June 5, 2009

Transportation Subsidies

The Conservative government’s public transit tax credit has come under a lot of flak, most recently from the Auditor General Sheila Fraser, who in a recent report said that the environmental impact of the plan is greatly exaggerated (“Pests threaten border: AG,” The Edmonton Journal, Feb.6, 2009). Since its inception the plan has also been criticized for subsidizing people for doing what they’d normally be doing anyway -- taking transit. These criticisms are not without merit.

What puzzles me is that these same critics, the Auditor General included, ignore a much more generously funded transportation credit, one that actually encourages users to increases their greenhouse gas emissions. I’m speaking of our great parking tax credit, a scheme all levels of government and most employers and retailers actively participate in.

In spite of what the rise in downtown parking rates may indicate, most commuters park for free, and rarely are they taxed on this income supplement. Our provincial government spends $150 million building a 650-stall underground parkade. Will the rates cover the construction and maintenance of it? Not very likely. The taxpayer will pick up the difference. City officials continually roadblock residential and commercial developments because of insufficient parking, even in so-called "pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods". Out in the suburbs where most of the shopping takes place parking is free, but at what cost to the downtown core? A company I do business with generously hands out parking coupons to its customers, but fails to offer any transit tickets, same with the organizers of a convention I recently attended at the Shaw Conference Centre.

The upshot of our great parking subsidy is that it encourages GHG emissions and that the cost of the subsidy is shared by those that don’t even drive. Take your pencil to this one Ms Fraser.

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