Congestion pricing plan headed to board this fall


San Francisco is now one step closer to becoming the first American city to implement a congestion pricing plan as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority staff prepares to present their final study findings to the Board of Supervisors this fall.

Dubbed the San Francisco Mobility and Access Pricing Study, the investigation considered the costs and benefits of charging drivers a fee to enter or leave the most traffic-burdened areas of the city. The million-dollar study was funded through the Federal Highway Administration’s Value Pricing Pilot program.

“We’ve been looking at how we improve transportation options and conditions today and also how our city can grow in a sustainable and competitive way in the future,” SFCTA deputy director for planning Tilly Chang said Tuesday in the first in a series of public meetings.

According to the Transportation Authority, congestion pricing generally tends to “pick off people on the margin,” prompting drivers who don't really need a car to ride the bus, walk or bike instead. If the system runs according to plan, commuters would see a 21 percent reduction in time spent on roadways and cause a 5 percent reduction in local greenhouse gas emissions.

“We also want to solve very real and current congestion problems, particularly for our surface transportation,” Chang said. “Our buses are operating on our city streets at rather low speeds.”

What’s more, the system is projected to bolster city revenue by more than $60 million annually. Zabe Bent, SFCTA principal transportation planner, said that extra revenue would be a necessity considering the enormous boom predicted for the city.

“Over the next 20 years, the region expects to add 150,000 residents and 230,000 more jobs,” Bent said. “This is essentially the population of Santa Rosa and all the jobs in Oakland today. So that’s pretty significant growth by 2030.”

Congestion pricing, Bent said, is an option that will both remedy the population increase and lighten the load of an underfunded public transportation system.

“We need to have solutions that are both managing demand and also generating revenue so that we can fund much needed improvement projects,” Bent said. “Some of that, we want to spend on capital improvements that could be provided up front or over the course of the program as well as Muni operating improvements on an annual basis.”

The toll zone has yet to be determined and the exact amount to charge drivers remains subject to change. Bent said that the model evaluated fees between 50 cents and $5. "A $3 fee in peak periods seems like the most viable option,” she said. “We’ve found that cost to be the most balanced. It encourages a substantial number of people to reduce congestion but yet doesn't overwhelm the system."

The most likely candidate for paid use is the area east of Laguna and Guerrero streets and north of 18th Street, a section the group is calling the Northeast cordon. A similar program was implemented in London more than five years ago, with drivers subject to fees upon entering central parts of the city. Stockholm, Singapore, and Rome also have congestion charges in place. Most recently, the city of New York supported charging drivers $8 upon entering the highly congested streets of Manhattan. However, the fledgling plan died after reaching the State Assembly last year.

Although the program was modeled after pricing plans in other countries, transportation officials said that the plan intends to account for the uniqueness of San Francisco, perhaps even using current electronic collection technology such as FasTrak.

“We want to preserve the urban design of the city,” Bent said. “We’ve heard ideas of mounting camera-based detectors on our existing mast arms or, potentially, new signs on the streets. Essentially, it would look very much like a red light running camera.”

The Transportation Authority held two informational meetings this week and has plans for two lunchtime webinars in August. Transportation officials said that the meetings were arranged with public feedback in mind, with each session containing an electronic polling segment and ample time for dissenters to ask questions.

To ease the minds of skeptics, Chang was careful to note that the congestion pricing plan would not be approved or finalized immediately.

“By no means would we be looking at doing anything tomorrow,” Chang said. “We understand that now is not any time to be adding to existing burdens and costs, but what we are trying to do is anticipate the city’s growth and development needs.”

Despite the lengthy timeline, the plan has come under attack by business owners and regional commuters. Hut Landon, executive director of San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance, worried that a $3 fee might deter customers from visiting shops within the cordon, thereby slashing profit.

“Any policy that will have a negative affect on businesses is misguided,” he said. “Local businesses are revenue and job generators and doing something that gives people less incentive to shop in certain areas is, I would argue, bad for San Francisco.”


of dealing with yet another idiotic scheme. Sure its another band aide on left wing failure too, so who wouldn't be for this?

Posted by matlock on Jul. 30, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

There's a reason it would be the first city to do this: It's stupid, will hurt businesses, and is yet another tax.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 31, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

Congestion pricing may be good policy, but it's absolutely dreadful politics, and the blowback would do more damage across more fronts than the policy could ever hope to be worth. This would be a good time to let politics trump policy, and find other, possibly inferior policy options that nonetheless don't alienate massive numbers of voters from our electoral coalition.

Also notable is that this policy calls for what amounts to a flat tax, that would weigh on working class people far more than on the wealthy. In fact, you could demagogue it as being a plan to clear downtown of trashy worker types so that rich people could ride around more comfortably, and not be far off the mark.

The proposed pricing area is also ENORMOUS. And extending it into the northern Mission is madness. You might as well just set up a sign facing south on 18th St saying "WHITES ONLY." The gentrifying effect of a $3 charge at 18th St would be that pronounced.

Or maybe it wouldn't, as a matter of policy. But are you really interested in having this fight as a matter of politics?? Are the reps for D9 and D6 going to be interested in voting for this? Are the people who vote for those reps going to be enthusiastic about this plan?

Hell, at this point I'm not even sure which side of the Board one would try to pass this on. It would be easier to get Alioto-Pier's vote than Campos', I think. Which says an awful lot.

Posted by hermann on Aug. 02, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

This is insanity. If there were VIABLE options to driving , I could see this as a possibility. However, until and unless the Board agrees to take public transportation to and from work, to and from their errands, to and from the doctors office etc etc. then this is the worst ( and that is saying something) idea yet.
Not sure whether it is worse that the Board is handling this or the idea itself.
This is not about anything other than money.
Any supervisor that votes for this needs to be VOTED out of office.
Until MUNI and BART and SamTrans and GGT get their act together and co-operate this is nothing but highway robbery. Pun intended.

Posted by Guest sfresident on Aug. 02, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

This is why the rest of the United States looks at San Francisco, Ca. as a haven for lunatics, crazies, and flakes. Gavin Neurotic, the San Francisco Transportation Authority, and the board of supervisors all need to be tested for drugs, and or to see if they suffer from any neurological damage to their brains as they do not possess the ability to think rationally, or logically


Posted by Guest Sherman Van Lieu on Aug. 02, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

Milton Friedman (the Libertarian's favorite matinee idol) invented this plan. It has been adopted in London.

He said all roads should have tolls, drivers should pay to use congested downtown streets, and sidewalk parking spots could be rented (even in front of your own house).

It's part of the libertarian philosophy of making actual users, and nobody else, pay for the services they use.

So, to all of you libertarians out there against public healthcare, etc.--are you in favor of this plan?

I am.

Posted by Barton on Aug. 03, 2010 @ 8:02 am

Friedman (and Hayek and Rand etc...) put true belief ahead of sense.

These schemes are just used selectively, why don't people with children have to pay the full cost of their breeding, if that is going to be the argument around parking? The progressives want to use the money to subsidize public transit, so it will not be a fee to mitigate the cost of driving, but to transfer to pet projects.

Creating another parking/driving department for the city will just; employ more union unemployables, and give more college educated transportation "experts" jobs. The end result will just mean that there will be more money for the leftists to spend on making sure other people don't have to pay for the services they use up. Again the average schmuck will be footing the bill for progressive fail.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 03, 2010 @ 10:18 am

"So, to all of you libertarians out there against public healthcare, etc.--are you in favor of this plan?"

No. I would rather privatize the roads, highways, bridges, parking spaces, etc. True libertarians would make the government's role as small as possible.

Posted by Vangel on Aug. 17, 2010 @ 6:15 am

I don't know all the details, but the plan could be problematic for people who cross a toll bridge -- Bay or Golden Gate -- then have to pay another toll if they work in a toll zone. Bridge tolls are already high and some people have situations (where they work/live, childcare issues, etc.) that don't make Bart all that feasible. Creating a toll zone might have the unintended consequence of hitting the working class pretty hard.

Posted by The Commish on Aug. 03, 2010 @ 9:47 am

Given the fact that motorists already pay license fees, gasoline taxes, plate renewals, etc., etc., etc., there already is sufficient revenue taken by governments to fund the transportation infrastructure that they use. If they are asked to pay for specific uses then the general taxes should be eliminated. Of course, governments at all levels care little about workers so they will have no trouble with the double taxation proposals. Those will have unintended consequences because many businesses will find it easier to move their operations into low tax jurisdictions.

Posted by Vangel on Aug. 17, 2010 @ 6:21 am