Parking in Vancouver: After hearing from dozens of speakers, council narrowly rejects controversial plan
Vancouver drivers may soon be asked to pay more for parking in the name of fighting the climate emergency, but it won't be as soon as it could have been, after city council rejected a controversial proposal Wednesday evening.
Councillors voted 6-5 against the "Climate Emergency Parking Program" proposed by city staff. The plan would've required overnight parking permits on all residential streets across the city between midnight and 7 a.m., at a cost of about $45 a year with taxes, with a reduced fee of $5 for low-income households.
The proposal also recommended adopting a new overnight permit pollution surcharge, which would've required drivers of new vehicles classified as moderate or high polluters to pay up to $1,000 per year.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart cast the deciding vote against the program, joining councillors Rebecca Bligh, Melissa De Genova, Lisa Dominato, Colleen Hardwick and Sarah Kirby-Yung in opposition.
In a written statement issued shortly after the vote, Stewart explained his decision, saying that the proposal as written did not meet his standard that climate policies must be both urgent and just.
"The proposed permit parking system did not meet this test," the mayor said in his statement. "It would have asked those renting basement suites or working in vehicle-dependent jobs to pay more, while asking homeowners with private parking to pay nothing."
"And these inequitable outcomes would become entrenched," he added. "For example, 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."
On Wednesday, council heard from dozens of members of the public who supported and opposed the plan.
While all of the nearly 50 speakers who addressed council on Wednesday said they supported efforts to address the climate emergency, they were divided about whether the proposal as it stands would be effective and equitable.
“I’m not against measures to mitigate climate change, only measures that are not fair and not well thought out,” Darryl Sturdy told council.
“This particular policy is too messy, and too inequitable, and clumsy and costly, and it just doesn’t have to be,” said David Fine.
But Tarlan Razzaghi pointed out the price for inaction would “pale in comparison to the cost of climate suffering caused by inaction.”
“What about our kids here today in Vancouver?” Razzaghi asked. “Don’t they deserve action today? Don’t they deserve clean air and a public space to enjoy as children today?”
And Kathryn Harrison, a UBC professor of political science who studies climate policy, applauded the city for moving forward with what she called a solid policy proposal.
“One of the huge challenges with addressing the climate crisis is that everyone’s waiting for someone else to lead,” Harrison said.
“At some point we need to start acting at the scale of this crisis,” she added.
Council members who spoke to CTV News on Tuesday, prior to hearing from the public, also appeared to be divided.
“I think this proposal is fundamentally flawed…it worsens affordability, it really fails from an equity perspective,” said Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung.
“It feels like it's a war in the working class on people that don't have the access to a driveway or off-street parking."
Meanwhile, Coun. Lisa Dominato said she plans to vote against the measure.
“It really smacks of nickel-and-diming the public,” she said.
“People are already paying high taxes. But from the get-go I’ve said that it is a flawed policy approach."
Coun. Adrian Carr, who supports the plan, pushed back on some critics who called it a “tax” or “cash grab.”
“If we didn’t do fees, we might have to raise taxes,” she said.
Carr also indicated she’s open to being flexible and making changes to the program if it rolls out, for example, if a person’s work or family circumstances make choosing a low-emitting vehicle that wouldn’t face the surcharge impossible.
“We need as council to be sensitive to that those people aren’t disadvantaged and aren’t hurt by the program, and if we have to adjust some of the measures, so be it, we will,” she said.
Family physician Dr. Melissa Lem, who doesn’t own a vehicle, has also spoken out in support of the plan, despite criticisms that it didn’t target commuters or the other 50 per cent of vehicles registered in the city that aren’t parked on streets.
“Although it doesn't do everything that it could, I think it's the best answer that we have in this moment,” Lem said.
“Climate delay is the new climate denialism."
The overnight residential parking permit and annual pollution surcharge were forecasted to generate between $44 million to $72 million over four years starting in 2022.
The proposal called for that revenue to go toward addressing the city’s climate action plan such as investments in transit and electric vehicle infrastructure.
Stewart said he has asked city staff to "find a better way forward."