Squash congestion pricing: It’s just gravy for supes 

Normally on Thanksgiving, I try to find some heartwarming tale or needy family to write about to get people in a sharing, holiday mood.

But every so often a turkey of an idea comes trotting into town, and this year it’s one so big that it deserves to be fire-roasted, sliced into a thousand pieces and served up on a communal platter.

That would be the latest grand plan by San Francisco County Transportation Authority for people to start paying tolls for the pleasure of driving in the late afternoon in certain (most) areas of The City and along the southern border it shares with San Mateo County, a concept that has been rattling around in the brains of our cash-hungry bureaucrats for a few years now.

Except now this rusty nugget has been dusted off and is about to be shipped to San Francisco Board of Supervisors, most of whom have never turned their noses down on any new tax.

So I’m warning you now: start protesting to your public officials or forever bemoan an idea that could cost those people who would dare drive in San Francisco upwards of $1,500 a year.

That is not a typo.

“It’s nonsensical, it’s ludicrous, it’s a ridiculous plan that shows San Francisco at the height of its arrogance,” said Daly City City Councilman David Canepa, one of the San Mateo County officials leading the fight to quash the car owner gouging plan.

This so-called “congestion-pricing” plan is allegedly designed to reduce traffic in parts of The City, but in reality it’s just another way to tax people for the privilege of driving. Officials say it will raise revenue for extra bus service and bike and pedestrian improvements. It’s also said to generate money for things like pothole repair.

A different idea to float a $400 million bond for street repair was raised briefly this year, before it died when polls showed voters were not happy to see government officials reaching into their wallets again.

And it also goes to the core question of government: What do we pay taxes for? That’s right — roads, libraries, parks and public transportation. But driving? Not even in these insane parts.

As early as next month, supervisors, acting as the county’s Transportation Authority Board, may be looking at a plan that would charge motorists $6 to drive in the Financial District, Union Square, the Civic Center, North Beach and South of Market — among other neighborhoods — if they dare drive during the witching hours of 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Even more galling is that drivers in the least congested parts of town — along the north-south corridors of Lake Merced Boulevard, Skyline Boulevard and Geneva Avenue (as well as U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 280 freeways) would be charged $3 for moving in each direction.

So let’s say you want to do some Christmas shopping at Target one afternoon. That’s $6 for the privilege, because San Francisco doesn’t have a Target (remember big-box retailers are bad). Or if you have to drop your children off and pick them up from soccer practice. Or if you dare live in Daly City, Pacifica, San Mateo or any of those communities that we call the Peninsula.

That will explain why the City/County Association of Governments — about 20 such agencies in San Mateo County — is planning to send a letter to San Francisco transportation officials this week telling them that they should take its car tax plan and drive it off one of The City’s rotting piers.

Transportation officials here are calling the congestion-pricing scheme a “pilot project” that won’t be ready until 2015. But as we all know from our rising tax bills, there’s never been a pilot project that didn’t find a permanent place on our landscape — just check out some of the 5,000 new “smart” parking meters that are filling some of our once-unobstructed sidewalks.

It’s a money grab, plain and simple. Transportation officials note that places like London and Singapore have congestion pricing. London has 10 million people. San Francisco’s traffic is so measly in comparison, it shouldn’t even be included in the same sentence.

It’s up to you to steer city officials in the right direction — and fast.

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Ken Garcia

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