2007/06/24

Theo Moudakis

Toronto Star Cartoonist Theo Moudakis clearly understands our hypocrisy best. He wins the first annual Grushhour award which is dinner for two at a restaurant of his choice (contact me to get the award).

I reproduce the winning art work (copyright to Toronto Star and/or Theo Moudakis), here, without permission, but in the spirit of spreading his clear message.

2007/06/22

Letter to Toronto Mayor David Miller

June 22, 2007

Mayor David Miller
Mayor’s Office
2nd Floor, Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2

RE: New Taxation Measures, City of Toronto Act 2006
Personal Vehicle Ownership Tax

Your Worship Mayor Miller,

We urge Toronto City Council to reconsider automobile tax policy in the City of Toronto, specifically the proposed Personal Vehicle Ownership Tax. Fixed fees on automobiles (unless sufficiently high to deter vehicle purchase by low-income drivers) do nothing to reduce car use or provide incentives to drivers to switch to other modes of transportation.

We are encouraged by the City’s Climate Change Action Plan. We are also encouraged by the City’s Green Sector Economic Development and hope to benefit from your support of local business. However, real climate change action requires consistent support in all tax policy – especially in transportation.

Once a motorist pays a fixed tax, she is encouraged to drive as much as possible to recover the full value of her investment. Put another way, if I have already paid money to own and drive a car and if that payment has no relation to the amount I use my car and if any reduction I produce will not result in direct savings to me, then why I would pay another $2.75 to ride a transit system?

Only when motorists pay more per trip for driving will they be incented to pay for transit. The fairest type of per-trip charge is a distance-based charge modulated for congestion management. There is a made-in-Toronto technology to deliver this.

We’d be pleased to meet with you to further discuss Toronto’s automobile tax policy, and how to incent transit use with progressive taxation rather than the reverse. We know you believe that Climate Change is the defining challenge facing your generation. Here is an opportunity to explore an immediate and powerful solution.

Sincerely,

Kamal Hassan
CEO, Skymeter Corporation

CC: Councillor Shelley Carroll, Toronto City Hall
Patsy Morris, Committee Administrator, Toronto City Hall

2007/06/21

Giant Sucking Tax Abuse

In Thursday’s (07.06.21) Toronto Star, a paper that claims it knows what’s best for Toronto, a Patrick Corrigan cartoon, Giant Sucking Sound, appeared without context other than the dim memory of the reader for the recent announcement of a miniscule and overdue parking fare increase of 0.50 per hour for the over-demanded street parking in this city. A fare increase that was excused as inflation-adjustment by a Councillor who did not need to defend it. A flaccid fare increase that no one except the fare increasers, journalists, and me got exercised about.

But, on reflection – given the way in which this price increase was designed and announced, by people who surely understand how and why street parking is grossly under-priced, by people who know how to price it properly (this wasn’t it), by people who could have priced it properly, by people who have a mandate to provide fair access to street parking in the City, by people who know that underpriced street parking causes circling hence congestion hence emissions – I can hardly blame a cartoonist for propagating their error.

No wait, maybe Corrigan is right. Perhaps the mindless 50 cent across-the-board increase that did not take demand management, i.e., local demand, into consideration was indeed a simple revenue grab.

Yes, I apologize, Patrick Corrigan, you are correct. It was all about revenue and nothing about demand management. Abuse of taxation power at it best.

Figure 1: Copyright Patrick Corrigan and Toronto Star. Used here without permission, but with complete respect for the working rights of cartoonists who have neither read nor even need be aware of Shoup’s High Cost of Free Parking to pass on the disinformation and tax misapplication perpetrated by The Toronto Parking Authority and Toronto City Councilors.

2007/06/15

Be Still My Heart

In what looks the baby brother of the 127-element NYCPlan, Toronto has just tabled a report setting out eight or ten specific approaches to emissions reduction in Toronto. Among these is the recurrent “road tolling” conundrum. Although only one of the measures in the plan, tolling grabbed the headline in the Star’s article, the caption under the photo and of course the majority of the commentary. Few people blink at hybrid taxis, banning 2-stroke engines or completing the city’s Bike Plan (thank god!), but bring up road tolling and teeth gnash.

The headline, City considers road tolls in emission-cutting plan, which had me spewing coffee, was diluted by the usual: “Miller told reporters he's not committed to tolls and that any such fees would have to be GTA-wide.” It went on: “ ‘The recommendation is simply to begin work along with the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority to consider it,’ ” [Miller] told members of the media at city hall yesterday.” This is better news considering that the Chair of the GTTA is known to be more open minded and courageous about this then T.O.’s Mayor has been to now.

Unfortunate timing, however, at the same time of this press conference, a few building over, the Premier of Ontario, promised a large new sum of money for Toronto transit to bolster his election chances. I can already hear the Mayor saying “whew, that gets me off the hook”.

The Star article ended with Pantalone saying "The time for talking needs to be over and some serious doing needs to be done.”

I wonder.

2007/06/13

Congestion mythmaker from NYC

Some good news on the US congestion IQ front – a local council member, Jessica Lappin expressed uninformed misgivings about Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for congestion pricing in Manhattan and is rounded criticized in this Streetsblog entry.

The first entry even called Shoup's High Price of Free Parking a "masterwork".

Smart Mayor. Smart Citizens. Smart New York.

2007/06/12

Toronto Congestion Soundbites

David-Michael Lamb, CBC RadioOne’s City Reporter, interviewed Bern Grush June 11, 2007.

The communist analogy.

The tragedy-of-the-commons analogy.

In each of these it was reported that Skymeter is being trialed in a number of places. In fact, as of June 11, 2007, Skymeter is only in discussion with several governments for such trials, but no contracts have yet been issued. Skymeter technology will be ready for trial in September 2007.

2007/06/10

Kathryn Wylde on Congestion Pricing

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY COMMITTEES ON WAYS AND MEANS, TRANSPORTATION, CORPORATIONS, ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION, ENERGY AND CITIES

FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2007

KATHRYN WYLDE
PRESIDENT & CEO
PARTNERSHIP FOR NEW YORK CITY

[3-page .pdf here]


The Partnership for New York City, representing the city's business leadership and largest private sector employers, has helped with the development of PlaNYC and supports its recommendations. PlaNYC lays out a comprehensive set of actions and investments that we believe are essential to maintaining New York's sustained growth and our competitive position in the world economy. The business community is prepared to join with the City and State as a partner in the implementation of this plan and in helping to develop creative ways to achieve its ambitious goals.


I would like to use the opportunity of this testimony to address concerns that are frequently raised about congestion pricing. The purpose of congestion pricing is to discourage people from driving private vehicles into the city during the busiest times. This creates two legitimate challenges that the Mayor's office and the MTA are working to address:

  • Expanded mass transit options must be provided for areas of the city and region that are currently underserved; and
  • Communities surrounding the Central Business District must be protected against an invasion of park-and-ride commuters.

We believe that both these challenges can be resolved with good planning and commitment of additional resources. On the other hand, there are a half dozen commonly raised concerns that we believe can be set aside more easily, drawing upon a huge body of research on the subject and the experience of other cities.

The first concern is generated by polls that show public opinion runs against congestion charges, generally in a ratio of 60:40. This ratio has been about the same in every city around the world before congestion pricing is introduced and before the details of the program and its benefits are clear. After a congestion pricing trial is underway, however, the ratio flips almost immediately and public opinion always runs heavily in favor of the charge. The air is cleaner, streets are safer and more pleasant, and riding a bus becomes an efficient and pleasant way to move around the city. Polls of New Yorkers show that opposition to a congestion fee comes from people who use mass transit as much as those who drive, illustrating that this is a reaction to the perceived imposition of a tax (which we all hate), not a concern about a modal shift. Until people see the dramatic results, the decision to charge for driving on roads that have formerly been free will take political courage.

The most common objection to congestion pricing is that it is a regressive tax. In fact, it is a progressive toll. Last December, the Partnership published a major study that quantified a cost of more than $13 billion a year that excess traffic congestion is imposing on businesses and residents of the Metropolitan Region. We are all paying this cost of congestion, whether we drive, use mass transit, or walk, and that is regressive. We also found that congestion throughout the region has passed the "tipping point" - that is, the point at which heavy traffic no longer contributes to a vibrant, healthy economy but is essentially destroying economic activity because it causes delay, inefficiency and increases the costs of living and doing business in New York. Studies by independent experts find that the cost of traffic congestion translates into higher prices for consumer goods and services, higher costs of construction, and higher costs of doing business in New York City and the surrounding suburbs. Congestion relief will reduce these costs and save all of us money.

It is also alleged that Manhattanites are the only beneficiaries of the traffic relief program. In fact, the reason for locating a congestion pricing zone in the Central Business Districts of Manhattan is that vehicles moving to and from this 8.5 square mile area are the primary cause of traffic jams across the entire 28 county region. Traffic congestion on the Long Island, Gowanus, Van Wyck and Staten Island Expressways, 125th Street, Flatbush Avenue and Downtown Brooklyn, the Major Deegan and the Jersey Turnpike is caused by the volume of cars and trucks moving in and out of Manhattan's CBDs. This is where more than half the region's economic activity and two thirds of our office jobs are concentrated and, unless we reduce and more effectively manage vehicle flow into this area, the whole region will continue to suffer the consequences.

Some fear that the pricing plan would put an unfair hardship on people who drive into Manhattan because they do not have another option. As noted earlier, the city and the MTA are identifying gaps in the mass transit system and exemptions for the disabled and other special cases are being built into the program. Mass transit currently carries more than two thirds of the people who commute to work in the central business districts. Only 12% of New York City residents who work in Manhattan's CBDs drive to work. The Partnership commissioned a survey of those who drive in during business hours. More than 80% said they drive purely out of choice, because it is comfortable and private. Only 16% did not have a mass transit alternative that was convenient and, most said, faster than driving. In terms of looking at which professions drive in, the highest number is government workers – more than 35% – most of whom also enjoy free parking.

Another worry about congestion charges is that they would hurt small business. Experience shows, however, that nothing is better for business than streets that are free of gridlock so that customers can get to the stores, deliveries arrive on time, and employees don't face hours of delay in getting their jobs done. The local florist, for example, could make more deliveries in the same amount of time and save money on fuel and labor costs because of less idling in traffic. Experts confirm that the cost of freight delivery in New York City is 25 - 50% greater than in other parts of the country due to excess congestion. Here we can look at the real experience of other cities that have adopted congestion pricing and find that small businesses located within the pricing zone, including those making service calls and deliveries, have benefited from this program.

Introduction of more cameras to enforce congestion charging has also raised some alarm. On this issue, I think we have to say that the horse is long gone from the barn. There is virtually no place in Manhattan where we are not being photographed, as we all know from the fuzzy photos that appear in the media as soon as a crime is committed. Post 9/11, most New Yorkers accept cameras as part of our security network, especially after terrorists who attacked in London were quickly caught because of the cameras installed in the transit system. In Stockholm, where there are strong privacy protections, cameras for the charging district are set up so that they only focus on license plates and there are strict protocols for confidentiality and destruction of photos.

Finally, there is the question of how much it will cost to implement the pricing system and whether it will achieve the desired results. The federal DOT is prepared to provide funding to help pay for set up as well as a variety of transit improvements. In terms of results, we have the benefit of learning from the experience of other cities and also the Mayor has proposed a three-year pilot project. This means we have an opportunity to test how the system works, adjust it to achieve desired results, and correct for any errors.

Critical to the successful implementation of this plan are federal and state support, both in terms of funding, as well as legislative and regulatory assistance. We could probably spend several years debating the specifics of the perfect congestion pricing plan, but there are several reasons to act now. The federal DOT is offering as much as half a billion dollars if we agree to move forward with a program before the end of the federal fiscal year. There are enormous unmet funding needs for our regional transportation system - both capital and operating. It is important to act quickly to secure federal funds and to establish a new revenue stream for mass transit. Finally, our region is losing an estimated 50,000 jobs a year because of the negative impact of traffic congestion. To maintain the pace of economic growth, we need to act now.

A few weeks ago, the Partnership joined the Bloomberg Administration in hosting leaders of government and business from over forty world cities for the Large Cities Climate Summit. This historic event brought together mayors and business leaders from the world's largest cities from six continents to collaborate on efforts to stop climate change. The highlight of this summit was Mayor Bloomberg's presentation of PlaNYC. This document was hailed as the first truly comprehensive approach by a city to address all aspects of sustainable growth and carbon emission reduction. It has propelled New York to the forefront of this important global conversation. The world is watching New York and we hope the legislature will rise to this occasion and allow PlaNYC to move forward.

###

Bud Perrone
Senior Vice President
Rubenstein Communications

1345 Ave. of the Americas, 30th Floor
New York, NY 10105
office: 212-843-8068
cell: 347-512-2383

2007/06/09

Miller is not the only tax-abuser

Finn Poschmann, director of research and William Robson, president and chief executive of the C.D.Howe Institute provide some excellent insight into why we Canadians – and likely many other democracies – will continue to flub any chance we have at addressing GHG issues. In Polluters to pay – except if they vote (National Post, Saturday, June 9, 2007), Poschmann and Robson show that Quebec Natural Resources Minister Claude B├ęchard can mis-wield his tax authority just as well as can Toronto’s Mayor David Miller.

In both cases, the creative development of the pricing signals we need consumers to receive are missing. In B├ęchard’s case the signals are intended to be silenced to avoid loss of votes. In Miller’s case the signals are visible but diluted and mis-aimed. Poschmann and Robson’s, write:

“The political lesson here is that hasty reaction to public pressure is hurting our chances of making wise choices. That preventing consumers from experiencing” pricing signals emanating from careless consumption, “would prevent them from reducing their emissions is something any first-year economics student could have pointed out. Yet the rush to announce has now diverted the debate.”

“Without the impact on consumers that would change their behaviour, Minister Bechard's tax” [and Miller’s] “is just another tax. The rush to judgment on man-made global warming risks exposing Canadians to lots of pain, for no gain at all.”

More politicians could take a lesson from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

2007/06/06

Bloomberg has bigger balls than Miller

A lot of people are congratulating Michael Bloomberg for his plan to use congestion pricing in Manhattan.

Here the Real Estate Board of New York claims that the New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post, News Day, the Staten Island Advance as well as Gore and Clinton love the idea (as does the REBNY, of course).

Swartznegger says he likes it.

Tony Blair says he likes it.

But Bob Friedrich doesn’t like it.

Here Bloomberg explains the full mind-numbing complexity of the problem, very neatly: “The incredible number of cars and trucks that flood our streets each day is the primary reason for congestion...”

Here is the Quinnipiac University result of polling people on the street in New York. The overall result is 37% “for” and 56% “against”. This is the usual pre-pricing result – the same numbers appeared in London and Stockholm prior to the charges being put in place. What is unusual is the 62% “for” in Manhattan. It is not surprising that there is less hostility, but this strong “for” is a first.

Where Bloomberg really gets my vote however is when he said at the end of this clip: “City Government is supposed to lead, State Government is supposed to lead, Federal Government is supposed to lead, not do polls and do just the popular thing.”

Why can’t our Mayor Miller find his way?

~~~

New York is not the only place with the problem. Here is the Leeds conversation. The nice thing about this video clip is that many of the people on the street in Leeds seem to understand how and why congestion pricing works.

2007/06/05

Post Journalist Foments Urban War

If you have read here before, you know that many journalists who write about road user charging (or congestion pricing) are easy targets. In Canada’s National Post, journalist Kelly Patrick recently weighed in with the GrushHour-bating title Toronto’s war on the car, Saturday June 2, 2007.

Ms Patrick’s errors are especially egregious. First, let’s look at language. Two weeks ago Jim Byers described “slapping a fee … on drivers”, clearly analogizing congestion pricing to traffic fines. Now Patrick describes transit advocates as “looking to essentially punish motorists out of their vehicles”. If you’re going to use that kind of language, then consider for a moment that the steady decline of relative transit investment in Toronto over the past 35 years has “punished” transit riders into private vehicles, that these additional automobile trips have “punished” bicycles off the road, and that all of this taken together is “punishing” our children with asthma.

But our journalists are also victims. Writers such as Patrick have been “punished” by lousy transit for so long that unless they are over 50 could hardly recall a time when Toronto transit served commuters particularly well. Her mindset might run something like this: “I hate transit, I live too far to bike (biking is too dangerous in Toronto, anyway) and frankly I like my car, so build more roads with my fuel taxes and get those slow-moving buses out of my way”.

While I have no way to know what is really in Patrick’s mind (words like “war” sell more papers, and anyway she has a right to earn a living, even if research and constructive analysis are not involved), I have described how a large, but thankfully shrinking, portion of Toronto motorist-think.

What is completely missing when a journalist looks only at the surface of a problem, thereby losing any opportunity to inform a reader as opposed to just reinforcing their frustration, is an understanding of how things are interconnected. Seeing congestion pricing as only a tax grab ignores dozens of current automotive-related inequities, and ignores the fact that reducing driving while improving transit is in fact better for those motorists who decide to continue driving.

Patrick goes on to compare driving with smoking: “…driving has now joined smoking and drinking as vices…”. While there are similarities (pollution, entitlement, health, etc.) there are many differences. To compare smoking in a restaurant with driving to work is of course, absurd and, I sense, designed to raise the righteous indignation of the long-entitled motorist.

I recently discussed the problem of mixing congestion pricing with sin-taxes – not as a language issue, as it is here for Patrick, but rather as criticism of Mayor Miller’s enormous waste of his new powers of taxation. He is squandering an opportunity for critically needed social change while he drives his popularity into the ground and while singing green songs in other cities. He was handed the tools to leave a substantial transportation legacy, now he will leave only a bigger mess than he inherited. It is all talk.

Patrick goes on, writing “taking road space away from vehicles” means the author sees roads as “for cars”. Not buses, not pedestrians, not street cars, not bicycles, not goods delivery. Just cars. The entitlement of the motorist runs genetically deep.

Further on Patrick describes “raising revenue for the cash-strapped city -- all have the side effect of dinging drivers.” Miller named a number of other tax changes. Garbage, smoking, theatres, etc. It is not all about drivers.

But gentle reader, this is nothing. Patrick’s most hilarious error is in her opening paragraph. Evidence that she has never seen the inside of a subway station.

Arif Vellani's morning drive from St. Clair Avenue East and Warden Avenue has all the hallmarks of the hellish Toronto commute. First, [Arif] crawls westward along busy St. Clair in his Honda Accord. Then he usually gets stuck on the parking lot that is the southbound Don Valley Parkway on a weekday morning. At the end of his journey, he pays $11 to park at a lot at Church and King streets, four blocks from his office. "My drive still takes less time, even with all that, than it does to take the TTC," he says.

If our poor victim, Mr Vellani, lives near St. Clair East and Warden then he is also near the Warden subway station. Most likely walkable. I use that station and I get to King and Yonge in about 25 minutes. If Vellani “crawls along St. Clair” and “gets stuck on the Don Valley Parkway”, we’re talking more like 40-45 minutes.

Either somebody has fabricated this story of misery or the truth is that Vellani simply likes the autonomy of his Honda Accord more than the subway. In fact, he is willing so spend an extra 20 or so minutes and $11 in parking to listen to the music he likes and smoke if he pleases. One hopes that Mr Vellani has no real problems to confront.

And, I prefer my Honda, too. I am just willing to tell the truth about it.

So let’s say Patrick was duped by Vellani and cannot read subway maps. This is still no excuse for misunderstanding congestion pricing. The principle of market pricing to manage over-consumption of a scarce resource (road space in this case) is well understood. There is no need to teach this to Patrick or any other person who has completed a secondary education. So why the lapse in thinking?

Entitlement. Self-entitlement often causes lapses in social intelligence. I’ve experienced it myself.

Everyone, everywhere feels they are owed the kind of automobile trip promised in the advertisements. I do too. I don’t wish to be “punished” out of my car. But I also don’t want modal choices constrained to car, car or car, as they often are. I simply want to see a balance in choice. More transit, more bike trails, less traffic congestion.

In 1963, William Vickrey, Nobel-Prize Economist from Columbia University, published in the American Economic Review: “In no other major area are pricing practices so irrational, so out of date, and so conductive to waste as in urban transportation.”

And nothing has changed in North America in these 44 years.

So why should Patrick know any better?

~~~~~

Actually, something has changed – the technology to repair pricing practices, called Time, Distance and Place (TDP) pricing is finally ready. It will likely appear first in the Netherlands, or perhaps in Singapore. A small number of cities in the US are starting to look at it. A gradual shift from a fuel-tax based to a pay-as-you-use-it based transportation economy has already begun. I predict that we will see trials in Toronto circa 2009, followed by congestion pricing in conjunction with a large infusion in transit by 2011 or 2012.

Welcome to the beginning of the end of congestion.