Vancouver council to vote this week on a first step toward mobility pricing in downtown core

·3 min read

It's the most ambitious plan for fighting climate change Vancouver has seen yet — but it also might be its most controversial.

City council is expected to vote Thursday on next policy steps to meet goals outlined when it unanimously declared a climate emergency in 2019.

Among the changes being considered are mobility pricing in the core of the city, a city-wide parking permit system, a carbon pollution surcharge on non-electric vehicles, and limits on the use of carbon in construction of new buildings.

Staff say the proposed changes are required to meet climate targets that council has voted for, including being carbon neutral by 2050 and having two-thirds of trips in the city being done by active transportation by 2030.

"It's important to advance all of these big moves, not just one or two," said Gil Kelley, the city's chief planner.

"Without doing that, we won't get there."

With more than 75 speakers signed up to make their case to council, it's possible a vote might not come until Nov. 19.

The 371-page report can be read here.

Mobility pricing

The idea of mobility pricing — also called road pricing — in the downtown core is the most contentious of the proposals.

The basic concept involves charging vehicles entering or leaving the "Metro Core" area, which is defined as anything north of 16th Avenue, east of Arbutus Street and west of Clark Drive.

City staff said it is necessary to incentivize transit, cycling and walking options, and said funds from the program would go toward improving those modes of transportation across the city.

However, any change would require two additional votes by council — including one after the 2022 municipal election — and provincial government approval, with the earliest implementation being 2025.

"The next one and a half years would be largely engagement with residents and businesses," said Dale Bracewell, Vancouver's manager of transportation planning.

The rest of the regions' mayors showed limited enthusiasm for mobility pricing when it was studied by TransLink in 2017 and 2018. Several councillors asked whether it made sense for Vancouver to explore mobility pricing when the rest of Metro Vancouver was not, but staff said it would be similar to other places where the concept has been introduced.

"It might be a pilot case for the region," said Bracewell.

"All the benchmark cities [like London and Stockholm] have started with a city centre model. Some have remained, but others have expanded from there."

Downtown Vancouver Association
Downtown Vancouver Association

Regional approach needed?

Groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Greater Vancouver Board of Trade have criticized the road pricing proposal.

"The proposed mobility pricing scheme could exacerbate 'the escape to the suburbs' for both large and small businesses," wrote Bridgette Anderson, CEO of the board of trade.

"To avoid unintended consequences that could worsen bottlenecks and emissions in Greater Vancouver, mobility pricing cannot be implemented in a vacuum."

Alex Boston, executive director of SFU's Renewable Cities program, said a Vancouver-only approach could increase congestion and carbon in some areas.

But he said further analysis is needed, and thinks the overall plan is necessary for Vancouver.

"[It's] a decisive effort that demonstrates the seriousness every level of government should take in addressing climate action," he wrote.

The total estimated cost of the plan is $500 million, of which $270 has already been budgeted.