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Regulations required

David Miller, the recently re-elected mayor of Toronto, has launched discussion about a possible parking lot tax in downtown Toronto. What’s more, he’s proposing that the amount of the tax be linked to the type of vehicle being parked, so that large gas guzzlers pay more than small vehicles. This will no doubt cause strong public reaction, and one that is split along two predictable lines: those who don’t drive, or drive small vehicles, will mainly support it. Those who drive a lot, or drive large vehicles, will likely see it as a violation of their rights.

But the bottom line is that something needs to be done. The type of car we choose to purchase, and the way we choose to get around, are exactly that: choices. We live in a free country where you are free to purchase any (legal) product you wish. However, the benefit of driving an SUV, such as perceived power, prestige, and comfort, extends only to the owner, while the negative costs extend well beyond the wallet of that owner. Society as a whole suffers environmental degradation, climate change, increased risk of death in a collision with an SUV, and increased risk of pedestrian deaths by large vehicles with poor sight lines. The thought of sharing the road with Hummers makes other people think twice about purchasing a small car, causing a closed cycle of poor purchasing decisions.

In my opinion, it is only fair that those who choose to drive a large vehicle pay more to counteract that imbalance. Those who are wealthy and feel a need to display their wealth in a certain way can continue to do so, but at least some money will become available to help counteract their decision. Exceptions could be made to those who actually require larger vehicles for work purposes, such as those with construction or delivery businesses. But this would need to be controlled: please, no more loopholes for those who purchase a monster truck, write it off as a business expense, and stick the logo of their Internet company on the side.

But regulation is a funny thing. People seem more than happy to support such measures if they believe they will stop other people from behaving in a dangerous or inconvenient manner. When it applies to themselves, however, they express outrage, or defend their purchasing decisions by claiming they have “no choice,” even though their current lifestyle situation is usually a simple product of the choices they made earlier in life.

During municipal elections a few weeks ago, many new mayors were elected on platforms that promised to slow down the rampant growth in the suburbs of Toronto. At first glance this seemed like a promising development, until I read a little further and realized that most of those living in the suburbs who now opposed future suburban development were merely trying to protect the convenience of their own lifestyle. Any benefit to the environment was merely a side-effect.

Essentially, now that they have benefited from sprawl, with a large affordable house, greenspace, and wide open highways, they want to keep it to themselves. Having thousands more people slap up developments next to them and flood their roads and stores with more traffic just won’t do, it seems. The fact that many of them have probably done the exact thing to longer-term residents of their area is lost on them.

Once again, it highlights that even those of us with the best of intentions usually don’t induce sacrifices into our own lives voluntarily. Government regulation and taxes are the easiest and most sensible way to entice people to make better decisions. The knee-jerk reactions against such “commie bastard” sentiments are deeply ingrained in our society, for historical reasons, and may be one of the biggest obstacles to positive change.

The Cold War is now over, and a new war has begun. Unfortunately, our leaders are currently too mired in a different battle to realize that we’re currently fighting the wrong enemy.

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