What You Need to Know About Road Congestion Charges

April 4, 2022

If you live in a heavily populated major city, you’ve likely heard talk of road congestion charges in your area. Traffic congestion probably has a major effect on your lifestyle, whether it be your commute to work or how you get around to do your errands. It significantly affects fleet businesses as they go about their daily routines. 

Though recently tested by the Oregon Department of Transportation, congestion charges have not caught on in the United States and are currently used in cities such as London, Singapore, Gothenburg, Stockholm, and Milan. These charges are meant to lessen congestion during times of heavy traffic, discouraging the use of the roads during those times. This article will discuss how congestion charges work and how they may affect the United States in the future. 

How Do Congestion Charges Work? 

Congestion charges don’t only apply to roadways. They can also apply to bus services, electricity, metros, railways, and phone services. There are four ways that cities have implemented these charges: 

  • Cordon areas around city centers, where charges apply when drivers pass the cordon line
  • Area-wide congestion pricing, where charges apply for being inside of an area
  • City center toll rings, with toll collection surrounding the city
  • Corridor and single facility congestion pricing, with a charge for access to a lane or facility

Congestion has been noticeably reduced in cities where these charges have been implemented. Furthermore, it has increased home values. However, the public is not happy with these charges. People argue that these charges are not equitable because they burden neighboring communities. They also argue that congestion charging harms retail businesses and economic activity. 

Congestion Pricing in New York

A congestion pricing plan actually passed in the United States three years ago in 2019. This plan passed in New York and was intended to toll drivers when they entered the busiest part of Manhattan. These fees are meant to discourage drivers and address the city’s current problem of gridlocked streets. The fees raised will be used to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. These funds help run the city’s subway, buses, and two commuter rails. 

However, it is taking a long time to implement, as public hearings have started a review process that will last into 2023. This review will look into how congestion pricing will affect low-income communities and people of color. 

Both Manhattan residents and those outside of Manhattan are concerned. Manhattan residents believe that they should be exempt. They argue that they are not using their cars very frequently, and they only use their vehicles to travel outside of the tolling zone. Therefore, they are not contributing to congestion targeted by the tolling plan. One resident equated it to having “to pay what is basically a ransom to get home” when visiting their family during holidays.

Meanwhile, residents outside of Manhattan argued that it’s an unfair burden. They cite unreliable subways and those for whom the subway was inaccessible. Furthermore, they argue that those who pay the fees do not get to reap the benefits that the fees bring. For example, Bronx residents would be paying fees but would not get to enjoy cleaner air, less noise, and emptier streets. 

Both sides argue that living in New York is expensive enough without these extra fees.

However, many at these meetings were in support of congestion pricing. In fact, they argue that it’s taking too long. They say there’s an urgent need to solve the problems of their gridlocked streets and improve the subway service. There’s also the issue of climate change that must quickly be addressed. These supporters are willing to pay more for the benefits that this money will bring to the community. 

Will Other States Adopt Congestion Pricing?

Other cities are already considering congestion pricing for their own streets. Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles are also developing plans to improve their gridlocked cities while raising money for their transportation systems and fighting climate change. These cities are concerned about timing. Their funding for public transportation has dried up, while the possibility of autonomous vehicles has the potential to crowd the streets with zero occupancy cars. Delivery vehicles are also increasing and putting more traffic on the roads. However, they are looking at how long New York’s program is taking and watching to see how to implement their own programs better. 

Keep Up with the Future of Congestion Pricing

Congestion pricing is an ever-changing topic in cities all over our country. To find out how things may change going forward, keep up with our blog and visit our Info Center for research reports.

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