- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2019

Los Angeles is seeking to follow New York City in charging commuters for driving on congested downtown streets.

Urban planners there are recommending, via a new study, a “congestion” rush hour charge of $4 as a means to dissuade heavy motor traffic and generate revenue for transportation initiatives in the City of Angels.

“This is the type of policy that could have the greatest impact on quality of life in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of resources,” said Darin Chidsey of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which conducted the study.

The 156-page report tackled what traffic engineers call the Los Angeles area’s notoriously congested “second downtown” — an area between two intersecting freeways in eastern Santa Monica and western Los Angeles.

According to SCAG’s calculations, a $4 toll there would reduce traffic by 19 percent during rush hour, and boost bus ridership by 9 percent and biking/ walking by 7 percent. It also would generate an estimated $69 million a year above and beyond the cost of installing the tolls and expanding transit service.

Before the report’s publication earlier this year, Phil Washington, CEO of Los Angeles Metro, suggested possible congestion fees could help the city fund 28 new projects it plans to build in time for the 2028 Olympics.

While the SCAG report is merely speculative, political and popular pushback has been immediate since its publication last week. Los Angeles media have reported that focus groups have had a negative reaction, while a recent UCLA study found less than 40 percent of city voters would support a congestion toll.

Los Angeles City Council member Mike Bonin, who represents part of the area traffic engineers studied, tweeted that the proposed fee structure is “downright unjust.”

On a press call, Los Angeles Metro chief innovation officer Joshua Schank acknowledged the challenges facing policymakers with regard to the issue.

“This is not going to be politically easy,” Mr. Schank said. “We have to be confident that when we really get out there and talk to people, do the outreach, and get the conversation going, that people will eventually support an outcome that stands to benefit them.”

New York City is ahead of Los Angeles on the idea. This week, state legislators there approved a conceptual plan that opens the way for New York City to be the first metropolis in the country to require commuters to pay for the privilege of driving its most cramped streets.

The approved fees aim to supplement bridge and tunnel tolls around New York City that charge $9.50 to $15 for vehicles entering Manhattan.

A recent study found that about 717,000 vehicles a day enter the Manhattan zone under consideration for the congestion toll, which could generate gross revenues of $1.1 billion per year, if the price was set at $11.52, according to The Associated Press.

The same study found that tolls could reduce traffic by 13 percent.

The earliest the tolls could begin is Dec. 31, 2020, with a panel currently working to establish the fee structure. A popular proposal has reportedly suggested about $12 for passenger vehicles, with exemptions available for motorists who had already paid to enter Manhattan.

Other details of the plan include finalizing the logistics of a tolling system that could bill commuters via a blend of E-ZPass dashboard transponders and license plate scanners.

In 2017, Virginia established congestion tolls on the express lanes of Interstate 66, where surge pricing has exceeded $45.

London, Singapore and Stockholm have generally reported positive experiences with congestion tolls that have raised revenues, improved air quality and in many cases, initially reduced congestion.

But traffic engineers argue those systems are far from perfect. London’s tolls have existed since 2003. At the start, they dropped downtown traffic about 30 percent but a flood of app-based for-hire vehicles like Uber, in recent years, has reversed the trend.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide