Congestion Pricing Facing Uphill Battle In San Francisco

<p>London Mayor Ken Livingstone discusses how congestion pricing came about in 2003, and the key role the business community played. Unlike London or NYC, downtown San Francisco merchants fear that congestion pricing will only be bad for business.</p>
November 3, 2007, 5am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"The push to implement a congestion charge to drive into central London during weekday work hours came from the business community, the city's mayor, Ken Livingstone, said.

"The level of congestion was a real disincentive for firms to move here or to stay here," Livingstone told The Examiner. "We didn't do it for the hell of it; we did it because we had to."

When asked why he thought most major cities are only now embracing the idea of charging higher fees for high-demand roadways, Livingstone attributed it to "political cowardice."

"We had a government report in 1964 saying this would work. People were always terrified that whoever did it will be voted out of office," he said."

San Francisco is "studying the feasibility of implementing a downtown congestion charge. [See related link]. The idea has not been embraced by The City's business leaders, who fear that a restriction on cars would drive businesses - and customers - away.

In August, Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner that he'd prefer The City to cautiously study the potential impacts of a downtown congestion charge, adding, "We're not London, we're not New York and we're certainly not Stockholm."

The Partnership for New York City was the primary advocate for their plan, along with many environmental and alternative transportation groups. [See related link].

"Livingstone said that while he couldn't comment on whether San Francisco would benefit from a downtown congestion charge, he noted that in London, sales have increased inside the congestion zone by 6 percent, while in other parts of the city, there's been only a 2 percent increase. That said, he concedes that while big businesses support the idea, "small shopkeepers were always hostile and continue to be hostile" to the idea.

In addition to reducing traffic and cleaning up the air, the funds from congestion pricing in London - $250 million last year - are used for citywide transportation improvements.

Livingstone said one of his next steps is to reduce pollution in London by abolishing the congestion charges for low-emissions vehicles and raising the price for gas-guzzlers. The plan is currently under legal review, he said."

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Published on Monday, October 29, 2007 in San Francisco Examiner
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