San Francisco congestion pricing

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Traffic leaving and entering San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco congestion pricing is a proposed traffic congestion user fee for vehicles traveling into the most congested areas of the city of San Francisco at certain periods of peak demand. The charge would be combined with other traffic reduction projects. The proposed congestion pricing charge is part of a mobility and pricing study being carried out by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) to reduce congestion at and near central locations and to reduce its associated environmental impacts, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions.[1] The funds raised through the charge will be used for public transit improvement projects, and for pedestrian and bike infrastructure and enhancements.[1][2]

This initiative is supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation.[1] The initial charging scenarios considered were presented in public meetings held in December 2008[3] and the final draft proposal, which calls for implementation of a six-month to one-year trial in 2015, was discussed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (SFBS) in December 2010.[4][5] The SFBS decided to exclude the Southern Gateway scenario and authorized SFCTA to seek federal financing to continue further planning for the two Northeast Cordon options.[6][7]

If approved, it would be the first city based congestion charge scheme in the United States, as the New York congestion pricing scheme stalled in 2008.[3][8][9] It is similar to the existing schemes such as the Singapore road pricing scheme, London congestion charge, Stockholm congestion tax, and the Milan Area C.[1] Under a separate initiative congestion pricing tolls were implemented at the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in July 2010.


The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) began exploring the possibility of introducing congestion pricing in 2004, as part of the Countywide Transportation Plan and motivated by the initial success of the London congestion charge.[10] Since then, several initiatives and plans have been studied. The Bay Area Toll Authority implemented a congestion pricing tolls at the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in July 2010.[11]

Doyle Drive congestion pricing[edit]

San Francisco's first evaluation of a congestion pricing project was the proposal to implement such scheme at the Doyle Drive, a major approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. In August 2007 the United States Department of Transportation selected five metropolitan areas to initiate congestion pricing demonstration projects under the Urban Partnerships Congestion Initiative, for US$1 billion of federal funding,[12] and the San Francisco Bay Area was awarded with a $158 million grant for this purpose.[2][13] Later the city later withdrew its proposal to implement congestion pricing at the Doyle Drive as part of the Urban Partnerships Congestion Initiative, and instead it will be implementing a USD 47 million rehabilitation project to relief traffic congestion near the Golden Gate Bridge.[14]

SFpark variable pricing initiative[edit]

Also as part of the USDoT's Urban Partnerships Congestion Initiative, San Francisco will receive USD $27 million in federal funds, approved in October 2008, to implement in 2010 an innovative parking plan called SFpark that will use rush hour pricing based on advanced technology through variable pricing according to actual demand. This new system will allow drivers to find available parking spots by checking variable message signs, phoning a 511 service, or via the internet. Users will also be able to pay with their credit, debit or Smart Trip cards, or using their cell phones.[1][14]

Mobility, Access and Pricing Study[edit]

In 2006, San Francisco authorities began a feasibility study to evaluate how congestion pricing fits to resolve the city's problems. This study was financed with a US$1 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration's Value Pricing Program, with matching funds from local sources.[10] The study is called the Mobility, Access and Pricing Study (MAPS).[10][15] San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom endorsed the concept, and said in early 2008, "a sensible congestion pricing plan is the single greatest step we can take to protect our environment and improve our quality of life."[1]

The first results from the study showed that the pricing scheme is feasible from an economical, administrative and technical point of view.[1] From the beginning, the mobility study was designed to have input from San Francisco's residents, businesses, travelers, and other stakeholders during the entire process, and the study team has been guided by several advisory committees at different stages of the development of the plan. As public participation is considered crucial, several public workshops are planned to share information and gather input from the public.[10] The results of the two-year study were first presented to SFCTA Board of Supervisors on November 2008,[1][9] and then the various pricing scenarios considered in the MAPS and other plan details were presented in two public meetings and another one online held in December 2008.[3][15]

The next step was to present the revised plan to the Board of Supervisors by February 2009 in order to decide if the 11-member board would recommend to continue with the congestion pricing plan.[9] The plan will need approval at the local and state legislative levels, and possibly some non-objection at the federal level.[1][16] It has not been decided if San Francisco residents will vote to approve the plan's implementation.[1] Final study results were expected by late 2009,[3] and SFCTA staff estimates that if the proposal moves forward in 2009, implementation will still take several years,[3] as at least two to three years would be spent doing the environmental studies required by law.[9]

Bay Bridge congestion tolls[edit]

The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge has congestion based-tolling since July 2010.

In July 2010 congestion pricing tolls were implemented at the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The Bay Bridge congestion pricing scheme charges a US$6 toll from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. During weekends cars pay US$5. Carpools before the implementation were exempted but now they pay US$2.50. The toll remained at the previous toll of US$4 at all other times on weekdays.[11]

The Bay Area Toll Authority reported that by October 2010 fewer users are driving during the peak hours and more vehicles are crossing the Bay Bridge before and after the 5–10 a.m. period in which the congestion toll goes into effect. According to a study contracted to the University of California, Berkeley, commute delays in the first six months have dropped by an average of 15 percent compared with 2009. When the congestion tolls were proposed, the agency expected the scheme to produce a 20 to 30 percent drop in commute traffic. The study also found a decrease in the number of carpools since the first fee for carpools was introduced, with a reduction of 10,800 carpoolers when figures from September 2009 and 2010 are compared. The UC Berkeley study also provides evidence that some people are using BART to get to work in San Francisco instead of paying the higher tolls on the Bay Bridge during rush hour.[17][18]

Description of the 2008 proposal[edit]

Despite the fact the MAPS is still in a stage of further development, several details are still being refined considering the public feedback. The following section presents a summary of the plan as presented to the Board of Supervisors and discussed in the December 2008 public meetings.

Charging area[edit]

Several scenarios are being considered regarding the best location to collect the congestion tolls. The following are the main alternatives:

However, there are concerns among the planner participating in the study that charging at the city's gateways would reduce traffic from outside San Francisco and encouraging more driving among city residents, while the downtown zone might be too small, thus potentially causing problems in adjacent neighborhoods by drivers bypassing the downtown charge zone. So two other scenarios were considered:[9]

  • A double-ring, charging both at the major city entrances and at the downtown zone, but with different prices, US$1.50 at the gateways and US$3.00 at downtown.
  • A northeast cordon over a larger toll zone that would include downtown and Civic Center, and also Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach and other neighborhoods. The boundaries would include the waterfront on the north and east, Divisadero and Castro streets on the west and 18th Street on the south.

Congestion fee[edit]

The study found that the congestion fees should be between US$0.50 and US$5.00, and concluded that a fee of US$3.00 is the most likely to maximize benefits and minimize impacts.[16] Because social variables are very important, the final amount to be charged will be decided by the mayor and the SFCTA Board of Supervisors. For this reason, the final amount might be different. The congestion fee will be charged to enter, leave or pass through parts of the city on weekdays at each travel peak, between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.,[9][16]

Fees will be charged using the existing FasTrak transponders used for tolling on the Bay Area bridges, and a network of cameras. Drivers will be allowed to pay by telephone, text message, online, mail or at designated stores.[1][9] Among others, the study considered to exempt driver with disabilities, low-income drivers, and residents within the toll zones. Also discounts for commercial fleets were considered.[1] Taxi drivers will be exempted and rental cars would be charged a fleet rate. Carpoolers probably would not get a discount because they already have toll-free pass through the Bay Area bridges.[16] The study made the assumption that tolls at the Bay Area bridges will remain the same.[19]

Financing and costs[edit]

The estimated cost to implement and operate congestion pricing in San Francisco still is unknown, because it will depend on the program design according to the final alternative selected for implementation and the specific technology used.[19]

The study established as a goal that the system has to be self-funded, meaning that revenues from the congestion pricing fees should pay for the costs of maintenance and operation, and other necessary improvements. The experiences with the London congestion charge and the Stockholm congestion tax have demonstrated that indeed is possible to cover operating costs.[19] The study will explore alternative sources to finance the initial start up costs, including up to US$1 billion recently made available by the federal government for these type of programs.[19]

Expected results[edit]

The study estimated that the congestion charge could raise between US$35 million and US$65 million a year, funds that could be invested in transportation improvements, including increasing capacity on BART, Muni and other Bay Area transit agencies serving San Francisco.[9][16] The study also found that congestion pricing could reduce peak-hour delays by 30% and reduced car-related greenhouse gases by 15%.[16]

Description of the 2010 proposal[edit]

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) announced in November 2010 the results of the updated feasibility analysis. The final 2010 study refined the Phase 1 alternatives based on further detailed studies, the feedback received during the 2008 public audiences, and the experience of the Stockholm congestion tax, which is considered by SFCTA a more similar case to San Francisco's context than the London congestion charge.[20]

The following section presents a summary of the plan presented for discussion to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (SFBS) on December 14, 2010.[4][5] The SFBS decided to exclude the Southern Gateway scenario and authorized SFCTA to seek federal funding to continue further planning for the two Northeast Cordon options and to enter into environmental review. SFCTA will submit a grant for up to $2 million in federal funding for the next phase of the study.[6][7]

Charging area and congestion fee[edit]

The study proposes three alternatives:[4][5][20]

  • Northeast Cordon: with a US$3.00 fee during the morning and evening peak commute times from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and charged when coming into or out of the northeast section of San Francisco; bordered by Laguna Street on the west, 18th Street on the south, and the Bay. SFCTA considers that this alternative "provides the greatest congestion reduction in the city's most congested areas, while also delivering substantial additional benefits for transit performance, environmental quality, and sustainable growth".[20]
  • Modified Northeast Cordon (Pilot): with a US$6.00 fee charged only when leaving that area during the evening commute, between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.
  • Southern Gateway (Pilot): with a US$3.00 fee in both directions during the morning and evening peaks on the major arteries at the San Francisco/San Mateo County border, at Interstate 280, Highway 101, Skyline Boulevard, Lake Merced Boulevard, San Jose Avenue, Mission Street, Geneva Avenue, Junipero Serra Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard. A resident discount could be considered for households living with a certain distance of the San Mateo County line.[20] According to the SFCTA report this option weights in geographic equity, as automobile travel from San Francisco's northern and eastern approaches is already subject to bridge tolls, and in the case of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, elevated peak-period tolls on weekdays were recently introduced. On the other hand, the land-based border with San Mateo County currently does not have any form of pricing in effect, and the Peninsula and South Bay travel markets are more dominated by automobile travel than the other regional travel corridors to and from the city.[20]

Discount policy[edit]

Based on technical analysis of the impact of discounts on system performance and financial feasibility, the range of discount policies applied in other cities with congestion pricing programs, and extensive discussions with stakeholders and feedback from the public, the proposal recommends a limited set of discounts summarized in the following table:[20]

Summary of Potential Discounts and Fee Categories[20]
Type of Driver/Group Level of Discount
Mass transit vehicles Free
Taxicabs Free
Zone residents 50%
Bridge toll-payers US$1
Low-income (Lifeline Value) 50%
Disabled motorists 50%
Daily maximum charge One-way fee x 2
Carpool None
Low-emission vehicles None
Commercial vehicles/shuttles Fleet rate
Rental cars, carsharing vehicles Fleet rate

Trial period[edit]

The 2010 proposal recommends implementing a trial program with any of the two pilot options, with a duration between six-month to one-year trial in 2015.[4][5] The objective of this trial is to evaluate public reaction and the effectiveness of the scheme.[4][20]

Expected results[edit]

The study estimated that the congestion charge could raise between US$60 million and US$80 million a year even when accounting for the 50 percent discount for low-income people and other users. The funds raised through the charge will be used for public transit improvement projects, and for pedestrian and bike infrastructure and enhancements.[4][5]

The feasibility study concluded that the Northeast Cordon option would reduce vehicle trips to and from the core downtown area (Focus Area) during peak periods by more than 15 percent, and an approximately 10 percent increase in peak-period transit mode share to the Focus Area. The analysis also found that the Northeast Cordon program would result in an annual social benefit of more than US$350 million while the Southern Gateway's benefits would be approximately US$250 million.[20]

Concerns and controversy[edit]

There were several negative reactions, concerns and criticisms as a result of the December 2008 public meetings and online hearing where the preliminary findings of the MAPS (Mobility, Access and Pricing Study) were discussed.[16] One participant questioned the rationale for having to pay to drive on a public street. Others considered that congestion pricing is a regressive tax imposing a greater burden on those without a good option to ride public transit and on low-income commuters. Other considered too expensive to pay USD 6.00 for a short duration trips. Zone residents with children and inflexible schedules complained they would be unfairly affected. Another major concern is the lack of reliability and capacity of San Francisco's existing network of transit services, limiting commuters to switch to public transport once the congestion pricing is implemented.[16]

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has also expressed concerns because of the burden it might put on retail sales, worsened by the ongoing recession caused by the financial and global economic crises,[1] driving business away as people will go shop elsewhere in the region.[3][9][16] A telephone poll, conducted by the Chamber of Commerce by late January 2009, showed that 61% of the voters opposed the congestion fee for driving downtown.[21]

Staff working on the MAPS study have responded they are aware of the social consequences and therefore several mitigation measures have been included and are being considered, such as selecting a charge area that is big enough in order to avoid causing problems in adjacent neighborhoods; offering discounts to some drivers such as taxi cabs, low-income and disabled drivers; and charging half-price for residents within the charge zone.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Rachel Gordon (2008-11-24). "Planners to consider S.F. congestion charge". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  2. ^ a b Rachael Gordon (2007-09-19). "S.F. studying congestion pricing to ease traffic, promote transit". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Malia Wollan (2009-01-04). "San Francisco Studies Fees to Ease Traffic". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Rachel Gordon (2010-11-11). "S.F. may hit drivers with variety of tolls". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Heather Ishimaru (2010-11-10). "SF considers downtown congestion pricing". ABC7 News San Francisco. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  6. ^ a b Bill Silverfarb (2010-12-15). "San Francisco drops border toll idea". San Mateo Daily Journal. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  7. ^ a b Matthew Roth (2010-12-14). "SF Congestion Pricing Study Moves Forward Without San Mateo Boundary". San Francisco Streets Blog. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  8. ^ Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore (2007-07-17). "Albany Rebuffs City Traffic Plan". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Michael Cabanatuan (2008-11-26). "S.F. considers congestion tolls on cars". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Mobility, Access and Pricing Study (MAPS) Fact Sheet" (PDF). San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  11. ^ a b Michael Cabanatuan (2010-05-13). "Reminder: Bridge tolls go up July 1". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  12. ^ "Urban Partnerships". U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  13. ^ David Bolling (2008-05-29). "GG Bridge tolls could top $7". Sonoma News-Tribune. Retrieved 2009-02-23. [permanent dead link]
  14. ^ a b Office of Public Affairs (2008-10-20). "San Francisco Will Receive $87 Million for Easier Parking, Bay Area Ferry Service, and Rehabilitation of Doyle Drive". US Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  15. ^ a b "Mobility, Access and Pricing Study - Home". San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Maria L. La Ganga (2008-12-30). "In San Francisco, 'congestion pricing' is something they're sneezing at". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  17. ^ Michael Cabanatuan (2011-01-12). "Conflicting findings on Bay Bridge congestion toll". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  18. ^ "Bay Bridge Traffic Decreases After Congestion Pricing". ABC News San Francisco. 2011-01-12. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  19. ^ a b c d "MAPS Frequently Asked Questions: Who would pay for it?". San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i San Francisco County Transportation Authority (December 2010). "San Francisco Mobility, Access and Pricing Study, Final Draft" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-12-06.  pp. 1-2, 2-11 to 2-15.
  21. ^ Marisa Lagos (2009-02-19). "Poll shows S.F. voters oppose tax proposals". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 

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