Should drivers be charged to use roads? Metro moves to study the idea

Metro Los Angeles’ Board of Directors took a major step forward in re-analyzing how we create and control traffic flow after it decided to approve a massive study examining congestion pricing—charging people to use our main arterials based upon the current traffic on that road—and taxing ride-hail trips, such as Lyft and Uber.

Congestion pricing has long been a discussion among urbanists and traffic engineers alike in Los Angeles, where roads are largely free for use (minus the small assortment of FasTrak options like those along the 110 and 10), with the latest study—one from Brookings—noting that congestion pricing is key for every major city in the nation in order to alleviate traffic issues.

The board has been ruminating on how to possibly implement congestion pricing for months, with some even calling for its implementation to raise funds for transportation projects that will help the surge of people invading the region for the 2028 Olympics. The money that could be generated is not small: Metro staff estimates that congestion pricing could generate anywhere between $9.6 billion and $83 billion over a period of 10 years.

This isn’t to say it is entirely about generating revenue. Supervisor Hilda Solis and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti emphasized that voters have already voted twice since 2008 to raise their own taxes in order to approve transportation projects—Measure R and Measure M—and they are expecting the actual expansion of transit, not vanity projects for the Olympics. The possible implementation of congestion pricing should be approached the same way.

“This has to be about congestion relief—not revenue,” Garcetti said.

Dubbed “The Re-Imagining of L.A. County,” the approved study will take a look across 12 to 24 months—including a strategy for addressing Solis’ concerns over equity, since there are fears that congestion pricing could further hinder accessibility for the region’s already-stressed populations.

“A hugely disproportionate number of the people who use our system are transit-dependent, and they are disproportionately impacted by congestion slowing down buses,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian. “We build really expensive streets that people use for free, and that is nothing but a subsidy to the automobile industry and people who use cars.”

This does not mean congestion pricing is happening. While the study will begin moving forward, Metro CEO Phil Washington reassured the board they would still have “several more bites at the apple” as the board begins determining the study’s scope, awarding the study contract, and ultimately deciding whether to proceed with any congestion pricing program proposed.

The motion also approved a TNC tax, exploring possible fees for “Transportation Network Companies” like Uber and Lyft. While some expressed concern that this should be a municipality ordeal rather than a Metro concern—Inglewood Mayor James Butts was the most outspoken, saying the ability for individual cities to regulate rideshare would be hindered—it was eventually ruled out, with Metro Chief Innovation Officer Joshua Schank responding that the organization would be working with municipalities to implement the fee.

While no structure has been immediately proposed or heavily discussed, Metro has estimated in the past that a 20-cent per trip fee could bring in some $401 million over 10 years.

The idea of charging fees for rideshare is not uncommon: New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago are just a few examples of cities that have already implemented such policies.Uber and Lyft told the Los Angeles Times this week that they support fees to reduce congestion but do not believe any certain type of vehicle should be singled out, encouraging Los Angeles to also apply fees to individual cars or commercial vehicles.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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