inspired criminals.

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Bent on revenge (or at least compensation) for a rug urinated upon as part of the mix-up, The Dude, in a stained V-neck undershirt and gaping bathrobe, declares: “This aggression will not stand, man.” That phrase has rung in my head all week after reading an editorial accusing the Vision Vancouver-dominated city council of “anti-vehicle bullying,” and waging a “war on the car.”

I'm generally not one to cast stones, (glass houses and all of that) but the delicious icing spread atop this cake of dumb was the poll question which followed: “Do you support Vision Vancouver's anti-car ideology?” Perhaps surprisingly (last time I checked), 80 per cent of respondents answered “yes,” presumably agreeing that Vision Vancouver promoted an anti-car ideology but deciding they were okay with that. Far from being (as the editorial stated) “entirely an attack on the car,” the City of Vancouver's 2040 Transportation Plan envisions a future where more of us are walking and biking, or taking transit. It’s an ambitious plan that (surprise) relies on funding from senior levels of government, but 28 years out, who doesn't dream a little?

It argues, among other things, that regional road pricing could reduce congestion and help pay for improvements to transit.

This is an idea currently being promoted by regional mayors tasked with approving funding for TransLink. They no longer have any actual power, but they're full of ideas. Rather than tolling only people who happen to live across certain bridges, or using the blunt instrument of a vehicle levy, or taking a larger share of gas tax (an ever-diminishing return), or increasing property tax – which has little or nothing to do with car use – charging car drivers based on where and when they drive is an idea whose time has come.

I know, typical of this “green activist-dominated council,” which is clearly “trying to dictate how the rest of us live.”

So you might find it odd that the Fraser Institute and the radically green Vision Vancouver council appear to be on the same page. An article published in the think tank's magazine this week puts dollar amounts to the productivity lost by people stuck in their cars. It cites cities such as London and Stockholm, which have embraced road pricing and congestion charges, as models of success. Since the congestion charge was introduced in London a decade ago, congestion in the city's central core has been reduced and travel times have improved. In Stockholm, how much you pay depends on when you drive, which encourages people to drive during off-peak hours, to work from home if they can or find another way to get to work. Both cities have excellent public transit systems financed, in part by – you guessed it – road pricing and congestion charges.

There are plenty of hurdles to get over before anything close to this could be introduced in the Lower Mainland. There is the board of TransLink, now beholden to the provincial government and therefore not as sensitive to the regional growth considerations of Metro Vancouver as it once was. There is the infrastructure, whether it be transponders, licence plate cameras or some combination of the two. The expense of the system, the rate of compliance, the accuracy of tickets – those will all be challenges.

The biggest hurdle, though, will be car drivers who, having been fed a steady diet of entitlement by reading, say, newspaper editorials, now believe the roads are free and exclusively for them.

The truth is that beyond insurance, gas and what are comparatively reasonable parking rates in this city, drivers have been able to go pretty much anywhere they want for free. Does finally ending that amount to a “war on the car?” This aggression may not stand, man, but this dude abides.

 

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