Where The Rubber Meets The Road

October 17, 2013

If you’re reading this, chances are you already know my rather strong views on private automobiles. carhateBluntly, I can’t stand them. I fucking loathe them, in fact. At my most vituperative, I see them as the root cause of all that’s blighted cities and social connectivity since World War II.

Yes, I can be unreasonable on this particular issue.

My car-hatred is much more nuanced than that, hopefully at least. I’ve had some of my greatest travel moments on road trips, seen stuff I’d probably never have the time to see otherwise. In fact, I came across this little gem over the Thanksgiving weekend just north of the shores of Lake Erie. Never would’ve happened without being behind the wheel of a car.

But as a form of commuting on a daily basis? And designing and building cities around that form of transportation? An unmitigated disaster in terms of, not only liveability, but pressures it puts on the public purse.

You see, the conventional wisdom holds that to build, maintain and operate the road network needed to accommodate private vehicle use costs much more than the revenue brought in by users of that system. In short, we subsidize lifestyles based around car use. roadtripThose dependent on their vehicles to get around aren’t paying their fair share.

Of course, by ‘conventional wisdom’, I mean people like me who are trying to imagine a post-car city which is not a city without cars but one where they’re down the hierarchy of how people get from point A to point B. Those who don’t necessarily share my views may see things another way. They will point to all the money they hand over to operate their vehicles. Gas taxes. Licensing and registration fees. Insurance. Parking. Parking tickets.

The problem is, there’s not enough actual data to point to in order to settle the argument and, more importantly, set good public policy. There are dribs and drabs, fragmentary information here and there that only really ever seem to back up one’s particular point of view. That’s what makes the Conference Board of Canada’s report, Where the Rubber Meets the Road: How Much Motorists Pay For Road Infrastructure, so important.

It starts to put some meat on the bones of this debate.notenoughinformation

Now whether or not it’s grade A, prime cut meat, that’s for another day. I haven’t read the report thoroughly enough to pass judgement on the methodology (and not entirely sure I could even if I wanted to). I’m just so happy it’s out there, ready to be talked about.

A couple things jumped out at me.

“The report finds that road users in Ontario cover a significant portion of road infrastructure costs…”

To my mind, ‘a significant portion’ is not the full portion. So that the costs associated with building and maintaining our road networks are more than the revenues generated from those using the networks. In other words, drivers are being subsidized.

“…  and that cost recovery [revenues through taxes, fees and fines etc.] in the GTHA is higher than it is for the province as a whole.”

As Tess Kalinowski writes in the Toronto Star, “… Toronto-area drivers paid about $3.7 billion in fuel excise taxes, licensing fees, fines and other expenses, wimpycompared with $2.7 billion that governments spent on building, policing and maintaining the region’s roads” while in Ontario as a whole, “…drivers generate about $7.7 billion in revenue and the province and municipalities spend between $10 billion and $13 billion on roads.”

That suggests while drivers in the GTHA are more than covering the costs of roads they use, they’re subsidizing drivers in the rest of Ontario for their roads. In other words, we’re being short-changed here. Leading to this future exchange when Metrolinx starts talking about revenue tools for the Big Move: Why should I be paying for transit in Toronto? I don’t know. Why is Toronto paying for your roads in Petawawa?

Again, let me repeat, these are all numbers that haven’t been widely vetted and in no way should be treated as set in stone. The conversation has just begun.

For me though, the real eye-opening number in the report is the cost of owning a vehicle. Over $10, 000 per household in 2011. That is a whole whack of cash and highlights why many drivers honestly believe they are more than paying their way. How couldn’t they be? 10K a year! And now we want more from them?

It’s not enough to just respond with a shrug and say, If you don’t like it. Get rid of your car. This entire region outside of a small portion of the downtown core has been built on the promise that you can get to wherever it is you want to go, cheaply and quickly, in the comfort of your own private vehicle. roadrage3Maybe that was once true. Turns out not to be the case anymore.

We have to offer better alternatives before demanding everybody leave their cars behind. We can only do that if we honestly start calculating the full costs of how we get around this city, this region, this province. I suspect Where the Rubber Meets the Road doesn’t do that to everyone’s satisfaction but it’s a start. That’s what every journey begins with, right? A start.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Toronto The Doing OK

February 15, 2013

One could almost feel sorry for Ontario’s opposition leader, Tim Hudak, if such a human emotion existed, so I’ll try as best I can to fake it.

quizzical

A day after he swings by Toronto’s Board of Trade to bash the city as a place in decline where something has gone off the rails, the Conference Board of Canada releases its 2013 Metropolitan Outlook report that doesn’t paint as bleak a picture of Toronto’s economic situation as Mr. Hudak would like us to believe. But maybe that kind of bad timing happens regularly to him. If you travel around just talking nonsense and shit all the time, you probably get used to the egg on your face.

Besides, in all likelihood Hudak’s speech Wednesday afternoon wasn’t really targeting the local audience. divideandconquerWith no 416 MPPs in his caucus and very little promise of scoring one any time soon, the goal was to come to town, piss on the furniture and get your sound bites in place to use in the rest of the province in a desperate bid to divide and conquer. Yeah. That Toronto, man. A living hellhole. We give and give and give and give, and it still sucks. Sucks and is ungrateful. Elect me, Tim Hudak, as your premier and I will go to Queen’s Park and put Toronto in its place!

We’re not talking the rosiest of rosy forecasts here. The Conference Board’s report predicts Toronto’s economic growth at a very modest 2.8% but it still would be the biggest bump east of the prairies and a bounce from last year’s dip. And despite Mr. Hudak’s rhetoric that people and businesses are taking a pass on setting up shop here, the facts suggest otherwise.

“[Peter Viducis, manager of economic research at the city of Toronto] also pointed to recent growth in demand for office space in downtown Toronto,” Vanessa Lu writes in the Toronto Star, “including companies like Telus, Google, and SNC Lavalin, wanting to set up operations here. chickenlittleIn the past, Toronto was losing out to office complexes in the 905, but more companies are seeking out the downtown.”

Apparently, the reports of Toronto’s economic decline have been greatly exaggerated by politicians looking to stir up discord, anger and resentment.

This relatively positive outlook is also of little help to the Ford administration not only because it can’t claim much credit for it – which is true generally at the municipal level – but it also kind of undercuts their whole duck-and-cover strategy for budgeting. All their cutting operating costs and paying down capital debt in order to build some sort of rainy day slush fund seems Chicken Little-ish. The sky isn’t falling, is it.

If Ford & Co were truly interested in running City Hall like a business, now would be something of a go-time. Credit’s still remarkably cheap. Unemployment rates locally are still stubbornly high. Stuff needs to be fixed, expanded. The time seems ripe to bolster those aspects of this city that continue to draw people and businesses to it. Increase mobility. Increase affordability. Increase liveability.

But we know running this place like a business is nothing more than empty rhetoric. fingerscrossedIt’s always been about cutting government down to size. So we are spun speculative fiction, much like the opposition leader’s Board of Trade speech, that is ultimately exposed as having little relationship to the facts on the ground.

It takes a special kind of person to consistently fly in the face of reality. A gaggle of them are at the helm currently at City Hall, misguiding the local ship of state. Tim Hudak wants to operate likewise at Queen’s Park but, unfortunately for him, he seems unable to outrun the truth.

sceptically submitted by Cityslikr