Decongest me

Congestion pricing could raise millions for the city and reduce traffic
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sarah@sfbg.com

San Francisco could raise $35 million to $65 million for public transit improvements annually by charging drivers $3 to cross specific downtown zones during peak travel hours, according to a San Francisco County Transportation Authority congestion pricing study.

The aim of those fees, SFCTA staffers say, is to reduce congestion, making trips faster and more reliable, neighborhoods cleaner, and vehicle emissions lower, all while raising money to improve local and regional public transit and make the city more livable and walkable — improvements they hope will get even more folks out of their cars.

London, Rome, and Stockholm already have congestion pricing schemes, but plans to charge congestion fees in New York got shelved this July, reportedly in large part because of New Jersey officials' fears that low-income suburban commuters would end up carrying a disproportionate burden of these fees.

As a result of New York's unanticipated pressing of the pause button, San Francisco now stands poised to become the first city in the United States to introduce congestion pricing. But the plan requires approval from both local officials as well and the state legislature.

As SFCTA executive director Jose Luis Moscovich told the Guardian last week, "The state has control over passage of goods and people. Therefore, if we want to restrict that in any way, e.g. charging a congestion fee, [we] have to get the state's permission."

If a congestion pricing plan is to go forward, it will need the support of Mayor Gavin Newsom. Wade Crowfoot, the mayor's climate change advisor, told us, "It's obvious that the mayor embraces the concept, as he laid out in his 2008 inaugural address."

But Newsom isn't signing the dotted line just yet. "The mayor wants to make sure that there are no negative impacts that would make people not want to come to San Francisco, or would harm low-income people who live in areas that are not served by public transit and have no other choice but to drive," Crowfoot said.

"We are encouraging the [Transportation Authority] to do vigorous public outreach so that no one feels blindsided," Crowfoot added.

But as SFCTA executive director Jose Luis Moscovich explained Nov. 25 to the supervisors, who also constitute the transportation authority board, even if San Francisco gets the legislative green light, it could take two to three years to implement a congestion pricing plan.

"We're not making a proposal," Moscovich said. "We're just showing the initial results of our analysis."

That said, it's clear Moscovich believes congestion pricing is feasible and would contribute to local, regional, and statewide transit goals.

TOO MANY PEOPLE

With San Francisco planning to accommodate 150,000 new residents and 230,000 new jobs over the next 25 years, Moscovich's principal transportation planner, Zabe Bent, outlined four scenarios last week that would mitigate impacts in already congested areas.

These scenarios involve a small downtown cordon, a gateway fee with increased parking pricing downtown, a double ring that combines gateway crossings with additional fees downtown, and a cordon that imposes fees on crossings into the city's northeast corner. (See www.sfmobility.org for details, including maps of the four possible zone scenarios.)

It seems likely the SFCTA will pursue the double ring or northeast cordon option.

As Bent told the board, "If the zone is too small, people will drive around it.