Transportation

Toronto Bike Registration a Fact-Free Wedge Issue

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 15, 2010

Angry faux-populists rarely let mere facts get in the way of their emotive, button-pushing agendas. North York councillor and Toronto Mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti is no exception.

An insightful column in today's Star on the politics of transportation infrastructure reports:

Giorgio Mammoliti boldly announced Wednesday that if elected mayor, he would introduce a $20-$30 registration fee for bikes.

"It's an agenda that seems to be taking over so far in this election. It's all about the downtown core and the downtown agenda, and the suburbs don't want to continue to subsidize these pet projects," he said.

"If those that want to ride bikes want to continue to change infrastructure and cost the taxpayer $4 million a year, then they should pay for it."

Mammoliti's comments cut to the heart of the issue: The car vs. bike debate has little to do with transportation. This electoral wedge item is really just an emblem of every other ideological divide in the city: Rich vs. poor. Uptown vs. downtown. Right vs. left.

The Star article focuses on the left-wing / right-wing divide over city transportation priorities. (Interestingly, Mammoliti comes out of a labour/NDP political background and served in Premier Bob Rae's cabinet, but was known even then for his sometimes-retrograde opinions, for example his opposition to same-sex marriage.)

Taking a different tack, a related piece posted today in Spacing Magazine tackles Mammoliti's arguments on a purely factual basis. It's not pretty.

And if that weren't enough to squash Mammoliti's false dichotomy:

So it's clear that Mammoliti either hasn't actually studied whether his plan would be effective or - more likely - just doesn't care. It's an irresponsible, divisive wedge issue, not a real platform for constructive change.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Torontoite (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2010 at 15:59:42

Mammoliti is quite the character, your profile of him doesn't do his assoholery justice. I doubt he has much chance of getting elected, not only does he alienate just about everyone inside the highway ring (401, DVP, Gardiner, 427), but people remember his spendthrift ways burning through public money to run his constituency office. His absurd hate on for cyclists is just the icing on the cake. He and Rob Ford deserve each other.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 15, 2010 at 16:44:22

What I love more than any article (at The Star, here, or elsewhere) are the comments generated. It's a powerfully simple way to get a bead on how at least some people are thinking. (I'm not saying it accurately reflects much of anything at all...excepteht profile of those who have taken the time to type their thoughts.) And the ones on this issue show just how vehement the pro-auto portion of the readers can be; I've been perusing them at The Star and shaking my head all the while.

Though they've confirmed my suspicions about the culture (and how deeply it's embedded), it's sad nonetheless. (Elsewhere on RTH it's been opined that people create their misery subconsciously. Maybe I do this when I go to the Comments sections...)

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 09:18:23

Unfortunate but not surprising. This "I don't use it so why should I pay for it" rhetoric has been slung from all sides for too long. We all use our society, infrastructure, public resources, etc... to what degree and in what way is pointless. We all need to pay for it.

As for the fee, frankly if the bike lobby wants to decrease the use of cars this may just be something they have to get used to. Seems I've been making this point a lot lately, but here we go again... cars generate large amounts of tax revenue. If we want fewer cars on our roads (and just fewer cars in general) than we have to recoup the lost money from somewhere... taxing the alternatives in one way or another is likely to be the approach of government

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-04-16 08:19:18

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2010 at 09:44:19

cars generate large amounts of tax revenue.

Cars do not generate enough tax revenue to pay for themselves:

In fact, Transport Canada did a study [PDF link] in 2005, which found that the annual total financial costs of the road system in Canada are $16.5 to $25.8 billion, while annual revenues from fuel taxes and fees at the federal and provincial levels were only $12.8 billion, i.e. a shortfall of between $3.7 and $13 billion per year.

The Transport Canada study then tried to include every conceivable source of revenue associated with roads and motorists: traffic fines, lot levies (development charges imposed by municipalities), special assessments, parking charges, building prices (share of road revenues embedded in building prices) and find total road revenues of between $15.1 and $17.2 billion.

Thus, even taking into account revenue sources, such as parking charges and traffic fines, that shouldn't really be thought of as user fees for roads, there is still an annual shortfall of between $1.4 and $8.6 billion per year.

Far from motorists 'subsidizing the entire government' as many people think, motorists are being subsidized from general tax revenue to the tune of billions of dollars per year!

As for registering cyclists, the real purpose is not to recoup the cost of cycling - cyclists already pay as much tax as much as drivers but take up less space, produce less pollution, generate less wear and tear on the road and cause less damage through accidents and the registration system wouldn't even pay for itself - but to punish and deter cycling for base political reasons.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 10:22:59

If every concievable source of revenue doesn't even cover the cost of road operations, just imagine how big the shortfall is when you then include every concievable cost related to driving.

For example, the cost of accidents in Ontario adds $18B - more than all driving related revenues.

More bikes = less cars = less accidents.

Comment edited by jonathan dalton on 2010-04-16 09:24:00

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 10:44:30

Cars do not generate enough tax revenue to pay for themselves:

In fact, Transport Canada did a study [PDF link] in 2005, which found that the annual total financial costs of the road system in Canada are $16.5 to $25.8 billion, while annual revenues from fuel taxes and fees at the federal and provincial levels were only $12.8 billion, i.e. a shortfall of between $3.7 and $13 billion per year.

Yes they do, they are the king of consumer products being many people's first or second largest financial investment. Fuel taxes and fees are not the only money generated from cars. They create jobs and therefore income tax revenue, there is GST and PST on new cars, PST on used cars, GST and PST on car parts and service, tire taxes, drive clean revenue, banks make interest on the leases and loans, etc... So the numbers presented in the link provided are not accurate of the full financial impact of cars. Cars are literally the engine of our economy (unfortunately). Why do you think governments in almost every major car manufacturing country threw money at the car manufacturers to bail them out? They know the financial impact. Not that I agree with what they did mind you.

$16.5 Billion to $25.8 billion is a pretty big range. Their numbers can't even provide an accurate financial short fall to within $9 billion??? Also the roads are not solely for cars. Emergency services, food, product and home fuel delivery, (and yes, even bikes) depend on our road system so assigning full cost of the road system to cars is fudging the numbers.

cyclists already pay as much tax

No they don't. If you are talking simply property or income tax , sure, but we are taxed way beyond that in this country. There is no fuel tax on bikes, no registration or license fees (i.e., tax), no insurance costs (which you pay tax on) and GST and PST are much less on a new bike than a new car. Owning a car causes the owner to be exposed to many more taxes than owning a bike.

I support the bike lobby but let's start dealing with the truth here Ryan. You discredit your cause when you don't.

to punish and deter cycling for base political reasons

To be clear, I do not disagree with this statement... but I am not surprised some politician proposed a fee either.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-04-16 09:45:52

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By 88 (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 10:45:56

Missing from that transport Canada report is the net economic benefit. It also excludes the the the base utility factor.

WRT to Ryan's comment about the use of Toronto's roads from those from out of town. Because Toronto has seen fit to have policies in place that have strangled job creation, the surrounding municipalities now import labour from Toronto. More people drive out of the city for work purposes than drive in.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2010 at 11:11:06

Kiely wrote:

Yes they do, they are the king of consumer products being many people's first or second largest financial investment.

Cars are not an investment. All cars depreciate by some 20-30% as soon as you roll them off the lot, and they continue to lose value the longer you own them until they're only good for salvageable parts.

Houses at least tend to retain their (inflation-adjusted) value over the long term; cars are an economic sinkhole by any measure.

A car could be regarded as a necessary cost to get to work, except that the only reason people 'need' cars to commute is that we have made political decisions to arrange our land use (through public infrastructure spending decision and zoning regulations) around the assumption of mandatory car ownership.

That is, we have manufactured a self-fulfilling requirement. The free market has almost nothing to do with it.

They create jobs and therefore income tax revenue

Opportunity cost. If capital wasn't flowing into cars, it would be flowing into something else - perhaps something without all the gross negative externalities of cars, externalities that the economy as a whole has to pick up since car owners don't pay the real cost of car ownership and use.

there is GST and PST on new cars, PST on used cars, GST and PST on car parts and service, tire taxes, drive clean revenue

The Transport Canada study is comprehensive and takes this into consideration. Cars still don't pay for themselves.

Emergency services, food, product and home fuel delivery

Last time I checked, those are all motor vehicles, a.k.a. cars.

and yes, even bikes

The cost of bikes in space used, wear-and-tear, air pollution etc. is negligible - and as the Spacing article pointed out, most cyclists are also car owners, which means they actually subsidize the road system more the more they cycle instead of driving!

No they don't. If you are talking simply property or income tax , sure, but we are taxed way beyond that in this country.

Read the article. Most cyclists are also automobile owners and pay all the fixed costs associated with car ownership. Again, the more we ride our bikes instead of driving, the more our fixed costs actually work out to a net subsidy.

We're not just a bunch of dirty hippy freeloaders. :)

Owning a car causes the owner to be exposed to many more taxes than owning a bike.

They're not exclusive categories. Most bicycle owners are also car owners. (Incidentally, more than half of car owners are also bike owners.)

Please make sure you have your facts straight before accusing people of not "dealing with the truth".

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-16 13:02:53

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 12:20:21

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 12:46:00

Cars are not an investment.

Look up the definition of "investment" in the dictionary Ryan.

Heck even just use the dictionary in MS Word:

"a purchase, especially something that somebody should be able to use for a relatively long time"

Are you really going to be this obtuse in this discussion?

I could go on countering your other retorts but I think Schmadrian said it well enough.

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By airhead society (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 12:52:12

> Cars are not an investment. All cars depreciate by some 15% as soon as you roll them off the lot, and they continue to lose value the longer you own them until they're only good for salvageable parts.

Houses at least tend to retain their (inflation-adjusted) value over the long term; cars are an economic sinkhole by any measure.

A car could be regarded as a necessary cost to get to work, except that the only reason people 'need' cars to commute is that we have made political decisions to arrange our land use (through public infrastructure spending decision and zoning regulations) around the assumption of mandatory car ownership.

That is, we have manufactured a self-fulfilling requirement. The free market has almost nothing to do with it.



This paragraph is so true, its' frustrating. How often in one's life do we intentionally go and buy something that instantly starts losing gobs of it's value the second you take it from the seller? We've been forced into this situation by the misuse of public money and through multi-trillion $ subsidies (to self proclaimed hard core capitalists no less).

Our society continues to amaze. I had to laugh this morning reading quotes from people who came to see Palin last night because she is "such a maverick and despises the big government, big media, big business etc...."

$12 million per speaking engagement, $1,000 per autograph and photo (give your heads a shake people). The only reason anyone knows her is because of big business and the media.

I'm sure the bigwigs at the largest corporations and biggest media empires just laugh their heads off in their board meetings when they hear people talk about her (or anyone else like her regardless of political leaning) as if she's some anti-establishment saviour. I wonder what it's like for those folks to sit back and know that they have complete control over society and over people's minds. It's easy to fault them, but the real blame lies in the masses who have permanently turned off their brains.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 13:25:54

"permanently turned off their brains. "

... and that is why it is so difficult for people to see the blazingly obvious, such as:

"That is, we have manufactured a self-fulfilling requirement."

Many would literally rather go to their death holding onto their existing belief system. As the air fouls, as the population sickens, fingers in ears and eyes shut. To be fair, not all of it is due to brains offline. Indoctrination into the prevailing way of thinking starts very early in life, is pervasive, and uses the latest mind control techniques developed by marketing industries. There is no law of nature that makes it so. It is carefully Manufactured Consent. Downvotes are expected and accepted; it certainly can hurt to hear the truth (but the truth is much more rewarding and beautiful in the long run).

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 13:41:18

$12 million per speaking engagement, $1,000 per autograph and photo (give your heads a shake people).

I think you've got some numbers mixed up. Palin makes $100,000 per speaking engagement. She has however, made over $12 million since quitting the governorship.

It's easy to fault them, but the real blame lies in the masses who have permanently turned off their brains.

I realize you're generalizing, but it's worth noting that Palin is very unpopular, even in the US, so the masses may not be that dumb after all.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2010 at 13:59:23

Look up the definition of "investment" in the dictionary Ryan.

So I looked up the definition of "investment" as a sanity check. Dictionary.com defines "investment" as:

An asset or item that is purchased with the hope that it will generate income or appreciate in the future.

the investing of money or capital in order to gain profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value.

Property or another possession acquired for future financial return or benefit.

And here's Wikipedia:

Investment is the commitment of money or capital to purchase financial instruments or other assets in order to gain profitable returns in form of interest, income, or appreciation of the value of the instrument.

The only sense in which a car can be understood as an investment is the argument that a car is necessary to commute to one's place of employment.

Of course, the only reason anyone needs a car to commute to work is that we have spent the past century building and widening roads and highways and mandating low-density, segregated land use with mandatory "free" parking everywhere - precisely the framework we're proposing to adjust to reduce the artificial incentives to drive everywhere.

Any economist will tell you that cars are asset-depleting liabilities that continually cost money to own, to operate and to maintain. Their maintenance costs increase over time and their resale value decreases over time (with a half-life of 15-20% per year) until it finally reaches the point at which it costs as much to dispose of the car as it retains in residual value.

Unless you're a taxi driver, your car is not an investment.


In fairness, I have to concede that your reluctance to conceive of your car in realistic economic terms actually lends some credence to Schmadrian's contention that North American culture holds cars on a special pedestal that bypasses mere rationality.

I'm inclined to agree with this. Where I disagree with Schmadrian is over the extent to which people will adjust their feelings about cars in response to actual changes in the framework of incentives, rather than merely in response to an argument on a message board.

Schmadrian believes they will need to pry our cars from our cold, dead hands; whereas I believe we will start adjusting our living and transportation arrangements in a roughly linear proportion to the relative cost of driving/commuting over other modes.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-16 13:19:55

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 14:29:47

You make some okay points airhead and mikeonthemountain.

But do you guys really believe this is nothing but a self-fulfilling requirement and people are forced into buying cars?

Yes it is true to some extent, our society and infrastructure does favour the car but people want to buy cars, enjoy buying cars and buy cars well beyond what they need... many people want cars. Many people simply want to buy stuff period.

Simply writing these people off as having "turned their brains off" or under the control of some form of "mind control" (while implying you are not) isn't going to help anything.

I tried to present the challenge that this movement faces (i.e., the current roll of the car in our economy and society) to spawn discussion of how we make this transition but instead people would rather argue the validity of that challenge, argue cars aren't an investment (semantics), deny cars and related industries generate wealth for businesses and governments, deny we need roads for more than just people's cars, thereby making the "cars don't cover road cost" argument somewhat moot, by claiming things such as emergency vehicles are still "all motor vehicles" (I guess firemen should take their bikes or transit to people's homes???) and post comments saying those who don't share their opinion are brain washed.

sigh Once again more rhetoric and opinions from the fringes and a complete lack of discussion about solutions.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 14:44:14

people want to buy cars, enjoy buying cars and buy cars well beyond what they need... many people want cars.

Of course they do! And they're welcome to go on doing it but don't expect me to help pick up the tab. Let's see how much they want to buy cars when they have to pay the full cost? I'm betting people will still want to buy cars, but not as many cars and not quite as big.

Heck, even Canada has smaller average car size than America, why, because our gas tax is higher. That's all.

As for solutions we know what to do. Your "solution" seems to be to explain why the solutions won't work???

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 14:50:27

So I looked up the definition of "investment" as a sanity check. Dictionary.com defines "investment" as

Really Ryan?

I already pointed out I was using it as an informal synonym for the word purchase. You seriously want to debate this?

In fairness, I have to concede that your reluctance to conceive of your car in realistic economic terms

Did I say cars are a profit making financial investment? No. You're putting words in my mouth.

Good luck converting public opinion to your cause Ryan... I actually agreed with your main point and was simply presenting some challenges it faced, but now your obtuse and somewhat juvenile behavior has made me want to disagree with you simply as a matter of principle.

No wonder this city is messed up.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 14:57:04

I'm betting people will still want to buy cars, but not as many cars and not quite as big.

I think they will. I also hope we can see something besides the fuel burning mode of transportation we use now.

As for solutions we know what to do. Your "solution" seems to be to explain why the solutions won't work???

First step to a solution is understanding the challenge nobrainer. As for "we know what to do", I'm not so sure, I think some people here have a very utopian notion of what will work and why.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2010 at 15:19:46

Kiely, the fact is that many people do regard a car as an investment - in the proper, definitional sense of investment as money spent on something that will generate returns and/or interest. Sorry if I misunderstood your use of the word, but you were writing about spending money on cars in a context in which you also claimed that cars generate net tax revenue, create jobs and power the economy.

I looked up the definition of investment because you asked me to and I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something! Now, after I aruged that cars don't generate net tax revenue, create jobs only at the price of other opportunity costs and negative externalities borne by the economy as a whole, and don't even serve as investments for their direct owners - you accuse me of being pedantic because I took you seriously and addressed your claims in turn.

It almost sounds like you're equivocating now but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to a misunderstanding.

The thing is: either we're debating or we're not. If we're debating, then facts and arguments matter, and we must be willing to form or change our conclusions based on what the facts tell us.

If your idea of "presenting some challenges" is to make claims that turn out to be factually untrue (like your claim that cars generate net tax revenue), you must be willing to change your mind as your understanding of the facts changes. If you're not willing to do that, we're not going to have a productive debate.

If your point is that we need to find ways to make our case to people who believe things that are untrue and aren't willing to change their minds, I don't really know how to respond to that. My approach has always been to argue from facts and evidence and hope for the best. More often than not, that seems to be enough, which suggests that most people are basically reasonable.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 15:19:55

What I have learned this week:

Don't challenge the validity of the FCP on the Hamiltonian website.

Don't piss in the kool-aid on RTH.

: )

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 15:44:55

Don't piss in the kool-aid on RTH.

It's called an argument. That's what message boards are for. You're not doing that bad - why are you giving up?

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By Troll Idol (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 15:50:34

Excellent troll kiely! A++

- Kiely: A car is an investment.

- Ryan: No it's not, it's a liability.

- Kiely: Look up the definiton of investment.

- Ryan: The definition is...

- Kiely: You're a jerk for looking up the definition.

- Ryan: ???

Again well done. Great form. The "piss in the koolaid" signoff was a tour-de-force!

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 15:53:16

"Good luck converting public opinion to your cause Ryan... I actually agreed with your main point and was simply presenting some challenges it faced, but now your obtuse and somewhat juvenile behavior has made me want to disagree with you simply as a matter of principle."

Bwuhahahah, you realized this a few months too late, Kiely.

Good analysis (which Ryan et al. frequently provide) does not necessarily make good politics (which they often willfully ignore). But then again, the hardcore RTH'ers have never turned down an opportunity to let perfection stand in the way of the good.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2010-04-16 14:54:35

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 16:13:54

"I guess firemen should take their bikes or transit to people's homes???"

There's that false dichotomy again. The only possibilities are one absolute, or another absolute.

No one is asking for anything to be totalitarian or absolute. Just a bit of balance and sanity.

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By arguist (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 16:15:19

@kiely @borelli I'm confused, you want to debate the issue but then when someone debates it with you you complain that they're challenging your argument instead of just agreeing with you. Do you think you have the right to be agreed with just because? Maybe Ryan et al wouldn't be good at politics but from what I can tell they're not in politics, they're arguing public policy. If you don't want to argue your opinions on public policy then don't post them on a public policy discussion site. If you do post them you should be ready to debate them.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 16:22:53

It almost sounds like you're equivocating now but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to a misunderstanding.

This is why I provided the quote for my intended meaning Ryan: "a purchase, especially something that somebody should be able to use for a relatively long time"

It is a misunderstanding and that's cool. It is also cool if I get beat up on an issue (my skin is thick) but I would prefer to get beat up in a way that is creating constructive discussion... and I'm not seeing that here today.

If your idea of "presenting some challenges" is to make claims that turn out to be factually untrue (like your claim that cars generate net tax revenue).

If you accept that roads are required whether people drive cars or not (which I have used the emergency vehicle argument to highlight) and privately owned cars are not the sole reason for our road network, than yes cars do generate positive economic benefit. I'm sorry but if you want to continue to debate that fact you will have to be more specific regarding your argument to the contrary.

you must be willing to change your mind as your understanding of the facts changes. If you're not willing to do that, we're not going to have a productive debate.

I have stated throughout this thread that I am a supporter and essentially in agreement with you, you seem to be the one who is unable to concede a point.

If your point is that we need to find ways to make our case to people who believe things that are untrue and aren't willing to change their minds, I don't really know how to respond to that.

Not exactly my point Ryan. Yes you will have the "grasshut dwellers" who don't want anything to change ever, but you can't go chasing after them. My main point is the roll the car currently plays in our economy and society is going to create some very unique challenges for us to deal with if we want to reduce our dependence on it... but you don't seem to agree with that?

If we are ever going reduce the number of cars we have on the roads, which I believe we should, we need to understand the economic impact that the reduction in car usage and logical reduction of sales will have on our economy. Just take a walk (or bike ride) around this city and count the number of auto dealers, service centres, auto parts stores, tire shops, etc... and think how you'll replace those jobs. Mass transit could help but let me give you an idea of the difference in jobs required to support both. When I was right out of school I worked at a car dealer, one car dealer could employ 50+ people. Later in my career I worked in transit service for a large NA city... the entire commuter rail fleet was maintained by ~150 people. So in this example for every 3 lost car dealers you would need 1 new commuter rail system to replace the lost jobs. It will be much easier to lose the dealer jobs than it will be to build an entirely new commuter rail system. Very basic example but hopefully it paints the picture.

Our governments have revealed a complete inability to cope with the type of change that will be required to create the sustainable cities we live in. We can't just build some bike lanes, jack up the price of gas, slap restrictions, tolls and fees on cars and hope for the best and to agree with your point, slapping $30 fees on bikes isn't going to work either and is largely pointless (but as I said, not surprising that a politician would suggest it). We need to have some of these hard discussions now and that's why I don't mind taking some heat... We need to discuss what will replace the car in our economy, it is not going to be a simple thing to do and I believe this is a vital topic to be discussed in this debate. Apparently others on here including yourself do not.

Some numbers for you Number of new cars sold in Canada last year - 1.6 million Say the average price is $20K, (which would be low), GST and PST alone are $2700 X 1.6 million = $4,320,000,000. If we reduce that by say half we are still going to need our roads (so that cost isn't going anywhere, perhaps slightly reduced because of less maintenance) and we will need to find an extra $2,000,000,000 in the budget to replace the sales tax income alone… not to mention lost income taxes, (because we will lose jobs), tire taxes, gas taxes, license fees, etc…

See where I'm coming from now? Hopefully we're back on track ; )

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-04-16 15:23:26

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 16:28:14

Kiely: Look up the definiton of investment.

Ryan: The definition is...

Kiely: You're a jerk for looking up the definition.

I provided the quote of the definition I used to clarify how I used the word.

Is reading comprehension an issue on here???

The "piss in the koolaid" signoff was a tour-de-force!

"Sign off"??? You wish.

It's called an argument. That's what message boards are for. You're not doing that bad - why are you giving up?

Oh, I'm not Jonathon.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-04-16 15:37:05

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 16:34:38

"I guess firemen should take their bikes or transit to people's homes???"

There's that false dichotomy again. The only possibilities are one absolute, or another absolute. - mikeonthemountain

It is hardly a false dichotomy to say we still need roads whether people are driving personal vehicles or not and then providing an example.

What do you suggest mikeonthemountain, rip up the roads?

Okay, I'll bite:

If not by motor vehicle how do you propose we provide such things as police coverage, emergency services, garbage and recycling pickup?

And no, you can't say a flying car! : )

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-04-16 15:34:59

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 16:42:53

Do you think you have the right to be agreed with just because? - arguist

Not at all, I simply want people to discuss/debate the main issue not trivial aspects, individual statements taken out of context or semantics (although Ryan and I have decided that was simply a misunderstanding : )

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 16, 2010 at 17:41:38

"It is hardly a false dichotomy to say we still need roads whether people are driving personal vehicles or not and then providing an example."

Exactly.

"What do you suggest mikeonthemountain, rip up the roads?"

No, I suggest that it is idiotic to think that either everyone drives, or nobody drives. That would be a dichotomy. Clearly some people need to drive. Emergency vehicles and delivery vehicles certainly need to drive. Thus reality is not a dichotomy. Thus, suggesting that advocating that there be AVAILABLE alternatives to driving being interpreted to mean one is advocating that emergency crews should be kicked out of their vehicles, would be an example of a false dichotomy.

If they invent suitable flying cars, bonus, emergency response times would improve. But no, no such requirement is being suggested or even advocated at this time, relax. Normal roads will do just fine lol.

Oh my :)

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2010-04-16 16:48:02

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 17, 2010 at 08:30:39

With significantly less automotive traffic on the roads, roads will last a lot longer.

Something else to keep in mind is that good policy rarely makes good politics when it's a change from the status quo.

The simplest/best solution is to raise the gas tax. As long as gas is cheap, people will justify a two hour commute or a hop in the car for anything. Raise the price and suddenly the bike looks a lot more attractive as a means of transportation.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 18, 2010 at 14:55:28

but you don't seem to agree with that?

I disagree with the idea that we can't start making incremental changes right now.

There seems to be this prevailing sense that the purpose of bike lanes is to ban cars and ban driving and force everyone to move into the city tomorrow.

For example, when I was interviewed by Scott Thompson over the bike lane issue last year, he attacked my support for bike lanes by claiming I was saying, "Alright, no more cars allowed in here" and that I was "hoping that everybody jumps on their bike and all of a sudden starts riding".

That's nonsense, whether dishonest or merely confused. More bike lanes doesn't mean no more cars; it means, as Mikeonthemountain so eloquently put it a couple of days ago, a move away from the extremism of a radical, single-mode transportation system and toward the balanced moderation of a multiple-mode system.

we need to understand the economic impact that the reduction in car usage and logical reduction of sales will have on our economy

It's a legitimate issue, but again, the idea is to make steady incremental change in the right direction, now to shut down the automobile economy tomorrow.

Let's say Hamilton gets off its collective ass and builds a light rail system, and there's a car wash right on the line. The car wash owner may start to lose revenue selling car washes, but while this is happening, the value of his land is increasing significantly.

He may eventually decide to sell the car wash to someone who wants to build a higher density / higher value building on the land, and either invest in something else for which there's a stronger market, or else move his car wash business to an area with better prospects, i.e. some place still built around the primacy of cars.

This is a single, individual economic decision among a multitude of such decisions made by many individuals responding each in turn to market pressures and opportunities.

When Portland OR canceled a new highway construction in the early 1970s and built a light rail line instead, the captains of the status quo were apoplectic. When the city threw out single use zoning, established a firm urban boundary and told developers to focus on infill, they went berzerk.

Yet within a few years, the developers who had been making lots of money building single family houses started making even more money building multi-use condos - and they were converted.

We can't sit here with the example of Portland right here before our eyes and pretend that shifting our priorities away from cars and suburbs and toward urbanism is some reckless march into the uncharted wilderness.

Moving from a car-based economy to a city-based economy closes some economic opportunities and opens others. If the transition is done incrementally over time, it doesn't have to be traumatic.

As I've tried to argue in the past, there is not one single economic equilibrium to which every economy tends. Instead, there are multiple possible equilibria, and economies move toward one or another partially as a function of what kinds of economic catalysts get built through the political process.

If you build a first-class automobile network with public money and no use fees, you will have an economic model based on access to that network. If you build a more urban network based on density and proximity, the economics change and you get different models based on access to the fruits of density and proximity.

Take New York City, for example. It's one of the great economic powerhouses of the world, boasting some of the most productive people and infrastructures anywhere in North America. Yet the vast majority of New Yorkers don't own cars. Instead, they walk and take transit - and increasingly, in the past few years, they ride bikes as New York invests in cycling infrastructure.

There has been an enormous amount of economic research (including this study I wrote about last week) that has confirmed and reconfirmed the fact that the productivity and innovation of economies are directly correlated with density and proximity.

Cities are literally engines of economic development - and Hamilton's engine is sputtering because we've spent the past six decades building roads and highways so people can spread out rather than building high quality urban infrastructure that makes people want to move closer together and generates the urban economies or density, scale, association and extension.


Again, as far as I know, no one is proposing that we flip some switch, turn off the car economy and turn on the urban economy. However, we have to start right now to start incentivizing the individual changes that will add up to an economy and a society moving toward sustainability.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-18 14:07:41

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 18, 2010 at 18:05:14

we need to understand the economic impact that the reduction in car usage and logical reduction of sales will have on our economy.

While I certainly understand the point being made here, I think it becomes a bit nebulous when trying to guess at what may or may not happen in specific economic sectors.
An increase in cycling from say 2% of total trips to 10% of total trips is very unlikely to result in dealerships closing down. As a starting point, we could see some better deals from car dealerships, which I'm sure even the biggest anti-bike person would appreciate. Furthermore, it could easily be noted that if there were less cars on the roads and more room available for bike lanes, less lanes, bigger sidewalks, more street trees and safer urban neighbourhoods that we'd see an increase in home values in neighbourhoods currently plagued with one-way freeways. Terry Cooke highlighted this point during last week's Code Red series when discussing the importance of quality of life as a means of improving previously depressed neighbourhoods such as Hamilton's West Harbour area. We'd also see more businesses on business friendly and people-friendly streets. The increased taxes from increased home/property values and an influx of new businesses would be a huge plus on the economy.
I guess this discussion could go back and forth for some time, but I think the pros need to be weighed against the cons. If car dealerships were to slightly lower prices due to lower sales and perhaps lay off a few employees, is that a bigger loss than all that is to be gained in neighbourhoods that are encouraged to spring back to life?

I realize this is a moot discussion in Hamilton. Our chamber of 'commerce' and political leaders have made it clear that they're completely happy with Walmart flourish on our city's outskirts and kilometer after kilometer of abandoned, depressed buildings and low property values through the central city. The Spec calls it Code Red. The Chamber calls it a flourishing and growing economy.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 18, 2010 at 18:43:30

Another important point about the economics of autocentricity is that the costs of car ownership easily make up 30 to 40% of a middle class income. As Kiely contends, alot of that money keeps people employed in various fields from manufacturing to sales to maintenance, and it's all taxed. But without cars, that money would still exist, and people would spend it on other things, all of which would employ people and pay taxes. We had a functional industrial economy before cars, and we can have one with less cars. Bicycle manufacturing and streetcar manufacturing used to employ people and pay taxes in Canada. So did agriculture and neighbourhood level retail, to a much greater extent than they do today.

On an incremental level, reduced car ownership will have a net positive effect on the economy as those who go car-free have more disposable income which they will spend in higher value added industries that tend to keep more of their wealth in the community. As the mode split moves significantly away from cars, new industries and revenue streams will be created out of the demand for non-automotive transportation.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 18, 2010 at 19:38:01

Good point Jon. It's been researched and said that the average annual cost to own a car in Canada is $8,000. If I had an extra $8,000 in my pocket each year I'd have the nicest house on the street and would see all of my renovation wish list come to fruition. Instead I have to be very selective about what home improvements we do due to money constraints. And that's just in one area. I'm sure I'd use some of that extra money for more leisure activities - shows, dining out etc.... as well as being more selective in my grocery shopping to pretty much buy all local, all the time. And of course, I'd be saving more money (although I get the feeling our society's bigwigs frown upon this activity).

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 18, 2010 at 21:04:40

^Actually the $8000 is for a small car. Average car is $10-12000.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 18, 2010 at 21:14:19

yikes!! that's scary.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 19, 2010 at 08:39:17

For all their negatives, there are some positive side effects of owning a car.

For example, the martial arts classes my son attends are located a 15 minute drive away, yet would easily take an hour and a half by bus to get there. Considering that there are three kids in transit and it's around supper time, that's pretty significant. Why not something around the corner from us? Not all instructors are created equally!

Getting to a client meeting anywhere in the GTA is feasible. Transit? Only in limited circumstances. Sure I'd rather use the phone and internet, but sometimes ya gotta press hands.

Essentially they are multipliers of time and convenience. Can they be wasteful? Absolutely. That doesn't make them wasteful by definition.

The other side of it is the pleasure factor. Some of us derive a lot of pleasure from our cars. Carving a corner nicely or nailing a smooth heel and toe shift can bring a smile to my face quite easily. Are these worth the costs to me when coupled with the convenience of the vehicle as a whole? Absolutely.

You want to get people out of cars? Reduce the convenience of them and increase the cost to use them. Parking is one of Ryan's favourite issues and is wholly appropriate. Double the cost of gas and you'll see far less usage (and put the proceeds from the tax to transit!). Will I pay those costs? Absolutely. Maybe not always with a smile, but it will be paid.

Then we get to the arguments that cars become a tool for the wealthy as the poor can't afford them anymore. Sigh.

Comment edited by Brandon on 2010-04-19 07:40:35

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 19, 2010 at 08:48:44

Brandon, your experience is precisely why I can't image that car dealerships will close down if the rate of cycling increases. Our society has subsidized the automobile in the way we've developed and for most families there will always be a need for a car for inter-city trips or longer local trips. Families will be more easily able to ditch their second car or leave the car at home when cycling is a viable option.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2010 at 15:07:54

Incremental change is the only sensible way to go. Otherwise we may get to a critical point (when oil prices skyrocket, when the planet starts vomiting and spinning the other way (could happen...?), when every commuter does a Michael Douglas whilst stuck in in traffic...) when sudden drastic changes need to be made.

I remember the UK miners strikes of the early 80's. The Labour government of the 70's ignored the writing on the wall for the English coal industry for years. Then Thatcher came in and took the inevitable, but necessarily drastic, action. It wasn't pretty.

Balanced transportation is what we are going to get. Whether we do it the 'nice' way or the hard way, it's going to happen. We should stop fretting about job losses and make incremental changes that we can all adjust to.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 17:56:03

A recent NY study shows that the residents of NY save $19 billion a year because of their lower rate of car ownership - most of which is spent locally, boosting the NY economy:

http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/201...

Bonus: a staggering stat on the parking space needed if New Yorkers owned cars at the same rate as other NA cities - basically all of Manhattan. Hard to have a thriving, dynamic city and a car in every garage. Can't be done. Cars just take up too much damn space.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:25:50

No, I suggest that it is idiotic to think that either everyone drives, or nobody drives. - mikeonthemountain

I never said that... are you debating me or yourself?

What I was trying to explain is that we need roads even without personal vehicle use so assigning full cost of the road network to personal vehicles as some here have tried to do is being disingenuous. That was my only point… disagree if you like.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:58:15

With significantly less automotive traffic on the roads, roads will last a lot longer. - Brandon

Biggest factor on our road maintenance is trucks and weather and the bike-lobby doesn't solve either of those issues.

I disagree with the idea that we can't start making incremental changes right now. - Ryan

Of course we can, I never said we couldn't... I have disagreed with you about what they should be though (e.g., bike paths versus bike lanes).

It's a legitimate issue - Ryan

That you spent how many posts arguing with me about?

Maybe next time Ryan we'll be able to avoid the BS arguments and get to the root of the issue quicker?

While I certainly understand the point being made here, I think it becomes a bit nebulous when trying to guess at what may or may not happen in specific economic sectors. - Jason

This is why open, honest and focused discussion/debate is important.

Then we get to the arguments that cars become a tool for the wealthy as the poor can't afford them anymore. Sigh. - Brandon

It is a valid argument. Many of our efforts to change behavior become tax or fee based which basically sends the message if you have enough money you can do whatever you want.

Sin taxes, user fees, tolls, etc… can be useful tools but when they are the go to solution every time it becomes a problem and does add to the ever growing rich vs poor divide.

Let's stick with cars for example… taxing gas, putting up tolls, increasing the cost of car usage is one way to reduce cars on our roads and the one often cited by people who fancy themselves as progressive. But to me, taxing citizens is anything but progressive. What if the government gave companies incentives to allow more employees to telecommute or simply told them they had to like they tell us we have to pay more? I know lots of people who drive to work, work on their computers, answer emails or phones interact with very few or no people face-to-face and then go home. Do you need to commute 1 hour to do that in this day and age? No, but we never seem to take that type of different approach when it is just too easy to make citizens pay more.

Change can't always be the citizen's responsibility or burden, it is time to spread the responsibility for change to a broader segment of our society. Governments and corporations need to start to doing more. Governments need to look beyond the easy tax grab solution and corporations need to start being more progressive and make changes to the way their businesses run to help us shift the way our society runs to a more sustainable mode.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2010 at 13:23:40

assigning full cost of the road network to personal vehicles as some here have tried to do is being disingenuous

I haven't seen anyone here argue that the full cost of our road network accrues to personal vehicles.

Drivers of personal vehicles aren't responsible for 100% of the cost of our streets, but they are responsible for most of the cost. (The cost of emergency vehicles as a fraction of total traffic is negligible.)

On the other hand, there are tremendous public costs associated with driving - from health care costs related to air pollution to public health costs related to automobile-based sedentary living to GHG emissions to the cost in human potential and property due to collisions and crashes to the cost in productivity due to congestion (the OECD recently released an alarming report on the economic cost of GTA gridlock) - that the Transport Canada study doesn't take into account.

Given that the totality of taxes and fees paid by drivers don't even cover the cost of our roads, let alone the additional costs of driving, it's unquestionable that drivers enjoy a sizeable public subsidy.

The experience of jurisdictions (like most of Europe) that started charging much higher taxes for driving after the OPEC crisis clearly indicates that people will drive less and use other modes more if they have to pay more of the cost of their modal choice.

Back to the argument:

  • I own a car, which means I pay all the fixed public costs that go along with car ownership; and
  • I own a house, which means I pay all the property and infrastructure taxes. [0]

However, I do the bulk of my traveling on a bike, which: takes up little space either on the road or while parked; produces effectively zero pollution [1]; enjoys 595 km/l equivalent fuel economy; imposes negligible wear and tear on the road [2]; and has a capacity to cause injury and/or property damage several orders of magnitude lower than that of a car [3].

As a cyclist who, like most cyclists, also owns a car and pays property tax, I am helping to subsidize the road network for people who mainly drive. All I expect is that a thin slice of the road network be reserved for the use of cyclists so that we have a safer and more welcoming environment on the public network we're helping to pay for!

The clear experiences of other cities tells us that as the city builds a continuous bike lane network, more people will choose to use their bikes instead of their cars more of the time. As more people leave their cars at home and ride their bikes instead, a lot of positive public goods accrue:

  1. Wear and tear on the roads is reduced;
  2. Energy consumption and air pollution (including GHG emissions) are reduced;
  3. The risk of injury and property damage in collisions is reduced;
  4. Public health costs related to obesity and sedentary living are reduced;
  5. The streets become safer and more lively for pedestrians, residents, local businesses, etc.;
  6. Because bicycles take up less space than cars, congestion actually goes down; and
  7. Cycling is further normalized among drivers and still more people decide to cycle for some trips instead of drive, which further reinforces the previous six positive effects.

I don't think my expectation of a bike lane network is unreasonable, and I'm not aware of any credible methodology of analysis that would render this expectation invalid.

References

[0] Actually, rental property landlords pay a much higher property tax rate than homeowners, which means renters pay a much higher property tax rate than homeowners. We have a situation in which people who are less likely to own a car actually contribute more toward our road network than people who are more likely to own a car (or two, or three).

[1] Aside from trace amounts of eroded tire rubber and brake pad material.

[2] I have an old steel frame bike. Its weight with me on board is something like 113 kg (250 lbs). Compare the 1123 kg (2500 lbs) weight of my Honda Civic.

[3] Compare the momentum of 1123 kg * 60 km/h with the momentum of 113 kg * 30 km/h.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-21 14:55:09

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 14:25:03

[1] Aside from trace amounts of eroded tire rubber and brake pad material.

Don't forget fuel, ie. the GHG emissions from the production of the food required to replace calories burned.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2010 at 14:44:43

Biggest factor on our road maintenance is trucks and weather and the bike-lobby doesn't solve either of those issues.

I don't know what this "bike lobby" is aside from a rhetorical construct, but on RTH we have been advocating for a long time to restrict through traffic on downtown streets, and particularly through truck traffic. (See Jason Leach's archive of articles and blog entries for many articles about trucks.)

The RHVP was sold on the grounds that it would complete a ring highway around Hamilton that could accommodate truck traffic. That clearly hasn't happened yet, and the obvious reason is that it's still faster for trucks to drive through the city than around it.

I have argued many times that the following changes would help by making it harder to drive through the city in a hurry:

  • Convert downtown streets to two-way traffic flow.
  • Add bike lanes.
  • Widen sidewalks and plant street trees.

bike paths versus bike lanes

Bike paths serve a legitimate role in a continuous bicycle network, but as I've pointed out elsewhere, relegating cyclists to off-street routes limits bicycle access to destinations.

There's a reason we also want bike lanes on busy streets: those streets are busy because they have destinations worth getting to.

That you spent how many posts arguing with me about?

I've been arguing with your contention that the "bike lobby" might have to get used to bicycle-deterring registration fees, that drivers pay the full cost of driving, that encouraging more cycling would result in a net loss of driving revenues, that cyclists (most of whom also own cars and pay property tax) don't pay their share of road taxes, and so on.

In this particular case, I took issue with your contention that an incremental shift in the balance of cars and other transportation modes will necessarily produce economic hardship.

Many of our efforts to change behavior become tax or fee based which basically sends the message if you have enough money you can do whatever you want.

I frequently hear this argument in opposition to increases in electricity costs: we have to keep the price of electricity artificially low because otherwise poor people wouldn't be able to afford it.

Here's the thing: by subsidizing the cost of electricity, we are giving a small benefit to poor people who need it and a huge benefit to middle and upper income people who don't need it.

Who benefits more from 6 cents-a-kilowatt-hour electricity: someone in a small apartment in the North End or someone in a 3,000 square foot house in Ancaster who can now afford to leave the AC running all day in the summer?

It makes a lot more sense to me if we charge the real cost of electricity to everyone so that people can respond to price signals, and at the same time take the money that we're currently plowing into keeping electricity cheap and instead plow it into ensuring that everyone earns a living wage.

Ideally this incremental shifting of public money away from subsidies that benefit the affluent, like "free" roads and highways and cheap electricity, should be revenue-neutral.

Here's a similar idea: charge variable (based on time of day) tolls on highways and use the money to beef up GO Train service so it's competitive with driving for speed and convenience.

A huge number of people who commute today would rather take the train, but it's currently too slow/expensive/infrequent to meet their needs compared to driving.

As you say, rather than leaving it up to citizens to suck it up and make sub-optimal transportation choices under the current framework of incentives, it makes more sense to adjust the framework so that people can make better choices without having to suffer negative outcomes.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-21 14:53:07

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2010 at 14:45:46

Don't forget fuel, ie. the GHG emissions from the production of the food required to replace calories burned.

I expect this works out to a wash. People who don't exercise don't eat less; they just accumulate and carry more stored energy. They also burn calories less efficiently than people who exercise regularly.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-21 13:46:18

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 16:41:02

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By NoPlace (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 17:55:12

So now it's "utopian" to support a living wage?

"Kiely"'s intellectual ancestors were the ones going "Of course we HATE slavery, it's AWFUL, but you can't just expect the Empire to ban it overnight, I mean think of the economic hardship!"

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By More roads (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 18:09:33

Lower Hamilton needs a highway to allow for east west travel. If this were the case, Main St could be made much more people friendly. Bike lanes, wider sidewalks and perhaps even some trees.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 19:20:13

The roads aren't going anywhere with or without personal vehicles on them so this is a moot point.

Cluetrain: the cost of roads is variable. More cars means more cost.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 23:03:49

z jones, what's also a variable cost is how much the government spends on freebies, like health, education, welfare and pensions. Since 2002, Ontario government expenditures on goods and services has increased from $92.8B to $118B (2002 dollars), or 3.48% a year. In that same period of time, Ontario's GDP has gone from $477.7B to $514.3B (2002 dollars), or 1.07% per year.

So while Ontario's economy was lavishing the public with freebies, things that lefties claim help the economy grow, the result was economic stagnation.

In contrast, from 1995 to 2002, government spending on goods and services went from $80.9B to $92.8B, or 1.9% per year. Did this slower rate of government spending on free health and education hurt the economy? Well, let's see what the numbers tell us. From 1995 to 2002, GDP went from $360.7B to $477.7B (2002 dollars), or 4.1% per year.

Contrary to what lefties like to think, free health and education do not help the economy grow, they impede it. Whereas businesses compete and therefore innovate, government health and education are monopolies. That is what Ontario's economy has become since Dalton McGuinty took over, less competitive and more focused on propping up government employees.

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