Congestion fees will help fight city gridlock

The time has come to study and implement a comprehensive pricing plan to charge motorists to drive into downtown San Francisco. Such a system will be needed to limit the crush of cars headed our way.

One need only look at the cranes dotting San Francisco’s skyline to realize that The City’s building boom will soon bring more businesses and more residents here. Additional residents and workers will add stress to San Francisco’s power grid, sewer and water systems, and transportation infrastructure. Plans are already underway to upgrade the power, water and sewer systems. But transportation issues could single-handedly serve as a roadblock to economic success without proper planning. Such planning should include a congestion pricing scheme to charge motorists to drive into the core of The City.

A recent report from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority predicted that downtown traffic will be mired in gridlock within the next three decades unless automobile traffic is reduced by 27 percent. But implementing congestion pricing alone could result in a 10 to 15 percent reduction in driving, the report suggested.

The advantages of using congestion pricing to control vehicular gridlock are many. One is that people who need to drive will still be able to do so, with a fee, instead of implementing an outright ban. Also, the money raised from such a fee, which is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars, could go to fund transit improvements so that already overtaxed systems, including Muni and BART, can reliably carry more passengers.

Implemented properly, congestion pricing should help businesses. Few things hurt businesses more than jam-packed roadways and clogged parking facilities that force drivers to circle endlessly in search of parking. The limiting of automobiles on city streets will allow those headed for a location, such as a business, to more easily navigate to their destinations.

The environment will also benefit from limiting vehicular congestion. Already, cars downtown idle in the clogged arteries, spewing pollution into the air. In terms of pollution per passenger, single-passenger vehicles cause much more pollution than mass transit or self-powered transportation. It’s time that governments recognized and started to deter the environmental damage that stems from driving to steer people toward more sustainable modes of transportation. Drivers who want the convenience of single-occupant automobiles need to pay for the negative effects that those vehicles have on the environment and the people who live and work in San Francisco.

Undoubtedly there would be pitfalls to implementing a congestion-pricing fee for San Francisco. But the perils of doing nothing are even greater. The question facing city leaders is not whether to implement congestion pricing, but how to successfully implement a system that will encourage drivers to use public transit and other modes of transportation without entirely cutting off the roads to those drivers who genuinely need them.

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