Congestion Pricing

Support equitable congestion pricing


This is usually implemented as a daily use fee levied on vehicles entering a certain area, such as downtown, and typically the revenue is applied to improved transit. Many cities outside the US have adopted it; inside the US, New York City is in the process of adopting it. In cities that have congestion pricing, there was often fierce opposition to the idea, but once it implemented it was popular because it made the downtown areas more pleasant for walking and biking. The reduction in GHG emissions and other pollutants can also be substantial: in Stockholm, in the first year congestion pricing was instituted, hospital admissions for childhood asthma decreased by 40%. Stockholm, London, and Milan (Italy) all saw a 30 percent reduction in traffic delays and greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 14 - 20%. Stockholm and London also saw positive economic benefits: businesses saw an increase in sales after the change. And transit times were reduced, because the bus frequency was increased, and also because the buses could go faster with reduced congestion. The SDOT study estimates that we would save $5 billion per year in gained productivity by implementing congestion pricing.

UPDATE 3/28/21: Recent communications from Seattle's OSE suggest a move from congestion pricing to a low or zero emissions area. It's unknown as yet what the implications of this are.

Congestion pricing can take different forms. It can be either by cordon, where motorists pay a fee when they enter a designated zone, or by area pricing, where motorists are charged for driving within an area. Typically these zones are designated in downtown areas where the congestion is most severe, and where there are the best transit connection for alternatives modes of transportation. Stockholm, Milan and Singapore use cordon pricing, while London uses area pricing. Congestion pricing can be designed so that zero emission vehicles pay less, or so that there are discounts based on income level. Fees are generally applied only during daytime hours, so that people who need to drive when transit is not active are not charged.

One big concern many people have about congestion pricing is equity. Transportation policy can either act to reduce inequality, or it can reinforce it, depending on how it is designed. For instance, a congestion pricing fee could have discounts for lower income drivers or small businesses. The proceeds could be put to improve the transit system, both by improving service to make it easier for people to get around without cars, and by funding a discounted monthly Orca pass. The operational aspects require attention as well: it should work also for people who don't have a smartphone, a credit card, or a bank account. These are just some ideas: clearly, any congestion pricing plan should be designed with a clear focus on social and racial equity. If that is done, studies have concluded that it can significantly expand commute options and reduce user costs.

Other Cities

Cities that have implemented congestion pricing include:

  • Singapore. Area Licensing Scheme started in 1975, replaced in 1998 by Electronic Road Pricing. Traffic reduced by 13% during operational hours while carpooling and public transit use has increased.

  • London Congestion Charge is a fee charged on most cars and motor vehicles being driven within the zone in Central London between 7:00 am to 10:00 pm seven days a week. The charge was first introduced in 2003. There is an exemption for electric vehicles which will expire in 2025. The congestion charging scheme resulted in a 10% reduction in traffic volumes from baseline conditions, and an overall reduction of 11% in vehicle kilometers in London between 2000 and 2012. A 2020 study of London found that the London congestion charge led to reductions in pollution and reductions in driving, but it increased pollution from diesel taxis and buses (which are exempt from the charge).

  • Stockholm Congestion Charge is a tax on driving in central Stockholm, that is a variable rate based on time of day. It is free at night, weekends, and holidays. Electric and clean cars purchased 2009-2012 are free of charge. Funds collected are used on roads around Stockholm.

  • Milan Area C is a congestion charge program that was introduced in 2012, after a referendum. The goals were reducing traffic, promoting sustainablee mobility and public transit, and reducing smog. Revenue from fees goes to sustainable mobility, and to reduce air pollution. The charge applies to every vehicle entering the city centre on weekdays (Monday to Friday) from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm. Residents inside the restricted area must also pay to reach their houses but they have 40 free accesses per year and a discounted fare. Access to the area is forbidden for diesel Euro 3 or below, gasoline Euro 0, and private vehicles over 7 m (23 ft) long. Electric vehicles, motorcycles and scooters, public utilities' vehicles, police and emergency vehicles, buses and taxis are exempt from the charge.

  • Barcelona does not have a congestion fee, but as of 2020. it has designated low emission zone that covers the entire metropolitan area. Gas fueled cars bought before 2000, and diesel cars from before 2006 are banned and face a fine of 100-500 euro each time they enter the zone. Barcelona hopes to reduce the number of cars in the city by 125,000 within three years, and air pollution by 20% within four; if these goals are not met, Barcelona will consider a congestion price similar to London's.

  • Madrid has a low emission zone also, and vehicle traffic through the center of the city is restricted to electric or hybrid vehicles. In the Madrid zone, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO²) fell by 48% in a year.

North American Cities currently considering congestion pricing:

  • New York, implementation planned for 2021

  • Boston

  • Washington DC

  • Chicago

  • San Francisco

  • Los Angeles

  • Portland

  • Vancouver, BC

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