Congestion Pricing Not Just for Big Cities, Report Says

Early morning rush hour traffic crawls along the Hollywood Freeway toward downtown Los Angeles.

Early morning rush hour traffic crawls along the Hollywood Freeway toward downtown Los Angeles. AP Photo

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A new report by the National League of Cities recommends small cities could use congestion pricing plans to prevent being overwhelmed by traffic as they grow.

While New York is the only city in the United States to have committed to congestion charging, a new report encourages small but growing cities to consider plans to prevent future traffic woes.  

The report by the National League of Cities evaluates congestion pricing plans in London, Singapore, Stockholm, and New York, but concludes that similar traffic policies could help growing cities address transit problems before they are overwhelmed.

Congestion pricing plans charge vehicles that drive into a specific zone within a city a flat or varied rate. The goal of congestion pricing plans is to reduce traffic crowding streets by encouraging off-peak travel or use of public transit.

“By piloting new technologies like congestion charging systems, local leaders have the opportunity to find ways to sustainably improve conditions on and around America’s roads,” said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities.

From Seattle to Washington, D.C., cities across the country are exploring the idea of congestion pricing to deal with traffic congestion and environmental concerns. The advent of ride hailing services has only contributed to traffic congestion in cities across the country and, according to the report, is likely to continue to cause congestion problems. 

The NLC report suggests that congestion pricing should not be limited just to large cities already plagued by traffic issues. Citing rapid growth expansion of cities in the south and the west, the report points out successes that small cities in other countries have had reducing traffic through congestion pricing. Specifically, it cites the case of Durham, England, which reduced traffic congestion by 85 percent on a 1,000-year-old street after introducing congestion pricing in 2002.

“While congestion pricing is primarily a tool being considered by large cities, smaller, growing cities should start thinking critically about their own policy options,” the report states. “Therefore, these cities will have the unique opportunity, as they continue to grow, to develop public transportation systems that can proactively decrease traffic.”

A study done this year by the Southern California Association of Governments found that charging vehicles $4 to travel through areas on the west side of Los Angeles could reduce the amount of time people spent traveling in cars by roughly 24 percent during peak hours.

Of the 15 largest cities in the United States, only in New York do more than half of residents report commuting to work via public transit, bike or walking, according to the NLC report. 

Other large cities—ranging from Chicago to Dallas to Columbus, Ohio—are primarily car dependent.

New York has not yet implemented its program, which will charge vehicles that enter lower parts of Manhattan below Central Park. Experts have estimated that the program could charge cars between $12 to $14 and trucks upwards of $25.

 Among the successes highlighted in the report:

  • After Stockholm introduced congestion pricing at 18 of the city’s entry and exit points in 2007, traffic fell by 22%.
  • London’s population increased by about 20% between 2000 and 2015, but traffic volume decreased by about 10% during the same period as a result of a congestion pricing program started in 2003.  
  • Singapore started its congestion pricing program in 1975 and has the oldest program in place in the world. The program has contributed to a reduction in inner city traffic and encouraged public transit use.

Andrea Noble is a Staff Correspondent with Route Fifty.

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