Studying congestion pricing to keep San Francisco livable

The Examiner’s editorial of July 28 (“Pay to drive downtown?”) outlined the case for studying congestion pricing in San Francisco. As stated aptly in that piece, drivers have wasted countless amounts of time, money and fuel sitting in traffic on our overcrowded streets. Given the future growth planned for our region, combined with a mandate to cut our city’s emissions by 2012, the status quo is not an option.

With a $1 million grant from the federal government, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority is analyzing the potential impacts and benefits of addressing these issues through a congestion-pricing program.

The Union Square Association and the Chamber of Commerce raised fair and important questions about such a program in their July 30 letter to the editor, and the Transportation Authority agrees that they should be answered before San Francisco chooses to embark on a congestion-pricing program.  What would a program look like? What hours might a program be in place? What might the range of benefits and impacts be, including economic and business effects? These are all questions that will be answered as the study concludes.

Almost all business representatives that we have spoken with agree that peak-period congestion is an issue that needs to be addressed. All one has to do is sit in traffic on Montgomery Street at 8:30 a.m. or on Post Street at 5 p.m. to understand how congestion negatively impacts our lives and economy. Surely traffic management and enforcement are part of the solution. However, pricing could potentially offer a more comprehensive answer, reducing congestion during the most clogged hours while reinvesting monies to improve travel options for transit riders, motorists and others.

In examining the experiences of other cities, we find that London, Stockholm and Rome all succeeded in reducing congestion while also maintaining a healthy and vibrant economy. In fact, Transport for London — which evaluates its program each year — found that sales within the zone outpaced sales outside of the zone in 2007 across a number of sectors, including financial and business services, hotels and restaurants, and retail. Furthermore, London First, a group that advocates for business competitiveness and represents one-quarter of all the GDP-producing businesses in London, continues be one of the greatest advocates of congestion pricing, calling for expansion of the program across key routes within London.

With urban growth continuing unabated and federal spending on transportation declining into bankruptcy, managing demand through pricing is becoming a reality nationwide as well as here in the Bay Area. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has proposed congestion pricing in the form of a High Occupancy Toll network which would build a series of carpool and toll lanes on 12 Bay Area highways to give drivers the option of carpooling or paying for a faster commute.

San Francisco’s unique character, robust businesses and superior transit system will continue to be comparative advantages for our city as the region moves toward this type of pricing and other growth-management policies.

Bay Area residents expect creative thinking from us to address the problems we face. The Transportation Authority is preparing this study of congestion pricing to weigh seriously the potential benefits and impacts of a congestion-pricing program. We look forward to sharing the results of the study later this year.

For more information about the SFCTA’s Mobility Access & Pricing Study, visit www.sfmobility.org.

José Luis Moscovich is the executive director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

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