(See Downtown Congestion Pricing Study page)

Jump to a Question

Q 1. What is the cause of most of San Francisco’s downtown congestion?
Q 2. How many vehicles enter downtown each day during the morning and evening rush hour? What’s the breakdown of local and regional travelers who drive downtown?
Q 3. What is the income distribution of all drivers going downtown during rush hour?
Q 4. Why not just charge ride-hail companies since those trips are responsible for so much congestion?
Q 5. How much would the fee be?
Q 6. How are you taking into consideration low- and moderate-income earners?
Q 7. How did you calculate the low-income thresholds?
Q 8. Will you charge people with disabilities, residents who live within the congestion pricing zone, or people who have already paid a bridge toll?
Q 9. What will congestion pricing funds be spent on?
Q 10. How much money would be raised?
Q 11. Have you considered ways to combat congestion other than congestion pricing?
Q 12. What have you heard so far from outreach?
Q 13. How are you using what you heard in outreach to design options?
Q 14. How will congestion pricing affect businesses and the economy?
Q 15. Why are you doing this study amid a pandemic and recession?
Q 16. How is your forecasting taking into account the impacts of the pandemic?
Q 17. How will congestion pricing address transit service cuts during the pandemic?
Q 18. Could congestion pricing revenue be used to help cover Muni’s funding gap?
Q 19. How are you able to conduct equitable outreach during shelter-in-place?
Q 20. Has a decision been made to implement congestion pricing?
Q 21. When is the soonest congestion pricing might be implemented?
Q 22. What technology would be used to collect fees?
Q 23. Under what circumstances would we consider implementing congestion pricing?
Q 24. Congestion pricing would lead to more people riding public transit. How will San Francisco’s public transit performance be improved to handle more riders?

Source of Congestion

Q 1. What is the cause of most of San Francisco’s downtown congestion? 
During a typical rush hour before the pandemic, Uber and Lyft represented 25% of the vehicle trips in the downtown area but were responsible for more than one-third of delay hours, while other vehicles were responsible for the remaining two-thirds of delay.

From 2010 to 2019, Uber and Lyft were responsible for approximately half of the increase in congestion, while growth in population and jobs were responsible for the other half of the increase.

Q 2. How many vehicles enter downtown each day during the morning and evening rush hour? What’s the breakdown of local and regional travelers who drive downtown?
Using the Transportation Authority’s travel demand model data, we see that 75% of drivers in the downtown/SOMA area are trips coming from within the city. Twelve percent of trips are from East Bay drivers, 10% from South Bay drivers, and 3% from North Bay drivers.

Of the 75% of drive trips that originate in SF, 58% of these trips are entirely within the proposed cordon area/NE quadrant of the city. Of these trips, 25% are estimated to be TNCs.

Q 3. What is the income distribution of all drivers going downtown during rush hour?
People in lower-income groups are most likely to take transit, walk, or bike downtown. Of all downtown trips during the morning peak, only 13% were low-income drivers. These are the people we are most concerned about protecting from an equity perspective.

Most drivers were higher-income. Fifty-seven percent of downtown drivers during typical morning peak periods were in households making more than 120% of the area median income (e.g. a family of four with income above $142,000) while 25% were low-income (less than 80% of AMI, or $95,000 for a family of four).

Percent of Weekday Morning Trips To, From, Within Northeast SF:

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Percent of Weekday Morning Trips To, From, Within Northeast SF (Source: SFCTA, SF-CHAMP 2015 Base Year Estimate)
Source: SFCTA, SF-CHAMP 2015 Base Year Estimate

 

Who Would Get Charged and How Much?

Q 4. Why not just charge ride-hail companies since those trips are responsible for so much congestion?
While Uber and Lyft contributed disproportionately to the recent growth in congestion through 2019, all vehicles on congested streets add to the problem (two-thirds of delay is from non-ride-hail services). In addition, congestion existed downtown before Uber and Lyft arrived. Given Uber/Lyft trips account for over a third of downtown congestion, the scenarios we are studying include fees for all Uber/Lyft trips within the zone, not just those that cross the zone boundary.

Q 5. How much would the fee be?
The fees for higher-income drivers would range from $7 to $14, but scenarios under consideration include discounts for groups including drivers who paid a bridge toll, drivers with disabilities and residents of the congestion pricing zone. More details on options we are studying are on page 32 of this presentation.

Q 6. How are you taking into consideration low- and moderate-income earners?
To meet the equity goals of our congestion pricing study, we would need to protect low-income travelers from cost increases. All of the scenarios we are considering would exempt the lowest-income drivers (e.g. below $65,000 for a family of four). The scenarios we are studying also include different discount levels for low- and moderate-income households (up to $142,000 for a family of four).

As the study continues, we remain open to feedback about the discounts and exemption policies. In addition, we want to design a program that can help address other inequities in our transportation system by prioritizing public transit and addressing the unequal burdens of traffic collisions, pollution, and climate change on low income and historically underinvested communities. 

Q 7. How did you calculate the low-income thresholds?
They're based on Area Median Income thresholds used to qualify for different levels of affordable housing in San Francisco. See the table below for detail.

Category AMI % Household size and approximate max income
1 2 3 4
Very Low <55% $46k $53k $59k $65k
Low 55 – 80% $66k $76k $85k $95k
Moderate 80 – 120% $100k $114k $128k $142k
Middle 120 – 140% $116k $133k $149k $166k
High >140% n/a n/a n/a n/a

Q 8. Will you charge people with disabilities, residents who live within the congestion pricing zone, or people who have already paid a bridge toll?
Low- or moderate-income drivers in all of these groups would be eligible for income-based exemptions and discounts. Some or all of our scenarios also include discounts for higher-income drivers in these categories. We continue to take input on whether and what level of discounts should apply. 

Where Would the Money Go?

Q 9. What will congestion pricing funds be spent on?
No final decision has been made on where funds would be spent, but at a minimum the program would include a significant 20%-25% increase in transit service to downtown to provide more frequent service and accommodate additional riders. During outreach we heard support for various ideas for additional investments, such as further transit improvements and pedestrian and bicycle upgrades. We continue to seek ideas on how funds should be invested in transportation improvements.

Q 10. How much money would be raised?
The amount is dependent on which discount and subsidy options are used. After paying program expenses and funding the 20%-25% service increase to accommodate additional riders, initial analysis indicates remaining revenue available for other investments would range from $6 to $60 million annually. Further analysis will refine cost and revenue projections.

Other Options?

Q 11. Have you considered ways to combat congestion other than congestion pricing?
San Francisco has implemented various measures to try to address congestion and its effects, including deploying officers to control traffic, better managing street parking to reduce circling, and encouraging more efficient travel with transit-only lanes, protected bike lanes, and a tax on ride-hail trips. Subways are ideal, and several are in planning stages, but expensive and take a very long time. In the meantime we are investing in surface transit priority/bus rapid transit and bicycling.

But it’s not enough. When the economy is strong, there is too much demand for driving and not enough road space to accommodate the demand. When we have too many cars downtown, that means our investments in transit don’t work as well because cars block traffic lanes, bus lanes, intersections, and crosswalks, including when double parking – often resulting in gridlock.

One of the only ways to make progress reducing congestion downtown is to provide both an incentive (better transit) coupled with a disincentive (a fee to drive into the downtown/SoMa area during busy times). Our past planning, including the 2013 San Francisco Transportation Plan, concluded that  we would need congestion pricing to meet our goals to get traffic and transit moving, improve safety, clean the air, and advance equity. 

What Are People Saying?

Q 12. What have you heard so far from outreach?
Input varied widely on whether congestion pricing is a good idea, from very opposed to strong enthusiasm. Central core neighborhoods with high traffic and good transit access, like Tenderloin and Hayes Valley, are more supportive.

Outer neighborhoods with fewer transit options are more skeptical or opposed. For example, members of the Human Rights Commission Community Roundtable expressed strong opposition to the idea, due mostly to equity concerns.

The most common concerns included affordability for people with low and moderate incomes, existing challenges with public transit due to COVID-19, what the recovery from the pandemic and recession will look like, and effects on businesses.

Members of the business community are also concerned about the impact on their competitiveness and operations. The most popular benefits included transit improvements and health and quality of life improvements for congested areas. Income-based discounts and exemptions for the congestion pricing fee and for public transit were a top priority. Investment in transit was most popular across all outreach formats, closely followed by pedestrian and bicycle safety upgrades. A detailed look at feedback starts on page 50 of this presentation. (PDF)

Q 13. How are you using what you heard in outreach to design options?
We used what we heard to design three options for a congestion pricing program, all of which include:

  • Exemptions and discounts based on driver income, 
  • A per-trip fee for Uber or Lyft trips,
  • A discount for drivers with disabilities, and 
  • A cap on the number of daily fees a driver might pay.  

We are also exploring what the smallest zone that is effective would be.

Economy

Q 14. How will congestion pricing affect businesses and the economy?
We are working with the business community to shape a program that works for needs around deliveries, customers, and workers. One of the goals of the study is to develop a congestion pricing recommendation that would accommodate the number of people downtown that we will need to support an economic recovery.

That’s not possible if too many people are driving at peak times, so we need to encourage people to get there in ways that use street space more efficiently, e.g. by riding transit or coming at other times of day. Our previous 2010 study found that congestion pricing would reduce traffic delays, speed up transit, and improve safety to help people get downtown more easily without negatively impacting the economy. This study will produce an updated analysis of whether congestion pricing could make travel downtown easier as the economy and congestion rebound.

Pandemic Impact

Q 15. Why are you doing this study amid a pandemic and recession?
We know the pandemic has caused numerous social and economic challenges. We also know that San Francisco is a resilient city that has come back from previous setbacks. We’re already seeing congestion return to some parts of the city and we expect downtown and SoMa traffic will continue to increase over time as the economy recovers.

This study will help the city be ready to address congestion once it reaches unacceptable levels again. Preparing a congestion pricing program will take at least three to five years, so the work we do now can help us make sure this tool is ready to use once traffic reaches unacceptable levels. By promoting the use of transit, walking, and biking, congestion pricing can help build a stronger downtown that is not impeded by traffic gridlock. 

Q 16. How is your forecasting taking into account the impacts of the pandemic?
Future conditions as the pandemic recedes and the economy recovers are unknown, but we are developing scenarios for what different recovery conditions may look like, for example if more people still work from home or remain less inclined to take transit. As part of our analysis, we plan to test a congestion pricing program under potential recovery conditions to learn more about how it might work and what might be appropriate conditions to implement a program.

Q 17. How will congestion pricing address transit service cuts during the pandemic?
Simply raising revenue is not one of the goals that the project team recommended, or which the Policy Advisory Committee adopted, for a congestion pricing program in San Francisco.

That said, the program does need to be financially self-sustaining: We need to raise enough revenue from the congestion charge to not just cover the capital and operating costs of the system, but to also add enough transit and other services to accommodate increased ridership and meet the other program goals.

There would need to be sufficient transit service in place when congestion pricing is implemented to ensure people have options to get downtown. However, if congestion pricing is implemented at a time when Muni’s transit capacity hasn’t been fully restored, a congestion pricing program could help us put more buses on the streets and would still help us advance the goals of our study.

Q 18. Could congestion pricing revenue be used to help cover Muni’s funding gap?
Raising revenue is not one of the goals that the project team recommended, or which the Policy Advisory Committee adopted, for a congestion pricing program in San Francisco. Also congestion pricing revenue is not an appropriate source because it would only be in effect when there is a congestion need.

During a recession, there would not be a need so congestion pricing would not operate, and there would be no revenues, making it a poor source for transit operations. That said, a congestion pricing program does need to be financially self-sustaining: we need to raise enough revenue from the congestion charge to not just cover the capital and operating costs of the system, but to also add enough transit and other services to meet our crowding and other related goals.

Q 19. How are you able to conduct equitable outreach during shelter-in-place?
The outreach team converted our in-person experience so that it can be replicated online or via a phone call. Different groups needed different methods of engagement. More detail about our outreach can be found starting on page 50 of our Outreach Findings. (PDF)

Implementation

Q 20. Has a decision been made to implement congestion pricing?
No. The governing board of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which consists of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors, requested the congestion pricing study in 2018.

The Board would need to approve a congestion pricing program. If the Board directs the Transportation Authority to move forward after completing the study, there would be several additional steps and implementing a congestion pricing program program would be at least three to five years away. We’d need to get state authorization and further develop the details of how the system would work, which would involve more community engagement.

Q 21. When is the soonest congestion pricing might be implemented?
There is no precise timeline, but likely at least three to five years after this study is concluded (anticipated mid-2021).

Q 22. What technology would be used to collect fees?
No determination has been made. Congestion fees are collected electronically with minimal equipment, with no need for traditional toll collection infrastructure and personnel. The technology analysis will be addressed in the coming months of the study. 

Q 23. Under what circumstances would we consider implementing congestion pricing?
In 2019, evening rush hour traffic on most major downtown streets moved at less than 10 mph, while buses averaged 6 mph. Congestion levels are still below what they were before the onset of the pandemic, although they are increasing again, and it does not make sense to implement a congestion pricing program when congestion is not a significant problem.

But as the economy recovers, we expect traffic levels will reach unacceptable levels similar to pre-pandemic conditions again. We are currently analyzing how the pandemic might continue to affect the transportation system in various recovery scenarios, and we can use those scenarios to test potential effects with congestion pricing implementation.

Finally, this study will develop an implementation plan for its recommendations and will consider what thresholds, such as congestion levels or transit speeds, would indicate when might be an appropriate time to implement congestion pricing. 

Q 24. Congestion pricing would lead to more people riding public transit. How will San Francisco’s public transit performance be improved to handle more riders?
Congestion pricing would result in faster transit service and also fund more frequent service to accommodate people shifting from driving to transit. At a minimum, we expect we would need about a 20%-25% increase in service to downtown to accommodate these additional riders.

After funding this increase, additional revenue would be available for other investments toward the goals of the program, including in further transit service increases that could also cover off-peak times, transit capacity and priority improvements like bus-only lanes, transit ambassadors to address quality of life issues, and pedestrian and bicycle improvements to improve access to transit.

We will base investment proposals on what we hear during public outreach together with the study goals and metrics, such as addressing transit delays, reducing crowding, and improving downtown job access, especially for low-income communities and communities of color.