Decongest me - Page 2

Congestion pricing could raise millions for the city and reduce traffic
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And drivers within the zone could end up driving more, thereby eroding anticipated congestion benefits."

But all four scenarios aim to alleviate an additional 382,000 daily trips and 30 percent extra time lost to traffic congestion that would otherwise occur by 2030, according to SFCTA studies.

"We won't reach environmental goals through clean technology alone," Bent explained. "Even if everyone converted to a Prius, the roads would still be congested."

Observing that it already costs at least $4 to get into the city by car — on top of $2 per gallon for gas and high parking fees — Bent argued that congestion, which cost the city $2 billion in 2005, reduces San Francisco's competitiveness and quality of life.

Stockholm raised $50 million a year and reduced congestion by 22 percent with congestion fees, while London raised $200 million a year and reduced congestion by 30 percent.

In San Francisco, the SFCTA used computer models to determine that by charging $3 per trip at peak hours, the region would get maximum benefits and minimum impacts.

Discounts would be available for commercial fleets, rentals, car shares, and zone residents, Bent said, with toll payers getting a $1 "fee-bate" and taxis completely exempt.

As Moscovich noted, "Taxis are viewed as an extension of the public transit system."

BIG BUSINESS GRUMBLES

With concerted public outreach scheduled for the next two months, and business groups already grumbling about even talking about any increases to the cost of shopping and commuting with the economy in meltdown, Moscovich warned the supervisors not to wait until after the next economic boom hits, before planning to deal with congestion.

"Now is the right time to study it, but not implement it yet," Moscovich said.

Kathryn Phillips of the Sacramento-based Environmental Defense Fund told the Board that in Stockholm, public support grew to 67 percent once a congestion fee was in place.

"People saw that it reduced congestion, provided more public transit services, and made the city more livable and walkable," Phillips said.

BART director and Livable City executive director Tom Radulovich believes that free downtown transit would make the fees more palatable. "Fares could be collected when you get off the train if you travel outside of the zone," Radulovich said.

Noting that BART is approaching its limits, Muni Metro needs investments, and parking fees are an effective tool for managing congestion, Radulovich added. "Congestion pricing's main criteria should not be to make traffic move faster. I don't want to create more dangerous streets, but generally speaking, I think that plan is on the right track."

As for fears that San Francisco's plans could tank at the state level because of concerns about working-class drivers being unfairly burdened, Radulovich noted that SFCTA studies at Doyle Drive determined that only 6 percent of peak hour drivers are low-income.

"The vast majority are earning more than $50,000 a year," Radulovich said. "And since the number of low-income drivers is very small, they could be given discounts. The real environmental justice issue here is what current congestion levels are doing to people living downtown, who are mostly low-income.