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Urban Congestion Pricing Might Finally Come to California

If Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation by San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, motorists who want to drive the 'world's most crooked street,' a huge tourist draw, will be forced to participate in a pilot 'reservation and pricing program.'
September 9, 2019, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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While not exactly 'Manhattan-style congestion pricing,' where drivers headed south of 60th Street will be subject to a hefty toll come January 2021, the Lombard Street 'reservation fee' had to clear the same legislative hurdle, as the state Assembly press release (source article) indicates.

The bill by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) is necessary because existing law prohibits a local agency from imposing a tax, permit fee, or other charge for the use of its streets or highways.

The bill, "AB 1605: City and County of San Francisco: Crooked Street Reservation and Pricing Program," passed the Assembly on a 54-23-2 vote on Thursday. Gov. Newsom (D), the city's mayor from 2004 to 2011, has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto it. If he signs, the next step would be in the hands of the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco, according to the bill's text:

This bill would authorize the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco by ordinance to conduct a reservation and pricing pilot program for vehicles that use the “Crooked Street,” which the bill would define to mean the portion of Lombard Street located between Leavenworth Street and Hyde Street in the City and County of San Francisco.
Before the board of supervisors adopts an ordinance to conduct the pilot program, the bill would require the board of supervisors to make certain findings and to conduct at least 2 public outreach meetings or hearings...

The reservation program would be an all-electronic system, supported by a website, mobile app, and possible on-street kiosks to enable reservations, payments, and user support, according to the Sept. 4 legislative analysis. It states that the "current plan is for a staff [sic] onsite to check reservations, through paper and electronic means, and help direct vehicles, operating from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and cost $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends and holidays."

Unlike the Manhattan plan and all other cordon pricing schemes being considered by large cities in the U.S., including San Francisco, AB 1605 encountered no formal opposition. Yet pricing streets, even more so than parking, is inherently controversial, explaining why 28 percent of legislators in both chambers opposed the bill.

Other alternatives considered

The seven-year pilot program fits the description of road pricing, a type of tolling, which was one of several considerations to deal with the street congestion, as noted in a September 2016 post on a study conducted by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority:

After a year researching how other tourist destinations handle similar problems, the study is now exploring solutions—including barring cars and turning the area into a pedestrian-only plaza...Other proposals include hiring a mass of parking and safety officers, requiring reservations, and charging a toll. 

The fact that a car ban was not selected, yet was considered, is noteworthy. In essence, the authority chose a market-based measure to manage demand over the simpler, but arguably more extreme, ban, which presumably would not have required state legislation.

Assuming the governor signs AB 1405, chalk this pricing initiative up as a win for the Transportation Authority and Assemblyman Ting. The authority's Pricing & Incentives webpage lists three additional, ongoing projects:

Additional reading:

Related in Planetizen:

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Published on Thursday, September 5, 2019 in California Assembly Press Release
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