Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hear my motor purr

Every once in a while my thinking comes back to taxes on gasoline.

North America has the lowest gasoline tax rates in the world - and the historically cheap price of gas here is why we also have sprawlurbia and mostly ignored public transit systems. Everyone knows that North American reliance on the automobile has caused a litany of different problems, including killer air pollution. So why do we not raise the tax on gasoline?

Ironically, the Americans (even Republicans) are talking about this more and more often. Meanwhile, here in Canada, there is no discussion of this at all. In fact, when oil and gas prices were high this past summer, a southern Ontario group was getting tons of TV coverage by lobbying for a reduction in the gas tax ("Mr Prime Minister, please help the poor struggling families" kind of thing).

My thought is that the gasoline tax should be raised - gradually but steadily, with nearly all of the money going straight into public transit.

By doing this, you wean people away from the automobile and all its various problems, and build bigger, better, faster public transit systems - transit systems which are so good that people will actually give up their car and rely on the bus.

Of all the opposing arguments, the two strongest ones are a) increasing the gas tax hurts rural Canadians who have no access to public transit, and b) raising the gas tax primarily hurts low-income Canadians.

Fine - if you're in a rural area with no public transit, you get a break on your income taxes. The same applies for low income earners. Everyone else though, pays perhaps 2cents / litre (at the beginning) to improve the public transit system in their city.

I really don't understand why this is such an accursed idea in Canada. The federal Conservative government took a step in this direction their very first year in office when they decided to encourage the use of public transit by giving transit users the right to claim money back for their monthly bus pass at tax time. Is it really such a jump to go from rewarding public transit use to penalizing automobile use?

P.S. I'm hoping to shoot a series of youtube videos about converting your bike to a freewheel singlespeed. The series will be aimed at complete beginners, and so far I've done one introductory episode. I actually shot it in high definition with a very good camcorder, but I had to keep converting and degrading the file to get it onto youtube, and now the quality is so bad that I'll probably have to reshoot this one. It's a start anyway.


Todd Tyrtle said...

I agree with you - I like how you addressed my big concern about impact to people without alternatives to their cars.

I think the big opposition comes from the N. American idea that cars=freedom. Impede my ability to drive and you impede my freedom, my ability to earn money and be successful and even my ability to express myself by what I drive and how I drive it. Kind of messed up. It's definitely a sign of one's tribe

Jeff said...

Chris, have you considered posting your video on Vimeo rather than YouTube? I think Vimeo supports HD video, but I'm not sure what file sizes they allow.

Tom in NE said...

Good idea with the videos. I'm wanting to turn my winter commuter into a single speed and was going to get a quote from the bike shop for them to do it, but I think I can do it myself. These videos would really help me (and I'd add even showing how to get the parts off is a help for a novice like me!) Thanks.

Urban Environmentalist said...

I also agree!!! Improving public transit will help everyone. Not just the people who can afford to drive cars. Infact...the lack of people using public transit has forced ticket prices to go up. If I hadn't gotten a deal on my bus pass through the university, I might have a hard time affording to even take the bus. Crazy. I heard about the durham veggie group. I am thinking of going out to one of their dinners. Durham is probably the most non-veg friendly, and non-environmentally friendly, and evidently, non-bike/public transit friendly place you can live. It really is too bad. Thanks for raising some awareness on these issues!

Jen B. said...

Right on, as usual! And the video is great - I like the overview approach, as it is less intimidating and more accommodating for even beginner mechanics. I'll book mark this and pass it along when we get folks coming into the BL for bikes to convert to singlespeeds. (I'm still not giving up all the gears on my old Trek, though!)