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Tristan Cleveland on how paying more for roads and parking benefits everyone in Halifax

If we let demand dictate pricing, like charging for main arteries at rush hour and lunchtime parking, everyone wins.

Cars head through the Armdale Rotary

Metro file

Cars head through the Armdale Rotary

Whether left or right wing, people are repulsed by the idea of using prices to dole out roads, parking, or infrastructure. When it comes to urban planning, it’s as if everyone I talk to is a communist.

Consider parking. Right now, throughout downtown Halifax, on-street parking costs about $1.50 an hour. At that price, there are far more people who want spots than are available.

It reminds me of when I lived in Venezuela, watching crowds of people rush to a store as soon as a delivery of corn flour arrived. I’d have to rush to get in line too, because the flour would run out fast. Their socialist government had artificially reduced the price of many basics like flour to help poor people; as a result, supplies would run out quickly, hurting poor and rich alike.

We don’t have that problem in Canada because we let supply and demand set prices. It's the same principle that people accept as normal in the supermarket, but consider unacceptable when they step onto the street.

San Francisco lets parking prices go up and down in response to demand for different streets at different times of day, using electronic parking meters. Their target is to ensure a parking spot is available on every block at all times, so anyone who really needs a spot can always find one right where they are going.

The program has been impressively successful, reducing the amount people driving around looking for parking by 50 per cent, and has decreased traffic and pollution substantially in the process.

A recent count by Halifax’s business improvement districts found over 1,380 structured parking spots available downtown during lunchtime. Instead of making people circle blocks, stressed, hoping a spot becomes free, we should charge a bit more for the most convenient parking - and reward those willing to park in a garage with a lower price.

The same logic applies to traffic. If we charged people for using arterials at at rush hour, those who don’t really need to travel at that very moment would drive at another time of day or would take an alternative, such as a bus. For the people who really need to get to a job or an appointment at that very moment, they could then reliably get through with no delays.

Next time you’re sitting in traffic, ask yourself: “How much would I pay to make everyone who doesn’t really need to be here right now pick a different time to drive?” That’s what congestion pricing would do.

Of course, wealthy people would benefit if they could pay for convenient parking and high-speed roads. But giving parking and roads away for free is just one strategy among many to address inequality, and it’s a bad one.

Far better would be to take those parking and congestion fees and invest in mass transit as something that can benefit everyone far more efficiently — and sustainably.

I see similar issues everywhere I look in planning. Many oppose charging residents the real costs of providing infrastructure and services for their homes. As a result, taxpayers subsidize people for living in places that cost everyone more.

Others believe transit should go to every home no matter the cost, because it’s a matter of justice, and anyways, transit isn’t supposed to be profitable. On the contrary - as long as budgets aren’t infinite, paying attention to costs is exactly how we achieve the most justice for the most people.

I shouldn’t have to explain why our cities would be better if we didn’t manage them with failed socialist economics, but here we are. As long as we choose to avoid or ignore prices in cities, we will waste our time, money, resources, and quality of life.

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