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Vehicles idle in traffic on West Broadway at Cambie Street in Vancouver on March 12, 2020.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver councillors have voted to move forward on an aggressive new climate-emergency plan, which includes requiring parking permits for any resident car on the street, mandatory upgrades to homes and offices to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and improved electric vehicle infrastructure.

However, city council was split on the idea of imposing tolls for motorists driving into the city’s central business areas. Mayor Kennedy Stewart and five other councillors – representing Green, left, independent – voted for it. The Non-Partisan Association’s four councillors voted against it, saying the city should not be acting alone in a region that is four times its size.

“We have interconnected economics and employment in the region and it didn’t make sense to go ahead with just a metro-core approach,” said the NPA’s Lisa Dominato.

But Christine Boyle, the OneCity councillor who has been the most vocal supporter of the climate-emergency plan, said while a regional approach would be preferable, “at least if we can get the ball rolling here, it opens up the possibility of that regional approach.”

The climate-emergency response plan was developed by staff after councillors voted unanimously last year to create something that would drive a bigger reduction in carbon emissions than has been happening in recent years.

The plan’s target by 2030 is for two-thirds of trips in Vancouver to be done by foot, transit or bike. It also aims for 50 per cent of all kilometres to be travelled by zero-emission vehicles, and cutting in half the carbon pollution from buildings from 2007 levels. It’s estimated to cost $500-million over 10 years.

As for a toll, staff had argued that cities such as Stockholm have started with a congestion charge around a smaller metro zone, similar in size to Vancouver.

But business groups had strongly opposed the idea of a toll, saying it was tone-deaf and inappropriate at a time when the city’s commercial districts, especially the downtown, have already been severely hurt because of the pandemic.

The proposal also generated a slew of questions about how a toll would affect tradespeople who work in Vancouver, residents who live inside the toll zone and much more – all questions that staff said would be worked out later.

The staff recommendation on the toll was softened somewhat by an amendment from independent Councillor Rebecca Bligh to study the idea’s feasibility first. If approved, it wouldn’t be put in place until 2025.

The study will likely take two years, coming due just around the time of the next civic election.

Many of the recommendations in the plan will take at least a year, if not more, before they come into effect, since staff will need to propose detailed plans for each action and have them approved again by council.

The most immediate effect residents are likely to see is a requirement to buy a permit for any car they plan to park on their street, although it will be at a “non-market” rate. Planners did not provide information on the likely annual fee, although West End residents used to pay an $80 non-market rate for parking permits and now pay $400.

The NPA councillors also voted against this.

As well, homeowners and businesses will be required to replace natural-gas appliances with alternatives once those appliances come to the end of their life. Apartments will be exempt for now because of staff concerns that requiring upgrades would lead to renovictions.

No one on council argued that nothing needed to be done, even though they disagreed on some measures.

“This was about trying to strike a balance, because I believe people are socially and environmentally conscious but they do have to also consider their pocketbooks,” Ms. Dominato said.

Ms. Boyle said the plan’s approval demonstrated how united the city is, relatively speaking, about climate issues.

“Climate actions have not been a wedge issue in Vancouver. This left me feeling hopeful. It was good to see that, even around the pandemic, we can’t ignore these issues.”

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