Skip to content

Smart Mobility Pricing: Policy Innovation Can Meet Revenue Shortfall and Council Priorities on Transit, Jobs, Congestion & Carbon

Renewable Cities’ response to proposed City of Vancouver motion: Transport Pricing Suspension. To view the PDF version of this letter click here.

Re: Support for suspending proposed mobility pricing strategy & friendly amendment to engage in regional fiscal innovations to address council priorities

Your Worship & Members of Council:

First, thank you for stepping into the public glare to balance diverse interests advancing important priorities on complex issues. The resolution on mobility pricing is emblematic of this challenge. I am writing to:

  1. Support your resolution to suspend work on transportation pricing focussed narrowly on City of Vancouver.
  2. Urge a friendly amendment to re-allocate staff working on this task to collaborate other local governments and TransLink regionally and the provincial government on fiscal innovations and improved transit and land use integration to address this Council’s priorities to sustain and expand transit service. With your stewardship, this can be done in a fiscally responsible and equitable manner that also protects Vancouver’s downtown economic vitality.

Proposed Downtown Congestion Charge: A Right Solution for Wrong Place

The mobility pricing system explored by the City would have imposed a charge to drive into a cordon around downtown Vancouver. Such a system has merit for monocentric urban regions with extremely dominant downtown cores and authority over land use and transportation over extensive geographies like London, England or Stockholm, Sweden. Metro Vancouver is polycentric, i.e. dotted with job hubs, and comprised of 22 municipalities with distributed authority over own land use and transportation.  This system had big risks:

  • Undermining Vancouver economic vitality, discouraging job retention and growth downtown
  • Increasing transportation carbon and congestion, encouraging a reverse commute to peripheral jobs
  • Exacerbating inequity, increasing costs to service sector employees with limited transportation options.

Smart, Innovative Mobility Pricing Systems: Focusing on High Impact & Advantaged Vehicles

There is immense opportunity to design novel mobility pricing systems that reflect our time and place. They can focus on vehicles receiving disproportionate advantage or making disproportionate impacts, such as:

  • Just In Time Truck Delivery–the Fastest Growing Source of Congestion & Carbon: Local residents and businesses are paying for Amazonian growth in just-in-time courier truck delivery with rising congestion and costs to support a highly subsidized road system.
  • Zero Emission Vehicles–Avoiding Fuel Tax and Transit Service Revenue: Unlike other vehicles, zero emission vehicles pay no fuel excise tax and receive vast subsidies. Fuel tax is a major source of regional transit revenue. ZEVs are vital for meeting climate targets and should also contribute transit services.

Toss Bathwater Not Baby: Fair & Effective Principles for Smart Mobility Pricing

A smart mobility pricing system is almost indispensable in advancing key Council priorities. The City should establish principles to ensure they address Council priorities and public interest:

  • Fiscal Responsibility: Gasoline and diesel tax revenue, generating $400 million annually for TransLink, will decline and disappear as ZEVs comprise successively larger shares of vehicle stock and traditional fuel sales decline. Mayors governing TransLink must steward development of new revenue streams.
  • Transit Service Viability: TransLink doesn’t have the revenue to operate transit services desired by council today and into the future. Vancouver residents depend on transit for a larger share of trips than those of any other Metro municipality. A smart mobility pricing system must strengthen transit service.
  • Downtown Job Protection: Downtown Vancouver’s vitality is central to the City’s and Region’s economy and a large force in local and regional transportation sustainability. A smart mobility pricing regime must be designed to strengthen the economic vitality of downtown Vancouver.
  • Socio-Economic Equity: Local and regional inequity is growing. After housing, transportation is the second fastest growing and second largest expenditure, comprising almost 20% of household spending. Mobility pricing and broader transportation and land use planning must reduce transportation inequity.
  • Congestion and Carbon Management: A top driver to Metro’s and B.C.’s rising carbon emissions is surging vehicle stock growth, rising twice as fast as population growth. Two strategies can reverse this trend: sustainable land use and pricing. Smart mobility pricing must reduce congestion and carbon.

Friendly Amendment: Advancing City Leadership & Priorities Locally & Internationally

Again and again, the City of Vancouver has allocated resources to advance priorities that have positively impacted residents and businesses locally and in jurisdictions far beyond its borders from physically accessible door handles to better building codes.

While the mobility pricing system under evaluation risked local and regional best interest, City staff now have deeper mobility pricing knowledge than almost anyone around. Their ability to advance the diverse priorities of this Council is immense from fiscally viable transit to congestion management to equity.

Council is encouraged to advance a friendly amendment to the resolution to enable staff engaged in analysis and policy development on mobility pricing to be re-allocated to work regionally and provincially exploring mobility pricing and complementary fiscal and transit and land use innovations that observes the five principles above.

I look forward to engaging with your worship, council and staff as you advance your priorities.  Please find attached an appendix that elaborates on this analysis and these recommendations.



Alex Boston

Executive Director, Renewable Cities

Fellow, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue


c.c.       Honourable David Eby, Premier Designate, B.C.

Jerry Dobrovolny, CAO, Metro Vancouver

Kevin Quinn, CEO, TransLink


Click here to view the original letter and an appendix with detailed analysis and policy recommendations.