Fraser Forum

B.C. government floats two promising ideas to address affordability and transportation woes

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In recent weeks, the British Columbia government announced big changes in two critical areas for Metro Vancouverites—housing and transportation.

The region is short on both homes and taxis (or substitutes such as ride-sharing).

The government has been active on the housing file lately, most recently by encouraging municipalities to speed-up housing development approvals. This was shortly followed by an announcement that the province will legalize ride-sharing services to significantly improve mobility in Vancouver, one of the last holdouts against Uber, where it’s (perhaps uncoincidentally) often very difficult to find a ride home or to the airport.

At the root of both issues is the same predicament: a lot of demand, not enough supply. And to an extent, both housing and transportation have been artificially restricted by public policy.

For instance, Fraser Institute research shows that onerous land-use policies help constrain housing development in the Lower Mainland, particularly in Vancouver and the North Shore.

So, according to B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong, Victoria will offer cash to municipalities in exchange for easing the backlog of new housing unit approvals, spurring greater supply. Indeed, other research conducted by the Institute measures the red tape holding back these approvals in several of the region’s cities, reporting years of delays, and tens of thousands of dollars per unit in compliance costs and fees. The result—hundreds of thousands of units have yet to enter the market. Low supply in a high-demand metro area like Vancouver means rising prices, as bidders on homes and apartments outnumber listings.

On the transportation front, the lack of taxis is a matter of law since the City of Vancouver’s taxi licensing regime limits the supply of taxis—roughly one for every 1,000 residents, compared to Montreal’s one for every 400.

Todd Stone, B.C.’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, recently announced that the province would open up the transportation network by allowing ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate in B.C. The government claims this will provide more “choice, accessibility and opportunity for both consumers and drivers.”

Capped prices prevent taxis from experiencing the same price increases as the housing market, but with taxi licences going for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and typical waits for a taxi often longer than the 15-minute industry standard, there’s a clear shortage of options for travellers. Yet cities such as Vancouver continue to aggravate the problem by extending moratoria on new taxi licences.

Of course, neither of these proposals on housing and transportation has been finalized. Both were announced as initiatives to be ironed in the future, and may yet be subject to substantial changes. But election-time rhetoric aside, it’s good to see government talking about addressing underlying issues rather than just treating the symptoms.


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