Mobility, Access and Pricing Study | FAQ

MAPS outreach meeting

Frequently asked questions

About the Study

On Congestion Pricing

Other Questions


What is congestion pricing?

Congestion pricing involves charging drivers a user fee to drive in specific, congested areas or corridors at congested times of day. This system is used in several cities all over the world and is based on personal choice-motorists can drive if the convenience is worth the fee, or use alternatives like transit, biking, or walking. Or, they can choose to travel during less-congested times if they feel it is not worth paying to drive into the priced area during peak periods. The revenues from congestion charges are used to fund transportation improvements, such as better transit service, road improvements, and bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Will it work in San Francisco?

The Study findings indicate that congestion pricing is technically feasible in San Francisco and would be an effective way to manage our transportation system more efficiently and support San Francisco's sustainable growth plans for the future. Several more studies and actions, along with more outreach, are required before an implementation decision would be made, however. See the most recent factsheet more details on how the results of the high-performing scenarios developed through the Study.

What are the goals of congestion pricing?

Two of the most precious resources to Bay Area residents are our time and our environment. Congestion pricing is a solution that can potentially protect both of these resources. By managing congestion where it does exist and improving overall mobility in the city, travelers would waste less time in traffic or planning around unreliable commute times. The goals of pricing are consistent with the City's "Transit First" and "Clean and Green" policies. In this way, the long-term goal of congestion pricing is to provide a means for sustainable growth of the city.

What are the likely benefits of congestion pricing?

Benefits vary across the scenarios analyzed, but a robust congestion pricing program would include:

  • 12% fewer peak-period vehicle trips;
  • 21% reduction in vehicle hours of delay;
  • 16% reduction in greenhouse gases in downtown areas (5% citywide);
  • $60-80 million in annual net revenue for mobility improvements;
  • 20-25% transit speed improvement; and
  • 12% reduction in pedestrian incidents.

This represents results from just one of the scenarios evaluated in the feasibility study (the Northeast Cordon). More information is available in the Study Report and the factsheet.

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ABOUT THE STUDY

What are the goals of the Study?

The Mobility, Access and Pricing Study explores the feasibility of congestion pricing through technical, economic, financial, and legal/institutional evaluations of alternative pricing and mobility packages. The Study also involves the public in the design and evaluation of these alternatives, including assessing their respective benefits, costs, and impacts. It also describes potential areas for additional study, action or coordination if the decision is made to continue evaluating congestion pricing.

Why is San Francisco looking at congestion pricing now?

San Franciscans have always valued being at the forefront of innovative solutions to the challenges faced in urban environments. A grant of $1 million from the federal government to study congestion pricing, make it an opportune time to investigate the policy's applicability to San Francisco. What's more, San Francisco is currently confronting a diverse set of pressing issues that relate to our city's transportation system:

  • Worsening traffic congestion during peak periods restricts mobility, harms the economy, and threatens our quality of life. By 2030, we expect 40,000 more peak period vehicle trips in downtown areas. Average delay is projected to increase by 30%.
  • Transportation accounts for more than half of San Francisco's greenhouse gas emissions--the vast majority from private vehicles.
  • The public demands better transportation options but transportation funding from traditional sources, such as gas taxes is declining.

Though not a cure-all, congestion pricing is one of few strategies that could help San Francisco address each of these concerns if implementation is pursued.

What is the current status of the study?

On December 14th, the Authority Board (a commission of the full 11 members of the Board of Supervisors) adopted the Study Report unanimously, and voted 8-3 in favor of pursuing additional study of the concept, excluding the Southern Gateway scenario. The Study finds that congestion pricing would be a feasible way of meeting San Francisco's goals for sustainable growth but, San Francisco is still in the early stages of exploring pricing. A decision on whether or not to implement congestion pricing is still at least 2-3 years away, following additional study and outreach. If that decision is made, congestion pricing would not likely be implemented in San Francisco before 2015.

Will there be opportunities for public input?

Yes, public input is an important part of the Study. The Authority hosted a fourth series of public workshops in Summer and Fall 2010. Public involvement efforts also include direct outreach to local and regional interests, such as presentations to community groups and civic organizations. Targeted market research activities, including polls and focus groups, have been conducted throughout the Study. Additionally, the Study is informed by the ongoing involvement of several stakeholder advisory groups, including representatives from local and regional transportation agencies, motorists and transit riders, members of the business community, and the Authority's Citizens Advisory Committee.

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ON CONGESTION PRICING

What would the fee be for driving into the charged area?

The Study explores the various forms congestion pricing can take and identifies a few high-performing scenarios, including the Northeast Cordon and the Southern Gateway. The study considers a $3 fee per crossing (capped at $6/day) for both of these scenarios. See the Study's most recentfactsheet for more information on the scenarios, or consult Chapter 2 of the Study Report for the scenario analysis. The fees charged in cities where such a system has been implemented vary in the amount charged, payment and enforcement mechanisms, and variability depending on the time of day. Stockholm and London give us two different models. The current charge in London is $16 (£8) per day. In Stockholm, the charge varies between about $1.50 (10 kr) and $3.00 (20 kr) per trip, depending on time of day, with a maximum charge of about $8.60 (60 kr) per day. See the Case Study factsheet for more information.

How would you define the priced roadways or area?

In general, candidates for congestion pricing are areas with high levels of existing and projected traffic, low running speeds, and unreliable travel times for autos and transit. All of these measures are indicators of congestion. Other factors include whether an area is expected to have future economic or housing growth and the availability of robust transit options for local and regional travelers as an alternative to automobile trips. More detail on scenario development and analysis is included in Chapter 2 of the Study Report.

Would there be exemptions for any groups? What about people living within the charged area, low income people, people with disabilities, hybrid cars, taxis, motorcycles, etc.?

The Study makes initial recommendations regarding potential discount policies for groups that merit special considerations. These discounts were development through technical analysis and feedback to address equity concerns raised by the public and stakeholders, while also limiting discounts in order to maintain the financial viability of the system. Discounts incorporated in the current scenarios include:

  • $1 discount for bridge toll payers
  • 50% discount for disabled drivers
  • 50% discount for residents of the charging zone
  • 50% discount for low-income drivers
  • no charge for transit, taxi, and emergency vehicles

A fleet program could be implemented to allow for bundling of payments to ease the administrative burden for businesses, and would be further developed if study advances to another phase of evaluation.

Who would pay for it?

The goal is for the system to be self-funding. That is, the revenues from congestion pricing should pay for the system and the cost of operations. Both London and Stockholm have shown that operating costs can be covered by congestion charging revenues. Current estimates indicate potential net revenue of $60-80 million annually. If an implementation decision is made, the program operator could bond against revenue to cover start up costs if/when that time comes. We also expect the program could be competitive for grant funds to supplement. It is worth noting that the federal government made up to $1 billion available for these types of programs as recently as 2008.

Would bridge tolls stay the same?

Yes—the study is not looking at changing any bridge tolls.

What would the revenues generated from the congestion charge be used for?

Congestion pricing revenue would be reinvested in the transportation system, including upgrades to transit operations, such as improved service on San Francisco's express routes and rapid corridors and on key regional transit routes. Improvements would include:

  • faster, more frequent transit in existing corridors, as well as more regional and local express bus services
  • street paving/pothole repair
  • traffic calming and improved traffic signal coordination
  • streetscape enhancements and pedestrian amenities
  • parking management and enforcement
  • school, worksite, and travel demand management (TDM) programs

In addition to ongoing investment in improvements such as these annually, an initial set of up-front capital improvements would be delivered by Day 1. This would include an initial investment of $200-$300 million for projects including:

  • bus rapid transit where appropriate, transit signal priority, and peak-hour bus diamond lanes on several corridors such as Van Ness, Fulton, Mission, and California
  • additional bikeways citywide
  • real-time signage and wayfinding
  • BART station wayfinding, capacity, and access improvements
  • Caltrain access improvements
  • US 101 corridor management, including HOV lanes where appropriate

Although this set of improvements is indicative of the range and type of projects expected to accompany congestion pricing, an expenditure plan would be developed if the project moves to the next phase of analysis. The expenditure plan would specify how funds are allocated among transit, roadway, bicycle, pedestrian and streetscape projects. The program would include performance monitoring, as well as oversight of expenditures.

How much revenue could a congestion pricing program in San Francisco raise?

Current estimates indicate potential net revenue of $60-80 million annually. These funds would be reinvested in transportation improvements for those traveling to and from the charging zone. See above for more information on how the study would advise reinvesting revenue in transportation improvements.

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OTHER QUESTIONS

Would there be improved access for bicyclists and pedestrians?

Yes. The revenues generated by congestion pricing would be used to fund a variety of improvements to the entire street environment, including enhancements for bicyclists and pedestrians. See above for more information on how the study would advise reinvesting revenue in transportation improvements.

Is this just a way to help with Muni's budget deficit?

The goal of congestion pricing is not to generate revenue, but to manage congestion and improve mobility. The revenue generated by a congestion pricing system is an added benefit that would allow San Francisco to provide accompanying improvements to transit, our streets, and other transportation infrastructure. See above for more information on how the study would advise reinvesting revenue in transportation improvements.

Is any other U.S. city contemplating this?

Congestion pricing is used in London, Singapore, Rome, Stockholm, and Norway, among other cities. In the U.S., congestion pricing has primarily been applied to carpool lanes, known as HOT lanes (San Diego, Minneapolis), as well as through toll roads (Orange County) and parking (Redwood City). Seattle is also planning to price a major bridge which serves as a gateway to the city center. New York studied congestion pricing and was set to receive $350 million in federal funding to implement area pricing in Manhattan on all streets south of 86th Street. However, despite support from the Mayor, the City Council, the business community, and transit advocates, the New York state legislature tabled the necessary legislation to implement a congestion pricing program and the federal monies were lost.

The system in London has been in place since 2003, and the program has been so popular that the pricing area was recently expanded. Before congestion pricing was implemented, traffic in central London was flowing at 2-5mph. Now it averages 10mph. Most displaced drivers switched to transit, and businesses have remained healthy. Congestion pricing has resulted in a reduction in congestion, an increase in public transit use, decreased pollution, and improved bus service (with more regular schedules).

In Stockholm, congestion pricing was instituted in 2006 for a seven-month trial implementation, which was followed by a public referendum on the program and permanent implementation in 2007. The Stockholm program has reduced traffic by 22% and reduced CO2 emissions by more than 10%. Prior to the trial implementation, public opinion in Stockholm, as in London, was two-thirds against congestion pricing. Public support eventually rose to two-thirds as people came to understand the policy and the associated benefits.

Does this only apply within the bounds of San Francisco? What about all of the other congested areas in the Bay Area?

San Francisco is only studying the potential for congestion pricing on streets and roads within San Francisco, not outside of the city. While the congestion charge would be on local facilities, the effects (and potential congestion relief benefits) would be far-reaching, as many of the vehicle trips traveling on our streets in congested periods originate outside the city. Congestion pricing revenues would also potentially be used to enhance regional transit services.

Similar programs are being explored in other parts of the region. Alameda County and Santa Clara County have implemented a High Occupancy Toll lane in the I-680 corridor (allowing single occupant drivers to use the HOV lane for a fee that varies with the amount of traffic in the HOV lane) and both counties are looking at applying HOT lanes to other parts of their freeway network. Redwood City has implemented variable parking pricing, and other cities in the region are also studying this strategy.

What does this mean for downtown businesses, especially small businesses?

The Study assesses this question, but we know there is still more outreach and analysis to be done if evaluation continues. Taking action to address congestion need not be at odds with economic vitality. Indeed, protecting the environment, reducing congestion, and improving transit through congestion pricing can enhance our economy rather than harm it, as it did in London, Stockholm, and Rome. The findings of our study, which included an economic evaluation, indicate that employment impacts could well be minimal due to the reinvestment of funds to further improve accessibility and a large infusion of external capital that is anticipated to cover start-up costs. Streetscape enhancements, visitor amenities, and other improvements funded by the program could increase the overall attractiveness of downtown, and programs at workplaces could help to further facilitate commute trips by other means or during off-peak hours.

We also conducted an intercept survey of downtown shoppers to understand how people travel to downtown businesses, how often they travel and how much they spend. Though drivers do in fact spend more when they visit these retail areas, transit riders and pedestrians visit more frequently so over the course of a month, they spend slightly more than drivers do. If a congestion pricing program were implemented, it is possible that downtown businesses would see an increase in customer traffic—about 60,000 new walking, biking, and transit trips in the cordon area are expected—simply because traveling downtown would be faster, easier and more pleasant.

Would there be an impact on public health and safety?

With congestion pricing, we would certainly see a positive impact on public safety because traffic flow would be smoothed and the congestion fee revenues would be reinvested in pedestrian safety projects. London saw a 7% decline in car crashes and a 6% decline in crashes involving pedestrians. Bicycling was also up considerably (by about one-third) in London, for example. We are currently working with the Department of Public Health to evaluate benefits and impacts on public health and safety.

What are the environmental impacts of congestion on San Francisco? We don't seem to have smog.

As in most urban areas, motorists in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area generate significant amounts of polluting emissions and greenhouse gases. The city's unique topography and weather mean that emissions rarely manifest as smog, as might occur in inland areas. Still, local residents understand the need to reduce our impact on the environment. If congestion pricing were implemented, we would expect a 16% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast Cordon with that scenario, and a 5% reduction citywide. We would also expect a complementary reduction in PM2.5 emissions.

Both Governor Schwarzenegger and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom have established aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals.* Innovative and proactive congestion management measures will be a key component of efforts to reach these goals. Congestion pricing has been found to be an effective tool in this regard, reducing CO2 emissions in Stockholm by more than 10% and in London by 16%.

*—Executive Order S305: Reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (CA Climate Action Team). SF Climate Action Plan: Reduce GHG emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2012 (SF Department of the Environment).

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