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Petition Pushes 'Fairer Form of Auto Insurance'

Vancouver filmmaker launches online drive to get ICBC to charge by the mile.

By Niamh Scallan 12 Jul 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Niamh Scallan is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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A Vancouver man fed up with British Columbia's auto insurance system has taken the driver's seat in a move to change the way insurance is provided in the province.

Filmmaker Cliff Caprani launched an online petition June 28 calling on ICBC to adopt a pay-as-you-drive pilot program, an innovative form of auto insurance he read about in The Tyee last year.

"I was surprised by the simplicity of it," he said. "I was stunned by the fact that I'd never seen anything like it here in Western Canada and couldn't quite conceive of why it had not been taken up by somebody."

The pay-as-you-drive system charges insurance holders based on distance driven each year. According to Victoria-based researcher Todd Litman's 2008 report, the system allows motorists to cut back on costs when they reduce their mileage.

Other benefits include fewer road accidents, reduced traffic congestion, and reduced energy consumption and pollution emissions, the report stated.

For Caprani -- who clocked less than 9,000 kilometres on his Smart Car in 2009 -- the concept of rewarding those who drive less with per-kilometre-based charges is an appealing one.

"Last year, I paid about $1,000 for insurance," he said. "It's frustrating."

'A vested interest'

Determined to spread the word about the mileage-based insurance system, Caprani produced a short film (which you can watch further down in this story) while studying at a Vancouver-based film school, Pull Focus. Caprani aimed to raise awareness and pressure ICBC -- the province's sole, government-owned auto insurance provider -- to adopt a pilot program.

"I'm cynical enough to know that sometimes the best ideas don't get taken up and that monopolies don't have a vested interest in trying to bring all the best ideas to the table.

For Alan Durning, founder of non-profit research and communications centre Sightline Institute, communities could greatly benefit from the social, economic and environmental benefits offered by mileage-based auto insurance programs.

"It's a way that (insurance companies) can help their customers save money and, as a bonus, also reduce climate-changing pollution," the Seattle-based researcher said.

ICBC unmoved, so far

Capriani's petition web page states "We need to show ICBC that British Columbians want a fairer form of auto insurance."

But ICBC said it had no existing plans to pursue the pay-as-you-drive option.

"We would consider it in future if our reviews/studies indicated it made sense for our customers," ICBC's spokesperson Mark Jan Vrem wrote The Tyee in an email. "Beyond that, there is not much we can say at this point."

Several global auto insurance companies have begun providing distance-based opportunities to motorists including Progressive Insurance in the United States, Aviva in Ontario, Norwich-Union in the United Kingdom, Aioi Insurance in Japan and Polis Direct in the Netherlands. But B.C.'s auto insurance company has kept its distance from such endeavours.

'Ought to be a no-brainer'

For Alan Durning, British Columbia's hesitance to adopt the strategy flies in the face of the province's commitment to sustainable energy use, emissions reductions and cost-saving.

"This ought to be a no-brainer for ICBC," he said, "They're supposed to pursue the public interest and pay-as-you-drive auto insurance is more fair for drivers and more socially responsible as well."

In the mean time, Mount Pleasant resident Cliff Caprani hopes to gather 15,000 signatures for his petition that seeks to pressure ICBC to develop a pilot distance-based insurance system.

"When I talked to ICBC ... their position was that there's no real interest in this," Caprani said. "But my sense was that I don't believe that's true. There is interest in the concept and as far as I'm concerned, it's about getting the word out there."

You can watch Caprani's film here:

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