November 12, 2010

San Francisco Proposes Congestion Pricing

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority just got some great press for its proposal to implement congestion pricing. From the Chronicle:

Drivers crossing greater downtown San Francisco and the southern border with San Mateo County could be hit with a new toll costing them as much as $1,560 a year.
Everyone from workers to parents dropping off their kids at school could have to pay the new charge, which is designed to ease congestion and raise revenue for extra bus service, pothole repairs and bike and pedestrian improvements.

811 comments, and counting. SFCTA's got some nerve with the timing of their announcement, what with the general perception that government is overly spendthrift, recession, state debt, etc.

I'm of two minds here.

1) Congestion pricing discourages driving, which is in the long run a win for dense urban spaces with good public transit, like San Francisco.  But these taxes are regressive, in that they hit the poorest the hardest. So I'm curious to see how the name-checked plan to give discounts to "disabled and low-income drivers, residents who live in a toll zone, drivers who also pay bridge tolls and businesses with a fleet of trucks" gets rolled out.

2) The communications team at the SFCTA must be tone deaf, otherwise they would have frontloaded their media campaign with something besides the obvious: you, yes you, will now need to pay for something you used to do for free. Namely, they should have made crystal clear, dollar by dollar, why congestion pricing offsets the unpaid costs that driving always already incurs--the pollution, the amortized cost of parking & roads, the realization that the city's population will grow but its automobile infrastructure is at capacity (barring road widening, etc), and that as such congestion pricing is a necessary response.

Is it? I would say yes, but I don't live there. If I lived there, and drove, I'd be indignant. This whole proposal comes across looking like a bunch of bureaucrats have arbitrarily decided that they want a city with fewer cars, and could also use a bigger budget for their pet projects, thank you very much. No taxation without representation, c'mon, let's go dump some goddamn tea in the water.

You can't just drop a proposal of this type like any other news story; something like this needs set up work, it needs a proper PR campaign. Get out the information about hidden costs of driving, of the time wasted in congested streets, then slap a dollar sign on it to give the issue some context and help us all understand what costs are already being paid, and why something needs to be done about it. Get some economist up there to talk about how when a desirable good is underpriced, demand will always outpace supply and shortages, e.g., congestion, occur. Maybe they tried some PR pump-priming, and this happened anyway. Maybe they have no time and no funding for public relations. Either way, the SFCTA is catching flak like it's going out of style.

In an interesting comment, SFWeekly notes that a congestion pricing plan would likely fall victim to Prop 26, which requires all fees to be approved by a two-thirds majority vote in the state legislature. Good pick-up.

No comments:

Post a Comment