A couple of weeks ago one morning, paramedics and firefighters had trouble getting to a medical emergency at a local community centre. The problem? Ambulances and fire trucks had no place to park because the fire lane designated for such emergencies was cluttered with the cars of parents parking illegally to drop off their children for the facility’s daycare programs.
This is a real example of the two-way relationship everyone has with the transportation system in our daily lives. We are all dependent on it for our freedom of mobility as well as the quality and access to the goods and services that enrich our lives. Yet how effective that system functions depends not only on how well it is designed and run, but also on the way we all work within that system.
The public transportation system, including roads, rail, public transit, sidewalks, bike routes, and waterways, is perhaps the best example that demonstrates the everyday impact of the dichotomy of self versus public interest. Using the community centre example, while it was convenient for one parent to occupy the fire lane to drop off their child, too many doing this congested the area, created an unwarranted risk to the community’s ability to respond to emergencies.
When it comes to the city transportation system, this line of thinking is quite consistent no matter the scale. In the middle of the night, it may be simple to decide to use the car to get from point A to point B quickly, but quite another thing to if everyone decides to do this during rush hour. It is very convenient personally in the former situation but quite the opposite in the latter.
However, the value of the public transportation system goes well beyond connecting people and places. Such systems exist to extend the capability of our cities to move people and goods in a manner that expands our economic potential. Acting individually, it would be virtually impossible to organize and finance the construction of the myriad network of roads, bridges, tunnels, traffic signals, and mass transit services that even if you don’t directly use them, they indirectly enrich your life in a variety of ways.
The Metro Vancouver region will be taking part in a mail-in referendum between March 16th and May 29th to decide whether to accept a 0.5% increase in the provincial sales tax to help finance a transportation improvement plan to be implemented over at least the next decade. For that reason, I’ll be focusing my attention on the public transportation issue for the next few months.
To begin with, while affordability is always an issue given Metro Vancouver’s high cost of living, I will not be too concerned with it in this series of discussion, at least when it comes to addressing car-owner related counter-arguments.
Two reasons for this. First is the drop in gas price. One Canadian auto industry source estimated that on average, each vehicle uses over 1,800 litres of gasoline per year, meaning that each ten cent reduction in gas prices equates to $180 in annual savings. The current 20 cent decline compared to a year ago means $360 of savings and the 50 cent fall since between late June 2014 and the end of January then equates to $900 saved per car annually. Given that the 0.5% tax increase is estimated to cost $125 per household, it is reasonable to commit some of those savings for reinvestment into the public system.
Second is the sharp rise in truck sales, up 11% in 2014 with a 20% surge in December alone, certainly in response to the downward trend in fuel costs. Lower gas prices will already lead to higher consumption and car use as it is, but the shift to larger less fuel efficient vehicles will unnecessarily add further congestion to our streets and environment.
I will thus be using my public interest approach with an intent, at least from a principle standpoint, to address the concerns and willingness of people to commit further investment, in both monetary and trust terms, towards our public transportation system being asked for in this ballot. Naturally, this is a complex issue involving a wide variety of issues that I will be unable to cover given the relatively short timeframes, but I hope to use my 4DF model in upcoming posts to illustrate why the public transportation system matters and also how all of our conduct towards it contributes or deters its effectiveness.