A Word on Congestion Pricing

Time for local leaders to restart the discussion

Yesterday, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved the city’s long-planned and hotly debated congestion pricing program, the first of its kind in the US. The program will involve a $15 toll for vehicles entering midtown or lower Manhattan, with discounts for some qualifying drivers and credits for bridge and tunnel tolls so drivers aren’t double-charged. It is expected to raise about $1 billion annually for transit and transportation investments.

The plan is already being challenged in court by the expected mix of outer-borough and neighboring state representatives who call the plan an unfair tax on commuters and right-wing groups that oppose regulation and transit in equal measure. It is a monumental step, regardless of the outcome of these cases.

While no California city is quite like New York, as I wrote all the way back in 2019, the New York program certainly merits California policymakers’ attention. Accurately accounting for the impact of vehicle travel on congestion, air quality, and the climate requires some form of congestion pricing. London, Singapore, and Stockholm have pioneered pricing programs with documented benefits across all three metrics, plus hundreds of millions of dollars for transit investments to support more climate- and lung-friendly means to reach city centers. New York should soon join these global leaders.

As California local governments seek to reduce transportation emissions and build more connected, sustainable communities–and as the California Air Resources Board calls for a 30 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled to reach the state’s 2045 carbon neutrality target–they must include congestion pricing measures as part of the conversation, alongside other strategies to price and reduce vehicle miles and fund preferred travel modes. Failure to do so would constitute a simple abandonment of these long-established state climate goals.

CLEE’s 2022 revenue analysis of San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan called for a revival of the city’s dormant congestion pricing initiative (and expanded parking pricing) to deliver public health benefits and hundreds of millions of dollars per year for low-carbon transportation development in California’s densest communities. With the city’s and the region’s business districts still recovering from the past four years, such pricing is challenging to consider, and it isn’t necessarily appropriate for all California cities. But the persistence of New York leaders through a decade of political and legal challenges should show Bay Area leaders that it is possible. And, given a few years to generate billions for efficient and community-centered transit investments, they might even show that it’s popular.

Reader Comments

2 Replies to “A Word on Congestion Pricing”

  1. Congestion pricing is a regressive tax further visiting the excesses of the rich on the poor. Tax the rich, build public trans that is free, efficient and capable of serving the needs of all fully. And quit ceding public space, whether freeways, roadways or city centers to the rich.

    I see a day when the sidewalk outside my house will require a payment before I’m allowed to walk on it with the rich.

    This is one of the worst ideas to come out of avaricious capitalism and the ongoing deprivation of the rights and privileges of ordinary citizens. I use the term citizen in the French revolution sense as anyone who lives here works here,tries to carry on life here.

  2. How do you know if there are any actual emission reductions, unless you are keeping track of all the *other* places people drive, after you place these new fees?

    My impression is that much of CEQA analysis of VMTs is just a matter of choosing some (arbitrary?) “reduction” as compared to an imaginary future – and afaik, no one ever checks to see how things actually happened.

    Or am I wrong? Bc this whole thing sounds quite fishy. If you want to ration the road, just ration it. Don’t give rich people a bypass.

    Every single time I drive the 110 now, I reflect anew upon how corrupt the CDP is now, and upon how few of its officials I can even consider supporting at the election.

    And let me tell you, the digital billboards give me a similar fit!

    The only people who like these kinds of fees are: a) eggheads (no offense) and b) people who are already rich enough to live in the precious area. Btw, do they get charged to drive home every day? I’m guessing not.

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About Ted

Ted Lamm is a Senior Research Fellow at CLEE. Ted’s research focuses on California policies regarding climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and the relationships…

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About Ted

Ted Lamm is a Senior Research Fellow at CLEE. Ted’s research focuses on California policies regarding climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and the relationships…

READ more