Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘parking charges

Driving less, and raising parking fees

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I have been reluctant to simply pass along press releases. They have to pass my own stringent tests which include relevance to Greater Vancouver and also my sense of how much the main stream media might not cover the release. I also try always to only put things on this blog that I have an opinion about. I try to write something – not just pass things along. Two press releases came my way overnight that both seem to pass this test. One talks about growth – and how it can be smarter. The other talks more about how other places do things differently to us and have had better outcomes. So I think both are worthwhile – and both point to new studies which provide evidence to support sensible policy making.

The ideas of smart growth are not new but there is a great fear here that somehow even talking about growth is going to encourage it. I think in this region growth is inevitable. The people who are already here are smart and dynamic and are going to be active in creating new activities. Vancouver has been a magnet for people for many years and the things that bring people here are unlikely to change. These increasing numbers of people will be accommodated somehow. Simply allowing a grey market to develop, as happened with secondary suites, is not a sensible response. We also need to become more critical – in the sense of not simply having the knee jerk response to any and all change. One particular example this morning is annoying me. In just the same way that the endorsement of a regional growth strategy suddenly seemed to push all sorts of panic buttons – it has been under discussion for years and no-one seemed to be very excited about it at the time – now proposals for taller buildings downtown are eliciting a predictable emotional response.  There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t like tall buildings” but there is quite a lot wrong with statements such as

the surprisingly high eco-footprint of tall condo buildings, which rank a distant last in energy efficiency to all other dwelling options (some 10 times less efficient than many houses, town homes, and small apartment buildings).

As yesterday’s blog post pointed out just looking at the building, without considering its location can be very misleading. You can have a very highly efficient building but if it is in the wrong place, where everybody has to drive to get to it, then it won’t be very energy efficient. You could put up with a less than optimal building – in terms of its heating/cooling requirement – if it was more efficient in terms of servicing and the travel patterns and choices of its users. You must always consider transportation and land use together. They are the same issue – not two separate ones.   I cannot say I like concrete canyons very much either, and I do think we need to get better at growing our own food. But not everyone wants to be a gardener, and there are all sorts of ways – green roofs, green walls – that we can better utilize space that have multiple benefits. I recognize that Damien Gills and Rafe Mair are both very effective campaigners, but they both seem to embrace a style that puts passion before reflection, and likes to see everything in black and white. Most policy debates require a more nuanced approach, and politics is still what it has always been – the art of the possible.

There are also two things that everybody hates. One is sprawl, the other is density. We can accommodate a lot more people in the City of Vancouver at densities which are currently permitted. But we would have to start building a different kind of transit system to accommodate that kind of growth. And neighbourhoods need to have a reason to embrace change, which means they need to be involved in determining what is going to done to the place they live in. We can accommodate more people in downtown, but we need the present transit system to have expansion capabilities: we forgot that with the Canada Line, and we are only just now starting to expand the Expo Line, which had long been suffering from lack of trains. We can get people to use transit, as UPass showed, but we did not have anything like enough buses for them, and when universities are located at the end of a peninsula, or on top of a mountain, more buses may not even be the most effective solution. Those failings show a lack of “joined up thinking”. We have two levels of government who cannot agree on what should be done and who should do it. It is not that considering taller buildings is wrong. It is that we do not have the ability to adapt our urban form to growth – of any kind. And then we are surprised – over and over again – when this same approach produces results we did not anticipate.

Afterthought – there is a very relevant post on “free” parking at Grist today


New Report Finds Urban Growth Strategies Provide Economic Benefits and Improve Quality of Life

“Growing Wealthier” Report Examines How Smart Growth Can Enhance Prosperity

Washington, D.C. –January 19, 2011—Efficient urban planning – known as smart growth development – enhances community prosperity and generates economic benefits for local businesses, households and governments, according to a new report published today by the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP). The study, Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity, reveals how reduced driving and efficient land use planning are strongly interconnected with economic growth and better quality of life.

Growing Wealthier reports that pent-up demand for walkable communities is reshaping the real estate market. Cities investing in public transportation and downtown development are experiencing cost savings, growing tax revenues, increased property values and booming retail sales. The authors of the report, CCAP Transportation Analyst Chuck Kooshian and CCAP Director of Transportation Programs Steve Winkelman, encourage policy makers and practitioners to promote economic well-being by mixing land uses and providing a diversity of transportation and housing choices to enhance accessibility and promote travel efficiency.
“In our transforming economy, more and more exchanges of goods and services take place in channels unimaginable a quarter of a century ago,” said Kooshian.  “While transportation is still vital to economic activity, people and goods in motion are only a part of a much greater whole.”

Growing Wealthier demonstrates that the rate of increase in driving and income in the U.S. has been unequal. From 1967 to 2008, household driving increased by 60 percent while average household income increased by 52 percent, but median household income increased by only 25 percent. Thus, the experience for most Americans over the last 40 years was one of driving substantially more but not sharing proportionately in income growth. The report also examines how reducing “empty miles,” driving that contributes little or nothing to the economy, will help meet climate protection goals while also yielding positive economic impacts.
Communities that are realizing the economic benefits of smart growth include:

  • Dallas, Texas – downtown retail sales grew 33 percent a year after the light rail system began operation.
  • Sarasota, Fla. – downtown development costs were half that of suburban development while generating four times the tax revenue.
  • Portland, Ore. – a $100 million investment in streetcars helped attract $3.5 billion in private investments.
  • Denver, Colo. – home values within a half-mile of stations on the Southeast light rail line rose by 18 percent, while home values in the rest of Denver declined by 8 percent from 2006-2008.

Growing Wealthier documents how efficient land use planning can improve household resilience to rising oil prices by enhancing travel choices.Allowing more people to live closer to job centers can boost employment rates and income levels for low-wage workers while reducing exposure to congestion for all. Smart growth policies are also shown to cut government infrastructure costs, enhance public health and conserve natural resources.

The report provides recommendations for the federal government to “equip and empower” state and local experts to implement smart growth policies and realize their economic and livability benefits. The federal government should increase funding for research on the economic impacts of transportation and land use policies and provide technical assistance to help communities implement and evaluate smart growth and travel efficiency policies. “Do. Measure. Learn.” policy programs centered on action, measurement and analysis will give practitioners room to experiment and build upon their successes. Incentive-based programs that reward economic and environmental sustainability will encourage more communities to follow suit.

“There are many steps we must take to ensure that our children inherit a planet and an economy with a bright future,” said Winkelman. “Investing the time and money to grow our communities to be more resilient, more efficient and more satisfying to their residents will offer a tremendous payoff.”

The executive summary and full report are available at and at For more information on CCAP’s transportation program, please visit



European cities lead the way in influencing travel behavior through parking reforms

January 19, 2011, NYC:  European cities are reaping the rewards of innovative parking policies, including revitalized town centers; big reductions in car use; drops in air pollution and rising quality of urban life, according to Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation, published today (January 19th) by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Visit for a copy of the report.

The report examines European parking over the last half century, through the prism of ten European cities. It found:

•       Parking is increasingly linked to public transport. Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and Strasbourg limit how much parking is allowed in new developments based on how far it is to walk to a bus, tram or metro stop. Zurich has made significant investments in new tram and bus lines while making parking more expensive and less convenient. As a result, between 2000 and 2005, the share of public transit use went up by 7%, while the share of cars in traffic declined by 6%.

•       European cities are ahead of the rest of the world in charging rational prices for on-street parking. In Paris, the on-street parking supply has been reduced by more than 9% since 2003, and of the remaining stock, 95% is paid parking. The result, along with other transport infrastructure improvements, has been a 13% decrease in driving.

•       Parking reforms are becoming more popular than congestion charging. While London, Stockholm, and a few other European cities have managed to implement congestion charging, more are turning to parking. Parking caps have been set in Zurich and Hamburg’s business districts to freeze the existing supply, where access to public transport is easiest.

•       Revenue gathered from parking tariffs is being invested to support other mobility needs. In Barcelona, 100% of revenue goes to operate Bicing—the city’s public bike system. Several boroughs in London use parking revenue to subsidize transit passes for seniors and the disabled, who ride public transit for free.

Walter Hook, Executive Director of ITDP, commented: “This report shows that European cities lead the world in using parking as a tool to revitalize their cities.”

The ten cities featured are Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg and Zurich.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2011 at 8:33 am

Business chiefs launch attack on parking tax

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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.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Posted in parking, transit

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Congestion Pricing and Its Effects on the Environment

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The proponents of highway expansion here like to characterize traffic congestion as an environmental problem. Look at all those stalled cars, they say, pumping out pollution into the air. If that traffic was moving there would be less pollution. An article in the Wall Street Journal today takes the opposite view. “Traffic jams, if they’re managed well, can actually be good for the environment

What spurred the WSJ’s interest was the appointment of Jay H. Walder  as chairman and chief executive officer of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He helped design London’s congestion pricing scheme. Not that he admits to planning to introducing congestion pricing to New York – yet. But clearly in London – as in New York – there is a good alternative to driving – an extensive rapid transit network. In both cities most people get into the centre – the major employment area- on trains. The commute pattern in Greater Vancouver is not nearly so centralized. And we do not have much of a rail network. Only part of the region gets the choice of a fast ride on transit.

Induced Traffic

What is important to note is that the arithmetic used by the road promoters ignores induced traffic. The reason that road building does NOT cure congestion is that traffic expands to fill the space available. The author, David Owen, inserts the word “almost” before “always end up making the original problem worse”. I would like someone who thinks otherwise to come up with just one example where this solution worked for more than just a brief period. Gordon Price issued that challenge to the Gateway proponents, and they have never answered.

Who pays?

In 1999, the Australian researchers Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy concluded that “there is no guarantee that congestion pricing will simultaneously improve congestion and sustainability,” and mentioned several ways in which congestion pricing can defy the expectations of its supporters, among them by causing motorists to “drive exactly as they always have if the congestion charge is covered by their firms (e.g., a majority of London’s peak-hour commuters have company cars and perks).”

It is also important to note that the second stage of the London scheme included areas with lots of residents. Most of them are well off – these are some of the most expensive addresses in London – and are car owners. And of course, the jobs they hold also have the same perks of company cars and “free” parking at work. Either the employer pays or it can be set off against tax as a business expense.

Yes idling cars are wasting fuel, but that is much less than the increase in fuel used by increasing the number and length of car trips. Which is what has always been the consequence of highway spending.

Congestion is a more effective deterrent to driving than congestion charges where there is capacity on an attractive alternative. In London, what congestion pricing did was make drivers more aware of their route choices. Most did not need to be in Central London at all but were taking a direct, shorter route as it seemed quicker than using the ring roads. In fact, earlier efforts to persuade drivers to divert from congested areas tended to fail simply because diverted drivers were quickly replaced by others. The M25 – the major motorway around the rim of the metropolitan area – attracts so much traffic that is has been widened several times, but remains as congested as ever. Drivers actually came out of the centre, to enjoy a section of apparently faster driving, before re-entering further around the rim.

Fortunately, planners in London were much more successful in directing employment development, especially for offices, to places served by railways. Major office developments were directed to Croydon or Ealing – both on main line railways – or to the Docklands where much was spent (and is still being spent) on both the underground and the Dockland Light Railway.

It is often forgotten that other places that invest heavily in highways also invest in railways. “Residents of the New York metropolitan area are extraordinarily committed transit users—they account for almost a third of all the public-transit passenger miles traveled in the United States.” I would have liked to have seen a figure for transit mode share in New York.   We think we do well here at 11% because the Puget Sound area has only 5%. In the US as a whole it was around 1% in 2004. But then my Google search simply demonstrated to me that the whole area of mode share calculation in the US is controversial. But clearly New York and Chicago resemble London more than we do. “Seventy-two percent (4.8 million) of people who enter Manhattan’s Central Business District each workday take public transit”

It is absurd, in New York, that the East River bridges still don’t charge tolls and that curbside parking in much of the city is free.

But again if employers and businesses would pay those fees, all that tolls and parking charges would do is change who drives, not how much is driven. And indeed, congestion charges may well work the same way. I have often used the argument myself – congestion charges replace those with time to waste with those who have money to spend. Like all regressive tax measures (those that take no account of ability to pay) they hit the poor much harder than the rich. In Metro Vancouver there would be significant geographic inequity, since only a few area have anything like adequate transit. So while the theory of getting road users to pay for more transit is attractive, the process of getting there would be very painful, unless there was a very significant upfront investment in much more transit before the new charge is levied.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 12, 2009 at 11:00 am