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New legislation working its way through City Council to lower the parking tax from 25 percent to 17 percent would be a detriment to the city and should not become law. 

The legislation is based in part on the idea that lowering this tax rate would benefit parking workers as well as parking garage owners, and has support from councilmembers, parking garage owners, and at least one labor union.

The problem is, this legislation will also increase motor vehicle usage at a time when people should be getting back onto public transit and utilizing active transportation. The cut would also cost the city revenue at the order of roughly $130 million over five years.

We don’t oppose legislation like this lightly. But we feel the need to speak up and note that there are problems this legislation could create in the city, at a time when we’re about to see big, big problems caused by motor vehicles.

First off, at a time when SEPTA has been suffering and bleeding money for more than a year, it is imperative that the city does everything it can to get riders back onto our public transportation system. Promoting motor vehicle parking and encouraging people to come into the city from the suburbs via car, instead of our vast regional rail system, is regressive. So is the idea that tax cuts for parking garage owners will trickle down to the workers (unless explicitly written into the law).

Our organization, along with 23 other organizations promoting Livable Communities, has been fighting for $30 million to restore parks and recreation, housing, commercial corridors, transportation (including money for new bus lanes), and street safety (restoration of Vision Zero funds) in this year’s budget. A massive tax cut like this one would make it harder for the city to restore those vital services and utilities.

As Philadelphia’s economy opens up, we are already on the verge of seeing too many cars in the city. Cities around the world that have reopened have seen a huge spike in traffic way beyond pre-pandemic levels, as few cities have done anything to stop the influx of a motor vehicle takeover of downtown streets and the pollution and violence it brings. 

As noted by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, traffic in cities is about to surge. “[A]s travel, work, and life begin to return to normal, cities without a strategy to de-prioritize the use of private vehicles run the risk of defaulting to past, car-centered, mistakes,” they note. “The possibility of a true carmageddon is upon us and cities need to act now to ensure we don’t go back to (or, in cities with low vehicle use, start to see) hours-long traffic jams – or that traffic becomes much worse with more cars on the road.”

Philadelphia, of course, does not have a plan for mitigating traffic post-pandemic, but may be doing the opposite. The City has already made a huge decision to bring in more traffic (opening MLK Drive back up to motor vehicles in August) and is now debating whether to subsidize those vehicles even more so than we already do. 

Traffic deaths are up over the past year in Philadelphia (78 percent) and nationwide (7 percent). When we make it easier to use cars over all other forms of transportation through government subsidy, road space, and free or low-cost parking, we are inviting more traffic violence on our streets.

As we debate what kind of city we want to be, it helps to keep in mind that the Kenney Administration has made several commitments, including to bringing down traffic violence and reducing greenhouse gases. Inviting more cars into the city and subsidizing them, beyond the influx we’re already likely to see, is not the way to come back better than we were before.

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