Vancouver City Council rejects polluting vehicle tax proposal
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Oct 14, 2021
Mehanaz Yakub

After 10 months, two rounds of public engagements and several hours of public commentary and presentations, Vancouver city council scraps proposal to require a citywide residential parking permit and extra fees for polluting vehicles

After 10 months, two rounds of public engagements and several hours of public commentary and presentations, Vancouver city council last week scrapped a proposal to require a citywide residential parking permit and extra fees for polluting vehicles

With council locked in a tie, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart voted “no” to adding an extra annual levy on combustion-engine vehicles drivers, as part of the city’s controversial Climate Emergency Parking Program (CEPP).

What made the program significant and controversial was that it included a unique in Canada proposal: a pollution charge for residents who purchased a 2023 or newer combustion-engine vehicle.

Owners with “moderately polluting” vehicles — described as gas-powered sporty sedans or small SUVs would be charged $500, while drivers of “high-polluting” vehicle — such as gas-powered luxury sports cars, large SUVs or full-size pickup trucks would have to pay $1,000 for the same permit.

Drivers with electric and low-polluting new vehicles would have been exempted from paying, along with any vehicle predating 2023.  

The CEPP would have also charged all residents who park a car overnight on the road a $45-per-year parking fee, while lower-income families could have applied for a reduced $5 annual permit price. The parking plan would have also required a $3 charge for visitors parking between midnight and 7 a.m.  

Lack of equity and affordability 

Following the council’s decision, Stewart released a statement on Twitter explaining that he rejected the program because of equitability concerns he believes would have disproportionately impacted middle- and low-income families. 

“If it had passed, a few years from now a landscaper living in a basement suite who buys a used 2023 pickup truck for work would pay over $1,000 a year while their landlord would pay nothing – even if the homeowner drives a Ferrari. That’s just not fair,” said Stewart.  

Non-Partisan Association Party councillor Melissa De Genova also voted “no” to the program after pointing out its lack of affordability. 

“It’s really not just this one fee. What I heard from our staff and the answers to other councillors’ questions it’s clear: This fee could, would, and should go up,” said De Genova.

“If we’re really going to do this… it’s not with a stick, it’s not with driving people out of our city with the stick. It’s with carrots, it’s with incentives… we’re going to get a lot farther with carrots than we are with sticks.” 

Questioning effectiveness  

The CEPP was first introduced as part of a plan to help advance the city’s Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) — brought in through council last fall — to meet Vancouver’s ultimate goal of reducing municipal emissions by 50 per cent from 2007 levels by 2030. 

The permit was presented as an initiative to encourage people purchasing new cars to buy low-emission or zero-emission vehicles to help reduce carbon pollution and fund programs from the emergency plan.  

During the council meeting at city hall on Oct. 6, councillor Colleen Hardwick questioned the degree of effectiveness the permit would have in accomplishing those initial goals. 

“In listening to speakers today, you’d think that this financial burden that would be placed on the people that live and work within our boundaries could reverse climate change. Really?,” asked Hardwick. “Vancouver is one of 23 local governments within Metro Vancouver. To suggest that acting unilaterally in Vancouver could move the needle, I think that’s a real stretch.” 

“At the end of the day, the very real costs of this program will be borne by our residents in an already unaffordable city…We need programs that provide clearly defined and measurable GHG reductions. Combating climate change is an opportunity…the city has an opportunity that needs to focus on sharply defined initiatives that yield measurable results that can be publicized back to Vancouver residents,” continued Hardwick.

Independent councillor member Lisa Dominato suggested that when it comes to addressing emissions tied to motor vehicles, there needs to be a coordinated regional approach across Metro Vancouver because “emissions do not know municipal boundaries.” 

Those in support

On the other side of the debate, Green Party councillor, Pete Fry, said he was disappointed that the program was not going to pass and called out his colleagues for “turning their backs” on their commitments to support climate action. 

Another councillor, Christine Boyle, recognized that the proposal “isn’t perfect” but the current status quo of “unsafe roads and sidewalks, poor air quality, slow and crowded buses and missed climate targets” was more amiss.  

“I want to be very clear on this that doing nothing is not more equitable than this proposal. Defending the status quo amid a climate emergency is indefensible and should be unacceptable,” said Boyle.  

When it was councillor Adriane Carr’s turn to speak, she asked, “What will affect families? Climate change. What will be a financial burden? Climate change. It’s not about choosing the best approach. It is about taking every possible action we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that our children have a future.” 

With the money generated from CEPP permits, the city would have raised between $44 million and $75 million from 2022 to 2025, which could pay for more active transportation and transit, building out the city’s electric vehicle charging networks and switching buildings to renewable energy, said city staff.

Vancouver council is expected to identify other ways to pay for the CEAP, potentially through increasing property taxes or re-allocating parts of the city’s budget.  

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