More Cities Consider Tough Measures to Fight Congestion

San Francisco, Paris and Beijing have joined a growing list of cities mulling over what many consider to be extreme measures in controlling congestion and the added pollution it causes.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority released its recommendations for a congestion pricing scheme that would charge drivers between three and six dollars for the privilege of driving in the city’s busiest downtown neighborhoods. The plan will receive further study and isn’t expected to go into effect until at least 2015, but a promotional video released by the SFCTA makes it clear that the body has every intention of pursuing the policy.

Meanwhile, several French municipalities including Paris and Lyon, are looking into a possible outright ban of SUVs within the next two years. As reported by the AP, a Parisian environmental official recently told RTL Radio that citizens who drive SUVs should “sell (them) and buy a vehicle that’s compatible with city life.” He continued, “I’m sorry, but having a sport utility vehicle in a city makes no sense.”

While such rhetoric likely wouldn’t fly with American drivers, there is a potential for cities to marry congestion pricing schemes with green vehicle incentives in such a way that could encourage consumers drive cleaner, more efficient vehicles. In Britain, a now-abandoned scheme would have excused electric vehicle owners from paying a congestion tax in downtown London.

California already offers single-passenger access to its carpool lanes for drivers of electric cars and some plug-in hybrids—a privilege that’s been available to hybrid drivers for the past few years (but which ends on Dec. 31). Adding a second level of benefits for hybrid and electric vehicles—in the form of a discount or exemption from congestion fees—would provide a significant new level of benefits to driving green.

An Undesirable Solution to a Growing Problem

With populations around the world becoming more and more concentrated around urban areas, many municipal planners and public officials are finding their transportation infrastructures stretched to the breaking point—posing several threats to the long-term health of their cities:

  • An influx of new commuters is often indicative of a healthy economy, but the congestion that usually accompanies it can cost citizens, businesses and local governments billions of dollars each year in services, fuel and maintenance costs, and economic activity due to lost time.
  • A failure to accommodate existing transportation needs discourages economic growth and decreases home values—cutting the tax base and putting further strain on the city.
  • The cost of maintaining and improving public transportation systems around the United States is projected to increase significantly in the coming years, as cities scramble to accommodate more commuters traveling from newly populous neighborhoods.

Though paying a daily tax for the privilege of driving in your home city may not seem fair, supporters of the schemes say that the new tolls would simply offset the hidden costs of traffic congestion to society. Whether citizens and policymakers end up embracing that argument remains to be seen.


  • Anonymous

    A congestion is unlikely to be married to green vehicle incentives in the US. The reason congestion taxes are being considered is not really to reduce congestion but because highway funding from gas taxes has not kept pace with the need. One of the arguments raised for congestion taxes is that gas tax revenue will further drop off as people switch to hybrids and electric vehicles and would no longer be contributing their ‘fair share’ to the cost of maintaining roads. At least that was one of the arguments, right or wrong, raised by supporters of a congestion tax scheme for the DC metro region. Also, the majority of people do not drive green vehicles and selling a congestion tax to the public will be hard enough without telling the public that a few special people will be exempt. And if reducing congestion is the real goal then technically carpools should be the vehicles to get an exemption, since they reduce the number of cars on the road while a single person in a hybrid does not.

    Implementing a comprehensive congestion tax for a large area (not just a few specific toll roads), requires an almost Orwellian network of cameras or GPS tracking of private vehicles, and that would raise the eyebrows of civil liberties groups in the US. Increasing the gas tax is a better solution, it still raises revenue and still encourages people to drive less. I don’t like the idea of higher taxes on anything, but at least there is already a mechanism in place for it which would spare the cost of building a vast toll collection network.

  • Max Reid

    Light Rail is the best solution for cities. It can go thru even narrow neighborhood as well as suburbs at high speeds carrying 120 – 150 passengers. No noise, no pollution, no congestion, no OIL.

    Slowly it can even expand for short distance intercity travel which involves around 100 miles.

    Today gas prices is 3.07 / gallon, which means it will hit 3.50 in summer.

  • Anonymous

    Just because Road are built out of Tax money, people never realize the real cost of motoring. If the highways are made Tollroads, then people will calculate and find that rail travel is more cheaper.

  • Joe

    Their public transit system is to slow 30 minutes bay to down town.You can walk it faster.

  • Anonymous

    http://www.allcarselectric.com/blog/1049626_2011-renault-kangoo-express-z-e-value-for-money-ev-van

    An electric vehicle for EUR 20,000 ($26,000) at current exch rate without any incentive. Its a proper 5-seater and can go 100 miles range.
    They are also launching few more electric vehicles.

    Renault-Nissan is doing Great.

  • Anonymous

    Hello Joe

    Cities like Los Angeles, Delhi, Kuala Lumpur had 2 hour commute with their cars and thats why they switched to Light Transit.

    May be the regular Bus based Public transit may be slow.
    But the, MRT, LRT & BRT are high speed system which can be any car in peak hour traffic.

  • Max Reid

    1st news about Volt & Leaf Sales

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Chevy-Volt-Nissan-Leaf-post-apf-3331606830.html?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=7&asset=&ccode=

    Seems more than 250s Volts were sold in December.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Chevy-Volt-Nissan-Leaf-post-apf-3331606830.html?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=7&asset=&ccode=

    A good start.
    10 Leafs that were sent in 1st shipment were sold. Another 90 in 2nd shipment is on the way to dealers.

  • Lad

    Have we finally reached the conclusion that spending large amounts of time stuck in slow-moving traffic is a negative lifestyle?
    Perhaps the problem is there are to many cars for the capacity of the roads..dud. San Francisco, and other cities, have an answer for those who commute into the city, It’s called electric trains and mass transit.

    Never liked the idea of charging people money, directly or indirectly, to save them from themselves when a little good sense and the process of thinking can produce wondrous solutions. But, if it take cash punishment to wake up their brains and it works…oh well!

  • CARL

    I leave in Paris. If the Socialists who have the Townhall let their Green collegues in charge of circulation in Paris, exectute on this stupid idea, ahead of Parisians having a chance to buy a decent Plug In Hybrid with extended Range, they will loose the townhall, full stop.
    Diesels today are lower CO2 emeters vs gasoline cars, and the other polluants they emit are neother a problem for the hearth, nor for the people arround.
    There is no emergency the to FORCE transitions againt the people will now.
    Like many others here, I dream to buy an SUV version of the VOLT with a 2X better battery, plus the capability for the extended range generator to recharge the battery while powering the electric engine(s) tracting the car, so on long vacation trips you arrive at destination with a fully charged battery.
    But the Volt will take another year to arrive here, not men,tionning its SUV version that may require another one.
    And the all electric cars from Renault/Nissan can only be 2nd cars for BoBos or shared fleets yet with their ridiculous range and endless recharging time, hence not for me… at least not before the 500 Miles Barrety comes life.
    You need to know that in Paris the “Greens” already invented the 24×7 night and week end traffic jams, in the red axis that used to circulate a lot better before they killed them, reducing our wide 4×2 mixed usage lanes on these main axis, down to 1×2 lanes dedicated to Buses and Taxis and bycicles only, plus a miserable 1×2 left for cars and everything else. An absolute non-sense that increased pollution big times instead of reducing it, hence why these Green STUPIDs stopped publishing pollutions details, preventing people of Paris to figure out their non-sense inventions.
    This is not the green policy people want here. Stop these endless taxes and interdictions. Invest to give the people the CHOICE to do better things. Or the people will just FIRE YOU greenees.

  • DC

    Banning gas-burning trash bins is definately way overdue, but as is often the case, such a measure(necessary though they may be), tend to miss, well, another problem. If your city was never built for cars in the first place, then banning gas-burners will make it easier for city centers to become people places and places where mobile trash bins fight for parking spots and to see who can cause the air-land-noise pollution.

    BUT, if your city is in say, North America, Australia NZ etc, where city centers were ripped apart and re-built long ago to service cars, well thats another problem. In NA, most city centers are mostly drab soul-less places populatied mostly but tall, energy sucking office towers fiilled mainly with people working in the ‘finanical services’ industy, (ie legalized theft) and most of those people, well, they dont take mass-transit, even if it did exist(which in most cases, it does not). In places like asia europe etc where citys centers are mainly, far less auto-dependant banning gas-burners is less problematic, in viritually every city and town and NA, however, town centers are built for one thing and one thing only, cars and more cars. Undoing generations of misguided policy means rebuilding our cities so cars not only are not needed or wanted, but so that they cant even operate. This will be expensive. if not nearly impossible as the cheap fossil-fuel subsides are slowly being withdrawn from society. Well be left with auto-dependent cities with no autos for them to depend on, and no other uses for city centers that are empty of all the accountants and lawyers that used to make a liveing there shuffling paper around.

    In the end, it does not really matter if cities ban SuV’s and allow say, worthless hybrids in there place. Smaller quieter ‘cleaner’ gas-burners will cause just as much congestion, the only thing that would change is the composition of the congestion, the underlying problem, is the car itself, not how it happens to be powered.

  • tincan

    I live in the Bay Area…. taking public transportation to work will take me over 2 hours vs. 30 minutes driving. AND no, I can’t afford an $800,000 to 900,000 house in San Francisco…. especially when I can buy a house in the suburb for $200,000. Taxing working citizen is just wrong….. FYI, I drive a Toyota prius and a Honda GX…… VERY GREEN>