In Montreal, car owners are under attack. In recent years, the municipal and provincial governments have unrolled some of the strongest anti-car legislation out there.
The latest measure is the new car tax. Beginning in January, car owners will pay an extra fee to register their vehicles. The exact amount is based on the engine’s number of cylinders, but is estimated at an “average maximum” of $50 for most car owners, with the profits supposedly going towards public transit. This comes despite the fact that motorists already pay a special 1.5 cents per-litre gas tax for this purpose, as well as a $30 public transit tax each time we renew our licences.
Let’s do the math. A small economy car like a Honda Civic has a gas tank of about 50 litres. That means that the driver of such a car pays about 75 cents for public transit every time they fill up. If they buy gas three times per month, that comes out to $2.25 a month, or $27 a year. Add that to the $30 licensing fee, and the new (approximately) $50 car tax. That is over $100 per year that car owners will now pay in extra taxes. This is in addition to the regular taxes that every Quebec resident already pays towards transit.
For Concordia students using the University’s parking lots, the fees begin to quickly add up. A student using one of Loyola’s parking lots pays $145 a term. Students unlucky enough to be driving downtown face a university parking lot fee that ranges from $3.25 for a half-hour to the daily maximum of $12.75. It’s easy to see that students, who may have no other option but to drive in to Concordia, will be feeling the pain of the car tax even more than regular drivers.
For drivers looking to park their cars on the street it doesn’t get any easier. Parking meters are springing up like weeds all over the city, and the price keeps rising. Last week, a city council meeting in the Plateau almost came to blows as several merchants’ associations came together to complain about the borough’s plan to increase both the number and the price of meters in the neighbourhood. They claim that the plan will discourage out-of-town shoppers and drive them out of business. Their supposed representatives in government refused to listen, and would be plowing along with their agenda regardless had the mayor not intervened and stopped the boroughs from gaining control of the meters.
In general, anti-car rhetoric pervades every level of public discourse. With every new plan that is unveiled for the Turcot interchange, more protesters complain that there should be fewer car lanes. In the Plateau, streets are being permanently closed to auto traffic. It is becoming harder and harder to park anywhere for free. Many boroughs in Montreal now require expensive residential parking passes in some of the higher-density areas (in N.D.G., they cost $60). Where is all this money going?
Car owners already pay much more than anyone else does in public transit taxes. This money is supposed to improve transit so we can all drive less. Yet, we have not seen much improvement in service. Instead of looking at their finances and the way transit is managed, the municipal government decides to slap another tax on drivers.
They get away with it by playing the environmental card, and by counting on the fact that nobody wants to speak up to defend motorists. It’s like taxing cigarettes, or raising taxes on the highest-income earners. Car owners are bad people, right? They’re wealthy and environmentally irresponsible. They should feel guilty about owning cars.
The fact is, on many parts of the island, public transit just isn’t all that great. Large areas of the northeastern portions of the city have no metro stops coming anywhere near their neighbourhood. Those West Islanders who are not lucky enough to live right on the 211 bus route often face a bus commute of upwards of an hour. Many of them take the train into work, most of the West Island residents I know have to drive to even get to the station. Furthermore, many of the cars in the city are owned by families. Try getting around with a toddler or buying groceries for five by bus.
But besides this, car owners shouldn’t have to justify every time they get behind the wheel. Municipal politicians are elected to represent the interests of their constituents. Car owners vote and pay taxes too. Why does nobody advocate for them? Why are their interests not represented?
Now, it is a given that public transit is important and that we need to promote it. In the city, most car owners tend to get around using a combination of transit, walking and driving. The better the transit system gets, the more likely people are to use it, and that’s a good thing for everyone. The burden for funding it just shouldn’t fall so disproportionately on the backs of car drivers.
So, to the municipal politicians: car owners are people, too.