Southern California's transportation agencies have been working diligently for decades to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion, but much of our region is still among the worst in the nation in terms of congestion and air quality, and conditions threaten to worsen. Congestion pricing is viewed by many experts to be an integral strategy for alleviating congestion and getting the best performance out of a system that we have already paid billions of dollars to build and maintain.
Congestion pricing isn't the only answer, but it is an important option that has worked in other States and countries around the world. Many other techniques will need to continue to be applied and are typically part of the overall package of measures, each contributing in small part to the overall net effect of reduced congestion, faster travel times, and improved traffic flows.
Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach that is appropriate for all places, the study is looking at a variety of different types of congestion pricing:
Express Lanes, also known as HOT lanes, are one or two separate freeway lanes that allow vehicles to use them by paying a toll. Carpools may pay less, or not pay at all. All vehicles continue to have the option of using the general purpose lanes for free. As drivers pay to use the express lanes, more space will be available in the general purpose lanes.
Facility Pricing, which charges a toll for use of all lanes of a road, a bridge, or a short road segment. Priced facilities would see a reduction in traffic, and therefore congestion, as some drivers seek other routes, carpool or take transit. Revenue from facility pricing could also be used to improve existing facilities or construct new ones.
Cordon Pricing charges a fee every time a vehicle crosses a boundary into and out of, and/or drives within, a congested area, such as a downtown core or another major regional attractions like the area around an airport. Cordon pricing encourages individuals to access the congested area through other means such as walking, or public transit, thereby reducing congestion.
Area Wide Pricing applies a charge to driving anywhere in a larger area, such as a county or region. It could vary based on the time of day, amount of congestion or type of road used. Area wide pricing reduces congestion as some drivers choose to spend less by driving at different times, on different routes, carpooling or taking transit. For instance, some drivers may choose to avoid the peak hour, or some peak hour commuters may shift modes.
Express Parking provides real-time information about on-street and off-street parking space availability, communicated through electronic signs, cell phone and Internet technology. Pricing varies between week-days and weekends and peak and off-peak hours. As parking space is freed up due to the variable charges and people get better information on available spaces, congestion resulting from drivers seeking parking is reduced. Electronic communication can also be used to allow motorists to pay for parking using their credit card or cell phone and to receive a text message when their paid parking time is about to expire.
VMT (vehicle miles traveled) fee is charged based on the number of miles a vehicle has traveled. It can be applied in addition to or instead of gas taxes. VMT fees reduce congestion as drivers are more aware of the direct cost of driving and reduce driving, chain trips together, use transit, or carpool.
Emissions Fees are variable fees applied to classes of vehicles based upon the amount of pollutants they emit. Typically individual vehicles are not measured, rather the charge is imposed by the classification of the vehicle or engine. An emissions fee may be imposed directly (such as on vehicle registration) or used in a calculation to modify a per-mile charge or congestion toll. These fees do not themselves reduce congestion but would encourage a shift to cleaner burning engines and reduced use of higher polluting vehicles and can be used in conjunction with congestion-reducing pricing.