Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Is the Bay Area Ready for Congestion Pricing?

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

In August 2007, the US Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Program made $158.7 million available to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to relieve traffic congestion. In order to receive the funds, SF hopes to introduce a variable toll on Doyle Drive, a connector to the Golden Gate Bridge. This would encourage drivers to switch to public transit or drive during less congested times of day.

Federal funds are at risk, however, as Marin and San Francisco argue about the fairness of tolls on the bridge and Doyle Drive. The board of directors of Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District voted on May 9 to consider a congestion-based toll for the bridge but what impact that will have on Doyle Drive tolling remains to be seen. The SFCTA has issued a Toll Feasibility Fact Sheet that outlines how the electronic tolling would work.

The proposal is meeting from resistance from North Bay drivers who characterize it as an attempt by San Francisco to make them help pay for the rebuilding of outdated and seismically unsafe Doyle Drive. Others argue that this is a regional problem that needs to be addressed from that perspective. The public will be able to weigh in at a bridge district hearing July 11.

Laura Stonehill, a student in the dual-degree program in Transportation Engineering and City Planning at UC Berkeley, won First Prize in the American Planning Association’s Transportation Planning Division’s 2008 competition for her paper, Congestion Pricing on Doyle Drive. Congestion pricing in this context, she notes, would serve not only to reduce demand during peak traffic times but also to generate funds to reconstruct the connector to the Golden Gate Bridge. She recommends addressing concerns of North Bay residents, being open with the public about the pricing scheme and its objectives, and setting prices so that congestion is actually mitigated. The success of such a project is critical since it would be the first large-scale application of congestion pricing in the U.S.

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