I plugged Daniel Fontaine’s excellent, must-read post at City Caucus before the weekend, but since people might not have seen it on a sunny Friday afternoon, I wanted to flag it again.  Fontaine’s description of trying to make it through the badly congested LA freeways reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about.

Right now in metro Vancouver, we’re thinking about whether to kick Translink an extra $450 million a year to expand our transit system.  We’re also thinking in relatively concrete terms about the downsides of doing that.  To raise $450 million a year, we’re going to have start tolling bridges and taxing people an extra $100 to $200 dollars a year just to keep their cars.  $100 a year is a real number.  People can understand what that means.  That’s a dinner out or four, depending on your tastes.  It’s eight movies, or six if you want popcorn.  It’s about a two-month’s supply of diapers.  That’s real.

But there’s almost no concrete discussion of the downsides of not spending that $450 million a year.  If drivers keep their money, what are they losing?  Fontaine makes it clear that one thing people lose is time–time spent sitting in traffic.  But I wish someone with the right data and better modeling chops than me could get even more concrete than that.

Suppose we don’t go for Translink’s best plan.  In 2020 or 2025, during an hour of the morning rush, how many cars are going to go down that hill on the Number 1 between the 152 St. exit and the Port Mann?  What about between Willmingdon and 1st Ave.?  And with that many more cars, how much slower is traffic going to be?  How much longer is it going to take to get from, say, 200th St. to downtown?

Here’s where it starts to get real.  How much later are people going to get home from work?  How many fewer minutes will they have to eat with their families?  How much harder will it be to make it to their kid’s basketball game, or poker night, or a movie?  When–and only when–we’re thinking in those very concrete terms can we start honestly weighing the pros and cons of things like Translink’s proposed vehicle levy.

And with that, I’m going to wander down to Center City Station to see if I can find my friends. . . .

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