Flat Fines Don’t Work, Make Them Variable

A fine, as a means of dissuading anti-social behaviour, is a pretty blunt instrument. It is hamstrung by one overarching factor that renders it useless to a large proportion of the population: marginal ability to pay.

In short, if you are rich the impact of a $150 fine for parking in a bike lane may be minimal, whereas if you are poor it could mean very real sacrifices in order to pay the fine. What is needed is a way to factor the fine by ones ability to pay in order to equally dissuade anti-social behaviour. Continue reading Flat Fines Don’t Work, Make Them Variable

Tax Cuts Cost You More

The title of this post needs to become the mantra of all those that value civilization and all that it brings us.

An alarming majority of people use services that are provided for by means of taxes and don’t even realize it. They are often small government, fiscal conservative types. A 2008 Cornell study found that 57% of Americans claimed they never used services funded by taxes but when asked if they haf availed themselves of 21 programs 94% had made use of at least one with the average being four.

Savy politicians know that in cutting taxes expenditure must also be cut too but that that is often unpalatable. Instead, the go to political tool is to make those programs “self sustaining” by means of the application of user fees.

This provides the cover and optics of not cutting services but renders the service less accessible. In isolation, for a single program, this may have little effect on use, but when a majority of programs become user fee based overall use begins to decline.

A cash strapped house that may previously have partaken in five programs may have to make a choice to only engage in three. Overall, many households begin to use programs that can assist in improving their station in life less.

This ploy is particularly insidious because of how gradual it is: insert frog in boiling water analogy here.

There is definitely a need to be diligent in reviewing programs to ensure they are achieving their stated goals, even occasionally making some tax supported programs user fee supported instead.

On the other hand it is important to identify those services where being funded by the tax base makes them cheaper to operate for everyone.

Healthcare is a perfect case in point: US per capita costs were USD$9,451 in 2015 while in Canada they were USD$4,608 with no significant difference in health outcomes. In fact, Canadians tend to have better outcomes because they have no qualms in seeking care in the first place because of a lack of concern for how to pay for it.

Overall, it can be an appealing argument to want to cut taxes. Taxes come in the form of one large and daunting statement with little transparency into what it pays for. User fees, on the other hand, come in the form of many small payments and few people spend the time to add up all those amounts and figure out the overall cost to themselves.

It’s time to pierce that veil of ignorance: Tax Cuts Cost You More.

Stop with Congestion Relief, Focus on Throughput

Before John Tory started his campaign to get cars moving faster under the guise of congestion relief there was a mutual understanding — through ignorance mind you — that pedestrians could cross intersections despite the countdown clock. As long as they were out of the roadway when the countdown reached zero few motorists would complain. In his various press appearances on the matter Tory has decisively punctured that ignorance, arming aggressive motorists with yet another tool to use against pedestrians and cyclists.

If Tory’s agenda in puncturing that veil of ignorance was to ensure that all road users — motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike — were equally aware of their respective responsibilities and to abide by them, he’s unquestioningly failed. In framing the issue as one of how to reduce congestion — read how to speed up automobile travel — he has given license to motorists to blame all congestion related issues on pedestrians and cyclists, absolving themselves of their role.

The fact is, for Toronto — a large and vibrant city — congestion is here to stay. The halcyon days of being able to drive from one end of the city to the other in fifteen minutes was likely lost around the time that The Beatles broke up. Besides, would we want a city where there was no automobile congestion? One is able to get around Detroit with relative ease these days; a city which has lost almost two thirds of its population. As Detroit recovers so will their congestion “problem”.

New York, Tokyo, London, Seoul, Paris, Singapore. In all of these world class cities, like in Toronto, residents and tourists alike have to deal with congestion. That congestion lends itself to their vibrancy; congestion means there are many people and potential customers, many shops and sights. One visits New York for Broadway, not for Merrick Blvd. Congestion is what makes a city a city.

Instead of trying to tackle congestion we as a city need to tackle throughput: the quantity of people we are able to move past a given point. Despite Tory’s assertion to the contrary, increasing throughput cannot be accomplished by further accommodating cars.

In 2012, the two lanes along Bloor between Yonge and Avenue averaged 1,281 cars/hour or 640.5 cars/lane/hour. Further west between Bathurst and Christie it averaged 886 cars/hour or 443 cars/lane/hour. However the Bathurst-Christie stretch had a higher throughput because save for 2 hours per day it had on street parking. Factoring in parking, Bathurst-Christie had a real average of 817 cars/lane/hour. Assuming 1.67 passengers/vehicle that is 1,070 and 1,366 people/lane/hour respectively.

The only real consequence of the installation of the bike lane on Bloor between Avenue and Shaw was to eliminate the two hours per day when there were 2 lanes available to automobile traffic. Assuming a commensurate reduction in automobile traffic (approximately 1,636 cars, 2,732 people), and assuming similar use of the bike lane as at Richmond & Spadina in 2016 (6,541 people), it had a net increase in total throughput of 3,809 people.

But instead Tory has put disproportionate focus on moving cars faster.