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Metro Board Delays Discussion To February Of "Congestion Pricing," Could Impose Tolls/Charges On Drivers Using Certain Congested Freeway Routes To Deter Prime-Time Use, Go Beyond Eight Metro-Desired Olympics Projects And Bring Metro Millions Beyond For Future Transit Projects

Feb. Board action -- with Mayor Garcia possibly voting -- could enable 1-2 yr "feasibility study" for "pilot projects" in currently unidentified locations, is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(Jan. 24, 2019, 11:31 p.m.) -- As carried LIVE on's front page, the L.A. County Metro Board of Directors voted to continue (postpone) discussion on "congestion pricing" -- imposing tolls/charges on drivers to deter prime-time congested fwy use -- to February with discussion at that time of thorny matters including multiple "equity" issues in the concept (including impacts on low income communities, workers relying on freeway transportation, diverse geographic impacts.) In February, Metro staff plans to ask the Metro Board to approve a 12-24 month "feasibility study" of "congestion pricing" with "pilot projects" to follow on routes in areas not yet described publicly.

Absent from the Jan. 24, 2019 Metro Board meeting were LB Mayor Robert Garcia and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who were attending a meeting of the non-governmental advocacy group "US Conference of Mayors" in Washington, DC.

The issue surfaced at the December 9, 2018 Metro Board meeting, just weeks after voters defeated a petition-initiated measure (opposed by Metro) that would have repealed a Sacramento-imposed gasoline tax increase. Metro staff acknowledged on December 9 and on Jan. 24 that it doesn't have funding to deliver 8 of 28 projects for the 2028 L.A. Olympics that Metro wants and delivered a presentation on "congestion pricing." In its Jan. 24, 2019 agenda item, Metro staff rebranded the 2028 Olympics item as "The Re-imagining of LA County: Mobility, Equity, And the Environment (Twenty-Eight by '28 motion response)" and said it doesn't favor bridging a "funding gap" for the 8 Olympics-related projects -- estimated to cost $26.2 billion -- with fare increases or by changing Metro's debt structure. For that reason, Metro staff says it "went beyond" to "broaden the discussion" to include "re-imagining" L.A. County transportation with congestion pricing.

Metro's agendized staff report acknowledged that congestion pricing would go beyond "28 [projects] for the '28 Olympics" to include "solutions for the eradication of congestion in LA County, drastically reducing the region's carbon footprint and combating climate change, increasing transit frequency and capacity, realizing equity, and being in a position to be the first major region in the world that could offer free transit services. So, staff chooses to think bigger than the original Motion and rebrand our endeavor as "The Re-imagining of LA County: Mobility, Equity, and the Environment."

Metro staff indicated "congestion pricing" could generate more than $100 billion that Metro could spend on multiple transit projects. During Jan. 24 Board discussion, Metro CEO Phil Washington acknowledged congestion pricing would be (in his term) a "radical" change and reiterated that it might make Metro transit "free" for users [paid by some drivers.] [Opponents would likely note that "congestion pricing" would guarantee that drivers would pay tolls/charge with no guarantee that future Metro transit would be "free" for users; just as "freeways" built with taxpayer dollars may no longer remain "free" for users.]

The "re-imagining" congestion pricing item is now expected to come to the Metro Board in February, at which time LB Mayor Garcia (A Metro Board member) would have the ability to make motions and cast votes. However to date, there's been no Long Beach City Council discussion of "congestion pricing"...and it's not currently clear whether Mayor Garcia or any Councilmember(s) will agendize the issue for public discussion and a Council voted action on the proposed policy.

[Scroll down for further.]

Several Metro Board members voiced "concerns;" some said they want to "know more"...but none explicitly opposed "congestion pricing." L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn (whose district includes LB) moved to have the entire discussion continued (postponed) to Metro's February Board meeting (at which Metro staff indicates it will seek voted direction from the Board.) Supervisor Hahn explicitly asked Metro staff to meet individually with Metro Boardmembers to answer questions before the February public meeting. Hahn's motion passed 10-0 (Garcetti, Garcia, Ridley-Thomas absent.)

A post-WWII desire to avoid east-coast density and its transit-dependent development encouraged less dense L.A.-area development welcoming individual cboices (free of meeting transit schedules) enabled by personal vehicle use. Today, the L.A. area's once-open freeways are often near-gridlocked and state and local government bodies now also cite global warming in adopting/imposing policies to enable transit-related density, discourage vehicle miles traveled and variously push the public to use government-offered transit (like Metro.)




In its agendizing materials, Metro staff described three ways to impose the "congestion pricing" tolls/charges:

  • Cordon Pricing Creating a boundary around a central district and charging vehicles to cross that boundary to reduce the number of vehicles entering a central area when demand is higher;
  • VMT Pricing Charging drivers based on Vehicle Miles Traveled;
  • Corridor Pricing Pricing all lanes within a high traffic congestion corridor that has a viable public transit alternative, by charging a fee to divers within the corridor at peak times based on corridor miles traveled at a price high enough "to ensure free flow traffic in the corridor" [deter use by some drivers.]

A foundational concept of "freeways" was to avoid tolls (which fund east coast turnpikes) with freeways funded from other taxpayer sources. Today, taxpayers still pay for "freeways" but also pay in non-monetary terms in time spent in clogged/sometimes gridlocked traffic. Congestion pricing aims to deter drivers from using high demand routes at high demand times. In purely economic terms, under the current system drivers pay the same amount to use a freeway at 3 a.m. as at 5 p.m. and price doesn't reflect increased demand. But increasing price to deter demand would impact different users in different ways (different "equities.") For example, gardeners and truckers have no alternative transit options. Others who live in suburban areas currently have no practical alternative transit options; they chose to live in outlying suburbs with the expectation of using freeways to get to and from work centers.



As part of its Jan. 24 actions, Metro's Board also voted to (1) delay approving a list of "sacred" projects (whose funding wouldn't be jeopardized by the 28 Olympics-related projects) and (2) authorize Metro to pursue a White House Task Force to secure federal funding for mobility projects for the Olympics. Early in his administration, President Trump indicated he favors infrastructure spending, but since CA went on to adopt statewide "sanctuary" policies (echoed in cities of L.A. and LB) that Trump has strongly opposed.]

In its Jan. 24 agendizing memo, Metro staff stated:

[Summary in staff agendizing memo]...Congestion Pricing - Recommend to pursue all concepts/models

This strategy proposes to investigate the feasibility and framework for conducting congestion pricing pilots with the intent to expand the program in the most traffic-clogged parts of LA County. Three different models would be explored as part of the study: cordon pricing, corridor pricing, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) pricing. The study will include extensive outreach, including the creation of an Advisory Council. Congestion pricing offers a compelling mobility solution that can also generate substantial revenues that can be used for transit operations and capital construction. When implemented thoughtfully, it can also significantly improve equity by providing more frequent and reliable mobility options for the most disadvantaged citizens in LA County.

Details are provided in Attachment B:

Congestion Pricing

Background and Justification

The concept of congestion pricing has been around for decades and dates back at least to Nobel Prize winning economist William Vickrey. Simple supply and demand will tell you that when you provide something for free, people use more of it than they would otherwise. This means charging higher fees for roadway use when demand is high and lower or zero fees when demand is low, a concept known as congestion pricing.

The price of a road (usually zero) bears no relationship to demand for that road at that time. For example, it costs the same to use a road at 3am as it does in the peak of rush hour traffic, even though demand for roads is much lower at 3am. The net effect is that instead of paying for roadway space with money, we all pay with our time.

We waste our time sitting in traffic, essentially waiting in line, to use roads. This vastly inefficient method of allocating roadway space may seem very democratic, in the sense that all must pay with their time. However, it actually discriminates against the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Transit riders, who have far lower incomes than non-riders in Los Angeles County, use buses that sit in that same slow traffic. Moreover, low-income people typically have less flexible work schedules with hourly wages and face severe penalties for lateness.

Whereas higher-income individuals may be able to shift their travel times or work from home to avoid congested periods, lower-income people often cannot.

Congestion Pricing Today

Congestion pricing has proven challenging to implement for reasons such as lack of political viability, technical and privacy concerns, and equity concerns. Despite these challenges, several metropolitan areas have implemented various forms of congestion pricing. Once implemented, these schemes have had various degrees of success but, notably, none have ever been repealed. This includes the only congestion pricing pilot of any kind implemented to date in Los Angeles County, Metro’s Express Lanes program.

More comprehensive congestion pricing schemes are currently in place in London, Stockholm, Singapore, and Milan. Each of these experiences offers lessons learned, but perhaps most notable is Stockholm. In this city, the congestion pricing scheme was widely opposed and was put in place on a pilot basis. After the trial period, the scheme proved so popular that it was accepted permanently. This demonstrates the value of a pilot period to test such a product, and to demonstrate its value, before casting judgment.

Congestion Pricing Models and Revenue Forecasts

In Los Angeles, there are three conceivable ways congestion pricing could be implemented. These are the following:

  • 1) Cordon Pricing. It involves creating a boundary around a central district and then charging vehicles to cross that boundary. The fee can be variable, meaning it can go up or down based on demand. Alternatively it could be set at a specific rate for peak versus off-peak times. Either way, the idea is to reduce the number of vehicles entering a central area when demand is higher. This is the most common method of congestion pricing employed around the world.

    Cordon pricing is most effective when there is a strong Central Business District (CBD) with high quality mass transit options as alternatives to driving. Los Angeles County does not have a typical CBD, as job centers are dispersed throughout the region. Preliminary average revenues from cordon pricing of all trips entering downtown LA have been estimated to be as high as $1.2 billion per year (in year of expenditure dollars). This form of pricing is among the easiest to implement and has the most history to learn from.

  • 2) VMT Pricing. Charging drivers based on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) has been floated for many years as a potential substitute for a gas tax.

    However, a VMT fee platform can potentially be used to charge variable prices based on location and time of day. There have been VMT-fee experiments in California, Oregon, and Iowa. While none of these pilots have attempted to include additional fees for congestion, the Oregon pilot tested the idea by calculating the number of miles driven in the "congestion zone." In short, the technology exists to use VMT as a method of alleviating congestion but it has not yet been attempted due to political challenges. Preliminary average annual revenues from implementing VMT pricing have been estimated at $10.35 billion per year (in year of expenditure dollars) for the larger metropolitan area. While net revenues from Los Angeles County alone would be less, Los Angeles County is the most populous part of the region and accounts for more VMT than the rest of the region. This estimate provides a sense of the strong revenue potential of such a scheme. 3) Corridor Pricing. Corridor pricing is a new kind of congestion pricing that has not been implemented anywhere. The idea is to price all lanes on all roads within a specific corridor with high traffic congestion but a viable public transit alternative. Functioning similar to cordon pricing, anyone traveling within a designated corridor during peak times would pay a fee based on how many miles they travel within the corridor. The price for travel within the corridor would be set high enough to ensure free flow traffic within that entire corridor. >

    Absolute revenues vary greatly, largely because the tolled areas vary considerably in their size and the demand for the road space they allocate. In summary, Congestion pricing offers a powerful mobility solution that faces substantial barriers to implementation, but once implemented, tends to prove highly popular while generating substantial revenues that can be used for transit. In addition, congestion pricing can represent a significant improvement in equity...


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