Where to find Giambrone’s $6B

Toronto Councillor Adam Giambrone intends to rescue Toronto Transit from its long downward slide.

I recently predicted Giambrone would be mayor of Toronto in 12 years. Kelly Patrick’s long homage to him in Saturday’s Post (07.04.07) supports my case. This guy cares (10 points), is smart (20 points), has passion (20 points) and has balls (50 points). Hopefully he is a closet libertarian, too.

Giambrone is looking for $6B over 15 years to fix Toronto’s Transit and there is a very sensible way for him to get every cent of that in a socially fair (Left), fiscally responsible (Right) and environmentally responsible (Green) manner. And he can intelligently address congestion at the same time (Libertarian).

Wait. Did I just hear you think “it’s obvious congestion would be fixed by $6B in new transit”? It’s not obvious. You can’t fix congestion by building transit systems, any more than by building roads. You fix congestion by putting commuters onto transit. If you think those are two ways to say the same thing, then you’re dreaming bigger than me. Recall the old Irish proverb: “…a fool and his car are not easily parted.”

The $6B Giambrone plan is long overdue. Why we boomers had to wait for a 29 year old that looks 19 to explain this, I’ll never fathom. We really should be ashamed of ourselves, since Jane Jacobs, who predates boomers by 40 years, explained all this in 1961 in Chapter 18 of her Urbanist handbook The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In 1961 the oldest boomer on the planet was a pubescent 16. There is no excuse for the Waiting for Giambrone drama that has been playing on Toronto’s municipal transport stage for the past 35 years.

And Giambrone’s plan only addresses pent-up demand – not the hot, gaseous future. Over the 15 years his plan would take to unfold Toronto’s automobile population will increase by 56% (using the standard 3% per year rule-of-thumb). At the same time the number of new or widened roads will increase by a whopping 0%. In fact, the carrying capacity of existing roads will decrease during that time since roads carry fewer cars per lane-hour as they get more congested, even fewer as they will be under repair if Toronto’s mayors ever can find the hundreds of millions needed for infrastructure repair.

[Pop Quiz:

#1: If it now takes you 75 minutes for your round-trip commute each day, and we add 56% more cars to our roads, how long will it take you to make the same commute in 2022? Answer: on the order of 3 or 4 times longer. Once roads are filled past their capacity, the effect of congestion rises much faster than does the growth in the automobile population.

#2: It can be easily proven that the endgame for congestion is a 24 hour commute per day. So when are we going to start addressing it seriously?

#3: Which is farther away: 2022 or 1992? And you thought 2022 is too far away, to worry about, eh?]

By now some of you may be thinking: “Giambrone’s plan will absorb that extra 56%”. And I hope it does absorb that much. But if it did that, we would only land in 2022 in the same congested place we are in 2007 except with far larger potholes and less asphalt between them. Worse we’ll have only tiny cars to navigate those potholes because the SUVs needed for the perilous trek from Oakville to Bay Street will be taxed out of existence by then.

Ok, it is true that good transit (i.e., frequent, reasonably safe, comfortable, modestly priced and with a minimal number of transfers) attracts ridership. But the attraction of autonomous travel will always trump transit as long as transit-use and road-use are as mis-priced as they currently are.

Without a proper market pricing mechanism you cannot fairly apportion a scarce good – that would be road space in this column. You can ban cars on King Street (with due respect to Mr. Giambrone, this is a tiny, limited, annoying and unfair idea that I will discuss shortly in Tax, Ban, Tolerate or Price). You can impose a tax on SUVs and provide a rebate on tiny cars (whoa, that one was REALLY dumb: rebate a car purchase? Why not toss in free gas, too?), But, please, there is nothing wrong with owning a car, and there is nothing wrong with driving a car. The problem is when we all drive on King Street at the same time and during the day when 35% of us are circling around looking for a cheap on-street parking spot since on-street parking is waaay-cheap and off-street parking is not so.

Now you can’t effectively toll just King Street. In fact, congestion pricing has to be a wide area thing, not just a small cordon or the DVP-QEW idea, so the problem is how to get from the mis-priced mess we have to a properly priced transport system – and a system where road and transit collaborates instead of competes.

In a few weeks, I will work through a staged plan, available on this blog, to accomplish a market system interconnecting parking, road funding and transit funding. This will be self sustaining, fair and will not require begging for money from the other levels of government (although clearly Toronto has taken it on the chops on this account). The net result will be to produce the $400M Giambrone needs annually and open our roads at the same time. Here is an outline:

Phase 1: Allow parking payment via no-touch, GPS-based parking meters (these completely revolutionize parking management). Start reducing free-parking via legislating parking cash-outs and taxing the non-compliant.
Result: Noticeable increase in transit ridership. You may have to add a few buses. Revenue neutral. Greater convenience for motorists who continue driving.

Phase 2: Reduce parking management costs, increase parking revenue, and improve parking turnover with per-minute parking and accelerated payment structures in lieu of ticketing – i.e. after a fair parking period at a few cents per minute, the rate increases considerably, but no expensive, customer-abusing citations. Handle payments with the hands-free GPS meters in Phase 1.
Result: 50% increase in net parking revenue. Further increase in transit ridership. Add more buses.

Phase 3: Reward motorists who do not move their vehicles during peak hours with parking credits. Further reduce free parking by uniformly and aggressively enforcing ONE-HOUR and THREE-HOUR free parking. Start metering non-resident parking in residential areas. Handle compliant payments with the Phase 1 meters (meter users are citation-proof unlike now). Adjust on-street parking rates to meet Donald Shoup’s 85% occupancy target (The High Price of Free Parking).
Result: an additional 100% increase in parking revenues. Further increase in transit ridership. Add more buses. Shorten subway headways.

Phase 4: Tax monthly parking passes out of existence; allow parking loyalty passes (park nine days and get one free) in lieu of monthly parking (such passes discourage occasional transit use). Handled by the hands-free Phase 1 meters.
Result: Revenue neutral, another increase in transit ridership.

Phase 5: Add a “landing fee” for parking or a departure fee for “unparking” in a congestion zone during peak times. Handled trivially by the Phase 1 hands-free meters.
Result: Increase in revenue neutral, major increase in transit ridership.

[By now there will be a 30% drop in peak-hour traffic, AND we’ll have most of Giambrone’s money.]

Phase 6: Institute a mileage credit exchange to make this fairer to non-motorists.
Result: Motorists directly subsidize transit riders. Non-motorists (read “disadvantaged” or “willing-to-switch-to-transit” as you wish) benefit directly instead of indirectly. The “unfairness-of-road-pricing-to-the-disadvantaged” is further mitigated. Revenue neutral, government kudos.

Phase 7: Institute staged congestion pricing. Handled trivially by the hands-free meters in Phase 1. Don’t even consider pricing the DVP or QEW more than surrounding roads.
Result: All of Giambrone’s money and much more (to fix the roads, of course).

To complete this in detail, I need help from someone who knows Toronto traffic numbers as an advisor and fact-checker. Any volunteers? Should only take a couple of hours. Confidentiality respected. berngrush [at]ieee[dot]org.


Kettle said...

Your GPS ideas raise two concerns for me. First is the obvious privacy implications, and second is the occurrence of technical error.

Even if the billing is indeed accurate, wouldn't it be easy to just file a complaint saying it was inaccurate? Claim "I was never parked there" and just don't pay?

Admittedly I don't entirely understand your proposals.

Bern Grush said...

Kettle: Thank you for your questions.

Re privacy:
The Skymeter system is “location anonymous” using a patent-pending method and process. Your location and your ID are never associated in any database outside of your vehicle. You track yourself (we do not and can not see you), your location data is parsed anonymously, then destroyed after potential (still anonymous) use in aggregate statistics. A table of whom you owe what money to is returned to your vehicle. This is then sent to a billing center and enjoys a much greater level of privacy than does your cell bill (which shows who you called) or a credit card (which shows what you purchased), since there is no data that says “where you parked” or “where your drove”. (Of course, if you opt to purchase pay-as-you-drive insurance this way, then more information about where and how you drove would be visible to your insurer (but still private between you and them). Parking and road-use are fully private and even anonymous. Using Skymeter for Road User Charging is as invasive of your privacy as running over a tube-counter on the roadway. Using it for parking is MORE private than using your credit card.

Re technical error:
Our signal processing methods are patented and proprietary. We produce an evidentiary record (still in your vehicle) that is accurate, reliable, repeatable, and characterized for error bounding. We use signal mitigation, spatial mitigation and financial mitigation to be able to guarantee that a motorist is never overcharged AND that a road or parking authority is not underpaid and can rely on the evidentiary record retained in the vehicle in the event that a motorist says “I never parked there”.

A second reason for your location data to remain in your vehicle (for 90 to 120 days) is in the event you wish to audit it (for example “I never parked there” would require that you surrender that data to prove that you are right.) A case in point might be you parked on the street (chargeable), but claimed you were in a driveway (not chargeable).

So we guarantee an accurate, non-refutable toll, using anonymous GPS data, that respects privacy.

I will write more about this in a feature blog and will link you to some papers that tell you more.