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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
- Promote 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.
Traffic Congestion is Getting Worse
Congestion in San Francisco has reached record levels. People are driving today more than ever due to a growing population, a strong economy, and demand for travel by ride-hail vehicles.
Congestion is 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.
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
Developing an Updated Plan
The Transportation Authority board has asked our agency to explore how such a policy could work for San Francisco with updated data and community outreach.
Downtown Congestion Pricing Study Timeline
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. We are still early in the process, and we will be working with the community to see if and how this idea could work.
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.
Policies & Plans that Recommend Downtown Congestion Pricing
Plan Bay Area 2040, 2017 (PDF)
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.
Case Study: London (PDF)
Case Study: Stockholm (PDF)
Case Study: New York (PDF)
Without action, gridlock is projected to get worse: Between now and 2040, the city is expected to add another 200,000 new residents and 150,000 new jobs
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. Disadvantaged communities— including low-income households, people of color, and people who are disadvantaged due to ability, age, or other factors—have long borne the brunt of negative transportation impacts while paying a proportionally larger share of their income to get where they need to go. Learn more in TransForm's 2019 report: Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity.
We’re looking at congestion pricing to flip this dynamic by prioritizing public transit and addressing the unequal burdens of climate change on low income and historically underinvested communities.
In addition to using pricing revenue to pay for sustainable transportation modes, we can develop programs that specifically help disadvantaged travelers.
A few examples include:
Targeted Re-investment of Fees: Prioritize revenue from congestion fees for services and improvements benefitting 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.
Through early 2021, we will partner with community members to shape various scenarios for what a downtown congestion pricing program could look like. Sign up to receive email updates on opportunities to get involved in the yellow banner above.
Policy Advisory Committee
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 details for upcoming meetings in the "Events" section below.