Seattle’s Car Tab – springboard for Vancouver’s Vehicle Levy?

Our Cascadian neighbours in the Emerald City have been dealing recently with some major transportation issues.  In question is the funding of transit and road costs through a car tab.  A car tab sounds similar to the idea of a vehicle levy put forth by TransLink and the Metro Vancouver mayors.  Each car in Seattle basically has to pay an annual amount that goes towards transit, road maintenance and repair, and pedestrian & bicycle projects.

Seattle as seen from the Space Needle

Seattle already has a car tab of $20 and King County (the county within which Seattle sits) just instituted a $20 car tab of it’s own to maintain current bus services.  Seattle city council is now putting forward a ballot measure to add another $60 to all these car tabs.  Again, it’s all to pay for transit and road projects.  So if the Seattle voters pass the measure, then Seattle car owners will be paying at least $100 annually.

This all sounds very familiar to those of us who follow transit funding woes in Metro Vancouver.  The NDP government of yesteryear had promised TransLink funding through a vehicle levy.  The levy met stiff opposition and the NDP totally shelved the funding idea.  How times have changed, though?  If Seattle can have a car tab, perhaps Vancouver can revisit the vehicle levy.

There is now renewed talk of possibly bringing in the vehicle levy.  Giving TransLink the ability to charge a vehicle levy requires legislative changes from the provincial level.  With a possible fall provincial election, I don’t expect this to happen any time soon.

However, we could definitely consider the levy.  I would prefer it to tolls on bridges.  Even though tolls on bridges could be useful in controlling the flow of traffic, the vehicle levy is simpler and easier to implement.  The Golden Ears bridge, for example, requires a tolling company to install, operate, and maintain the equipment required to implement a bridge toll.  That’s a lot of money.I would think a vehicle levy similar to Seattle’s car tab could be useful in finally giving some stable funding to TransLink instead of relying on the whims of the day’s provincial and federal politicians.

Fuel efficient vehicles could pay less on the vehicle levy

A vehicle levy for Metro Vancouver could vary the fee according to vehicle fuel efficiency and according to transit accessibility of the driver’s neighbourhood.  The levy should have a sliding scale of fees based on a few factors.  One factor is fuel efficiency.  Larger gas guzzling vehicles would the full portion of the levy for fuel efficiency, while vehicles like hybrids and compact cars would get a discounted rate.

Another factor is where the vehicle owner lives.  A vehicle’s owner who lives in Kitsilano would pay the full portion based on the great amount of transit accessibility in the area.  Somebody who lives in Langley, where transit services are sparse and not attractive, would pay the discounted rate.

One other factor should also consider the commercial use of a vehicle.  There should be a non-commercial use portion to the levy.  Then commercial vehicles would be exempt from that portion completely.

Seattle’s car tab is definitely food for thought for us up here in Vancouver as we could potentially be facing a similar fee to pay for our transit, road, bike, and pedestrian projects.

Further Reading:

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