The Summer of Love, the Winter of Love, the Grateful Dead, Barry Bonds, the Golden Gate Bridge, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, The Gap, sourdough bread—all of these remarkable things have roots in San Francisco, a city known to embrace challenges other cities would shun. And if it keeps on course, San Francisco will be the first American city to implement the concept of “congestion pricing,” becoming a new leader in transportation innovation.
“Congestion pricing,” in its simplest form, charges drivers for the use of roads at certain times of the day. Unlike a toll, or the gastax, congestion charges vary throughout the day depending on traffic, so many drivers won’t pay the fee when driving at different times, taking the bus, walking or biking. The congestion pricing plan San Francisco is considering would be a part time fee assessed each weekday, during the morning and evening rush hours, with no charge on the weekends, evenings or in the middle of the day. This plan will work differently than say, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, where tolls are paid no matter all day every day.
As the seventh-most congested city in America, San Francisco is facing a unique problem congestion pricing can solve. The city’s population is expected to grow by 10 percent during the next few decades, and thousands of new jobs are expected as well. Instead of just building more roads to accommodate more drivers, San Francisco can instead invest in strengthening the city’s public transportation. Through congestion pricing, the city can invest in better, safer and more reliable public transportation, getting people out of their cars, and out of traffic.
Though people are driving less, there are actually more people on the road. America’s been fighting traffic for more than four decades and the consensus among transportation experts is that we need greater access and more incentives to use public transportation if we’re going to make a difference in our fight against global warming and ensure road safety. Nearly 38 percent of California’s global warming pollution comes from the cars and trucks we drive everyday. We cannot do our part to help the planet without changing the way we move around.
Earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed from Environmental Defense Fund that outlined the benefits of congestion pricing and focused on the support Bay Area residents have for continuing the conversation on congestion pricing.
Nevertheless, there are questions about how this will affect the hundreds of thousands of commuters who flock to San Francisco every day. When we examine the economic effects on drivers and investing in expanding our transportation options, we’ll do well to keep these principles in mind:
* Congestion pricing must be easy for drivers to understand and convenient for them to use. It won’t make getting around any easier if it’s confusing and complicated.
* Investments in transit and other transportation options must be meaningful to San Franciscans for a congestion plan to be truly fair. Community participation and input are essential. We need to be telling the truth when we say there are safe, convenient and affordable alternatives to paying a congestion charge.
??? * The whole process needs to be transparent. Drivers need to know what the cost of their trip will be before they take it, and everyone should understand what investments will be made with the money collected. This will be a first-in-the-nation project.? It must be credible.
* Under no circumstances can an individual’s travel information be compromised. User privacy must be a fundamental requirement of the program.
While the San Francisco County Transportation Authority is nearing the end of its feasibility study, there’s no expectation the program will be implemented overnight. The Board of Supervisors should take a long, serious look at congestion pricing when it comes before them in the spring.
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