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Entering the San Francisco Pay Area

It could cost drivers $3 to go downtown and another $3 to leave. 'Congestion pricing' aims to reduce traffic.

December 30, 2008|Maria L. La Ganga

One major concern is that San Francisco's network of buses, trolleys, cable cars and streetcars is not dependable or robust enough for commuters to leave their cars behind. Bent said the tolls would net between $35 million and $65 million annually, money that would be used to improve transit service.

But that is far from the only complaint.

David Milner, an engineer who attended the first public hearing this month, lives half a block outside one proposed zone. To get to his job in Mountain View, an hour away, he would have to cross into the toll area. Public transit would more than double his commute time.

"What the city is going to do is charge me to get on the freeway to get out of the city," he said. "The route I take, there's zero congestion . . . If I went every day, that's $1,500 a year. That's just absurd."

Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, told the authority at its Dec. 16 meeting that people outside of the city will make "decisions based on these costs," and business will be driven away.

Zone residents -- particularly those with children and inflexible schedules -- complain that they would be unfairly affected. Others worry about the burden on low-income commuters. A series of discounts is being considered.

Taxis, for example, would be exempt under the current proposal. Rental cars and commercial vehicles would be charged a fleet rate. Carpoolers probably would not be given a discount, because they already cross the bridges free and the toll would be spread among several parties.

Moscovich acknowledges the big job ahead of convincing residents and elected officials that congestion pricing is San Francisco's best option.

Once the transportation authority decides its shape and particulars, it will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom on moving forward.

Even if it passes muster in the city, the state Legislature must grant the city authority to enact it. The state level is where New York City's efforts bogged down.

But Moscovich said he believes it is possible to woo people out of their cars because they are "encouraged by their pocketbooks."

"You don't go to eat in an expensive restaurant every night," he said. "You get the early bird special if you go early. There's no reason why it can't be that way with transportation also."


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