Decarbonising transport is a looming challenge for car-based economies such as Australia, where people habitually choose to drive even when they have less polluting options.
The driving habit has been established over many years as cities were made convenient for car occupants and unsafe and unpleasant for everybody else.
The costs of roads and driving are heavily subsidised by the public purse, and drivers hate it when it is suggested they should pay their fair share.
But the costs of climate change are unavoidable, and the costs of decarbonising transport will have to be paid by someone, preferably by those actually doing the polluting.
Now some cities are considering a newer, fairer way of paying for climate adaptation: at the parking meter.
Each time someone parks a car and pays for a parking ticket, there would be a small surcharge on the fee that goes to the climate, or more correctly, those that have to manage and pay for the costs of climate change.
It is referred to as the “climate impact surcharge”.
And yes, it would raise the cost of driving, and so doing should reduce the amount of driving and consequent damage to the climate.
But it could raise vital revenue that could go towards the massive task of modifying roads, bridges, drains and other infrastructure that will be necessary in the coming decades.
Why stop at parking meters?
Many councils issue resident’s parking permits that encourage car ownership by allowing parking on local streets.
Surely such climate damaging behaviour would justify the imposition of a climate impact surcharge.
It is obvious that transport can’t be decarbonised at the speed and scope that is required if there are incentives that encourage more driving. Any transport incentives must act to encourage travel with fewer emissions, not more.
All these moves would result in more people considering using bikes for many of the trips that they now use vehicles for.
It has been suggested that the introduction of such surcharges would help citizens gain an understanding of the impacts of climate change and the cost imposition that is a result.
And it would help prepare them for the inevitable changes in transport pricing that are coming in the years ahead, where all driving will be charged by the kilometre, with surge charging for peak times.
Of course, there is a risk in all of this: your local council could get so addicted to climate surcharges on driving that they start to promote driving to gain more revenue! Let’s not go there.