Congestion and the Global Pandemic
Amid the global pandemic, San Francisco’s first priority has been to keep our communities safe and healthy. At the start of the pandemic, congestion had mostly vanished, but we’re already starting to see it increase again.
The future beyond this pandemic is uncertain, but in the past, San Francisco’s economy has been resilient. Without intervention we expect a rebounding economy to bring the return of congestion and its negative impacts. The pandemic is spurring cities to think about the kind of future they want. The work we do now can help us plan and prepare for the recovery.
San Francisco is working to manage our transportation system to support economic recovery and toward healthier, more equitable outcomes. This means keeping buses moving swiftly and avoiding crowds at bus stops as well as keeping people safe as they walk and bike in greater numbers. An adaptable congestion pricing program could support these objectives as warranted by rising traffic levels.
Get the latest: Visit our blog for a spring 2020 project update.
The Transportation Authority is exploring how a fee to drive downtown could get traffic moving and achieve goals around street safety, clean air, and equity. This is a strategy called congestion pricing.
To significantly reduce congestion, we estimate a congestion pricing program would need to reduce downtown car trips during rush hour by at least 15%. This could help us achieve four key goals:
- Get traffic moving so people and goods get where they need to go
- Increase safety for people walking, biking, and driving
- Clean the air to support public health and fight climate change
- Advance equity by improving health and transportation for disadvantaged communities
The best practice is to combine the congestion fee with discounts, subsidies, and incentives to make the system fair and encourage the use of sustainable transportation modes like transit, walking, and biking.
Get Involved: Community Engagement
Through early 2021, we will partner with community members to shape various scenarios for what a downtown congestion pricing program could look like.
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Sign up to receive email updates on opportunities to get involved at the top of this webpage.
Watch a Presentation
View a 15-minute project overview from project manager Colin Dentel-Post.
Have Our Project Team Present at Your Community Meeting
Is your community group interested in learning more about downtown congestion pricing? Request a presentation and we can discuss our study with your members at a future meeting.
Attend a Policy Advisory Committee Meeting
We have convened a Policy Advisory Committee that will advise our project team throughout the study. The committee consists of representatives from neighborhood groups, historically underserved communities, advocacy organizations, labor and business organizations, and groups that focus on the environment, equity, and health.
We expect to hold eight Policy Advisory Committee meetings throughout the course of the study.
The meetings will include both presentations from staff as well as segments where committee members convene in small breakout groups. The public will have the opportunity to attend and provide public feedback at these meetings. View meting details in the Events section below.
Through early 2021, we will be working with community members and technical experts to understand what an effective and equitable downtown congestion pricing program could look like. This study will culminate in one or more recommendations based on technical analysis and community engagement. After this study is complete, our board, which is comprised of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, may ask us to continue to look into how a congestion pricing program could be implemented. Several years of technical analysis, community outreach, and coordination—along with state approval—would be needed before San Francisco could implement a congestion pricing program.
Congestion pricing would reduce the number of cars driving downtown, making it one of the most effective tools we can use to reduce congestion.
Making Sure Pricing Programs Are Fair
One question we often hear about congestion pricing is whether we can make the system fair.
Inequities have long been ingrained in our transportation system and are still present today. More cars on the road disproportionately affect low-income communities of color because they are more likely to…
- ride the bus, which is stuck in car traffic
- live in areas with higher rates of traffic collisions
- have health impacts like asthma from polluted air
- spend a disproportionate amount of income on transportation, especially those who drive
We’re looking at congestion pricing to flip this dynamic. Most of the drivers downtown during peak hours are in households making over $100,000. By charging a fee to drivers who can afford it, we can improve transit, bike and pedestrian options for everyone else.
In addition to using pricing revenue to pay for sustainable transportation modes, we can develop programs that specifically help disadvantaged communities. A few examples include:
Targeted Re-investment of Fees: Prioritize revenue from congestion fees for services and improvements benefiting low-income travelers and affected neighborhoods such as increased bus service, lighting, and safer streets.
Subsidies: People with low incomes receive a subsidy to offset the costs of a pricing system.
Discounts: People with low incomes pay a discounted rate.
Incentives: People with low incomes accrue credits after taking a certain number of trips on transit, and can use those credits to pay for pricing fees, transit, or other transportation costs.
Cities around the World are Using Congestion Pricing
Congestion pricing has worked in cities around the world and New York will soon be the first American city to launch a congestion pricing program.
How We Got Here
Record Level Congestion in 2019
Traffic congestion in San Francisco reached record levels in 2019. People were driving more than ever due to a growing population, a strong economy, and demand for travel by ride-hail vehicles.
Congestion was particularly severe in downtown and in SoMa. This impacts not only people who are traveling, but also surrounding residents’ quality of life, safety, and health, and disproportionately affects low income communities of color.
San Francisco has had success in reducing congestion through updates to parking pricing as well as by encouraging more efficient travel: from adding transit-only lanes, to installing protected bike lanes, to taxing ride-hail trips to support transit, walking, and biking.
Better Transit Helps, but it’s Not Enough
While these efforts are helping, they are not enough. Investments like transit-only lanes have successfully improved transit speeds relative to auto speeds, but growing congestion downtown means transit riders’ trips are still delayed by traffic. Buses can be delayed by cars turning, parking, blocking intersections, or illegally using the transit-only lane.
We estimate we need to reduce the number of peak period car trips downtown by at least 15% to get traffic moving and make walking, biking, and transit improvements work.
We cannot build our way out of our congestion problem – there is too much demand for driving and not enough road space to accommodate the demand.
People are driving today more than ever, and without action, gridlock is projected to get worse: Between now and 2040, the city is expected to add 200,000 new residents and 150,000 new jobs.
Learn more in the Why Congestion Pricing? Briefing Paper (PDF)
2010 Congestion Pricing Study
The aim of our 2010 Congestion Pricing Study (PDF) was to assess whether implementing a congestion pricing program in San Francisco makes sense. Through the study's technical feasibility assessment and a public input process, the Transportation Authority determined that a congestion pricing program could deliver significant benefits to the city. Our current study serves as an update to this past work on congestion pricing, with new data and public engagement.
Our 2010 study on congestion pricing in San Francisco found the following benefits:
12% fewer peak period auto trips
21% reduction in vehicle delay
20% – 25% transit speed improvements
16% reduction s in greenhouse gas emissions from the priced area
12% reduction in pedestrian collisions
Business effects broadly neutral
Policies & Plans that Recommend Downtown Congestion Pricing
Plan Bay Area 2040, 2017 (PDF)