Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Congestion Pricing in SF is politically impossible

The anti-car movement of course supports the congestion pricing idea---marking off the downtown area and installing cameras to take pictures of every vehicle entering that zone so that the city could send motorists a bill for their transgression. The Bay Guardian (below in italics) is heartened by the notion that higher bridge tolls are reducing traffic on regional bridges, which, in their minds, confirms the congestion pricing idea. But congestion pricing kicks it up to a level that's completely unnecessary and, more importantly, politically impossible. 

Recall the Chamber of Commerce poll from last year that found that people in SF solidly opposed the idea. It's not only politically impossible, but it's a particularly dumb idea in the middle of a recession, when downtown restaurants and hotels are struggling. Besides, as has been pointed out by others, the notion that traffic in San Francisco (population 800,000) is comparable to that of London (population 10 million) is ridiculous.

Bay Bridge tolls a boost for congestion pricing?
Kristen Peters

San Francisco officials are watching closely to see if higher tolls on the Bay Bridge might help the city make the case for charging fees to drive into downtown in high-traffic periods---and so far, the evidence is promising.

Since tolls increased July 1, an additional 4,000 commuters turning to BART---and that means fewer cars on the bridge. The Bay Area Toll Authority elevated fees during the hours of 5 am to 10 am and 3 pm until 7 pm for crossing all bridges except the Golden Gate, which is managed by a different agency.

Drivers crossing the Bay Bridge during weekday commute hours are now expected to pay $6. During other hours, the weekday toll remains at $4. The toll is $5 on both Saturday and Sunday.

The toll has also been bumped up to $5 on the Antioch, Carquinez, Dumbarton, San Mateo, Benicia-Martinez and Richmond bridges. Although previously exempt from charges, occupants in the carpool lane now pay $2.50. These increased costs may have prompted discontented commuters to add to the approximately 335,000 individuals that use BART each day, spokesman Jim Allison said.

“We have seen 2,000 to 4,000 more people riding BART on an average weekday this month compared with last,” he said. Allison was careful to note that because of the brief time element and other seasonal changes, it is hard to determine higher tolls as the only reason for a boost in ridership.

“It is just too soon to draw any conclusions,” he said. “While it may be a factor, the increase cannot necessarily be attributed to the changes on the Bay Bridge.”

However, executives from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority planning to bring a citywide congestion pricing plan before the Board of Supervisors this fall were encouraged by the trend toward public transit. “We do think that it is too early to draw any conclusions,” SFCTA deputy director for planning Tilly Chang said. “But the general indication is that people are shifting their behavior in some way, which is the goal of congestion pricing.” 

The toll hikes mark the Bay Area’s first quasi-attempt at congestion pricing, with officials hoping to encourage the use of public transportation while simultaneously decreasing travel time for those who choose to stay in the driver’s seat. According to a preliminary study on the compounded tolls, there were more than 12,000 fewer carpoolers and 2,300 more drivers paying the full fare on their commutes.

Spokesman John Goodwin said that the increase in solo drivers could be due to the new system’s ability to weed out cheaters, with FasTrak identification and a guaranteed minimum toll putting a damper on disobedience. “It may very well be that we didn’t have as many real carpoolers as we thought we did,” Goodwin said. “There is, of course, no way of quantifying exactly how many drivers who didn’t meet the occupancy requirement are now recalibrating."

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At 1:49 PM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

"the notion that traffic in San Francisco (population 800,000) is comparable to that of London (population 10 million) is ridiculous"

Actually, looking only at SF proper and London as a whole and making the comparison is ridiculous. How about comparing the Bay Area to London? A lot of the downtown traffic is from Marin, the East Bay and Peninsula.

But whatever fits your narrative.

Funny cause I agree congestion pricing won't go anywhere for political reasons as well.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course a lot of the traffic downtown is from outside of SF, but the city's restaurants and hotels couldn't survive if they had to depend on city residents. Tourism is our most important industry. The point of congestion pricing is to deter people from driving downtown, which by definition would be like shooting ourselves in the foot.

In short, unlike the Bicycle Plan, congestion pricing is an anti-car wet dream that's unlikely ever to be implemented. (And if the city's voters ever had the chance to vote on the Bicycle Plan, they would likely reject it.)

At 3:35 PM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

I see a ton of tourists on MUNI and on BART - with luggage in tow. I also didn't see anything in that link you provided that talked about how those tourists arrive downtown.

And you sure like to think that the city would reject the bike plan, but I have a feeling a lot of people in this city would gladly see improvements to make cycling safer. Maybe C.A.R. can put a non-binding referendum on the ballot one of these days.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Making cycling safer" is not the kind of statement likely to reveal how people really think. A better question: "Do you think it is a good idea to create bike lanes by taking away traffic lanes on busy city streets even if that will make traffic noticeably worse on those streets?" Or this: "Is it okay if the city takes away a traffic lane and/or street parking in your neighborhood to make bike lanes?" But we both know that the issue will never appear on the ballot in SF, though, given the importance of the issue, it should.

The link I provided to the Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn't tell us exactly how all visitors get to SF, but it provides some useful information. The Visitors Bureau conducted a survey of hotel guests in 2004 (more than 15 million people visited SF that year, and 4.20 million stayed at one of our hotels). They found that 25.8% of hotel guests rented a car, which means more than one million rented cars on city streets in 2004, which seems to be a typical year, and the number of visitors and hotel guests has been rising steadily since then.

More than 80% of city visitors arrive by airplane, which means that many rent a car at the airport, and no doubt many drive their own cars to the city, especially the 3.94 million visitors who are "Bay Area residents on day trips" to the city who came in to shop and/or dine at our restaurants.

No doubt many now take BART into the city from the airport or from the East Bay, but we don't seem to have any numbers on that.

Anyhow, why SF would want to create a special fee for all these people---not to mention people who live here---to enter our city when we actually want people to visit the downtown area is a mystery only the advocates of congestion pricing can answer. Downtown traffic isn't bad enough to justify such a drastic measure. I suspect that none of the folks who think it's a good idea work in the hospitality industry, which brought in $426,238,232 to the city last year.

At 6:42 PM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

It does depend on how you spin the question.

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anyhow, why SF would want to create a special fee for all these people---not to mention people who live here---to enter our city when we actually want people to visit the downtown area is a mystery only the advocates of congestion pricing can answer."

Because we can.

Congestion pricing will chase away fewer tourists than the perceived vision of SF as a dangerous city to European tourists enjoying a strong Euro - which a drunk driver on a poorly designed road did

At 10:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found your blog through the KQED program. I agree with you on a lot. Bike lanes just aren't a very efficient use of road space in main throughways. But congestion pricing is an excellent idea when coupled with a reasonable public transportation system.

In a dense city, this means a subway. I'm sorry but it's pathetic that SF is stuck with a semi-commuter rail posing as a subway system. Look at the experience of DC, where the metro has made a huge difference in the way people move and live. I find that many people in SF like to talk about how European the city is, but they forget that most major European cities have excellent subway coverage. The bike lanes that people love to talk about is in many ways made possible by the fact that people have a viable alternative underground.

Of course that is even more political impossible right now than congestion pricing. :)

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Because we can."

As I've pointed out---and as the poll I linked tells us---you can't. It's not politically feasible. There are limits to how much the people of SF are going to allow the anti-car movement to screw up traffic on city streets.

"Congestion pricing will chase away fewer tourists than the perceived vision of SF as a dangerous city to European tourists enjoying a strong Euro - which a drunk driver on a poorly designed road did."

There's no evidence that the design of Masonic Ave. had anything to do with that accident, which happened at 10:40 at night and was caused by a drunk driver. The reality: over the past six years only 11 cyclists have died on city streets ("San Francisco 2008 Collisions Report," which is available on the MTA website) and that fatality was the first this year in SF.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A question for you Mr. Anderson...

I've read your blog here and there and one thing that comes to me is that you are often critical of what some groups of road users in the city are doing. However, I've not yet seen your full plan. It seems to come out in reaction to the moves others make. Given your druthers, what would the ideal Rob Anderson plan look like? I know you disagree with the 'bike plan' on many levels. Is there an alternative 'car plan'? If you were to put together a cohesive plan, as the bike people have, what would it look like? Instead of having to piece-mail it together, have you thought of a 'car plan' or 'Anderson plan' in depth?

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

Rob, I completely agree with you on your stance on bike culture in SF. Traffic lanes should rarely ever have to be removed to make room for bikes.

However, I believe congestion pricing is a separate issue. If it, or SFpark, is done correctly, driving in SF will less stressful because parking will be more readily available and the streets will be easier to navigate.

My point is, as a personal preference, I would be more likely to want to go downtown if I knew traffic wouldn't be an issue and I wouldn't spend half my time circling the block, even if it means paying more. I'm sure many other drivers would feel the same if they had all the facts about the program.

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Linke died... but... it was a drunk driver...

Someone runs over 5 people at a MUNI stop... but... the car broke down...

These motorists have more excuses... than the cyclists!

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I know you disagree with the 'bike plan' on many levels. Is there an alternative 'car plan'?"

For the most part, aside from paving our streets on a regular basis, the city should leave them alone. The present traffic system works pretty well, except that we need more Muni buses to handle the transit load. Actually, judging from the collision reports the city puts out every year, our streets are getting safer for everyone---pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. The city is doing that by tweaking intersection design and traffic signals to make the streets safer, and it seems to be working pretty well.

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The city is doing that by tweaking intersection design and traffic signals to make the streets safer, and it seems to be working pretty well."

There is a much stronger corrlation between accidents and Vehicle Miles Traveled - which have been going down with a correlated increase in bicycle usage.

At 9:09 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

I'm just waiting for the bikepeople to start suggesting that tourists, with their luggage in tow, start using bikes to get around..and of course get to and from the airport.

I'm also REAL tired of them comparing us constantly to other european cities..We're an American city...fairly walkable, charming at times,a few cafes to use when it's not windy and foggy..but let's be real..we're not Paris, or London, or Amsterdam. We're San Francisco.

At 8:24 AM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

Bait much, Rocky's dad? Tourists, by and large, take BART to downtown. If they rent, it is totally conceivable they they do it from one of the MANY locations near Union Square or the Wharf. I've rented from both locations and there are many many options.

Also, if the tourist is American and allergic to public transit, then taxis are very locatable while at SFO. So between BART and taxis, if a tourist is going to be staying downtown, I'd say their needs are more then taken care of.

And let's not forget about super shuttle for those thrifty travels that arrive after BART hours.

Maybe I should start saying, I can't wait for Rocky's dad to make up some crazy situation and suggest the bike people think it's possible!

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Portland, Oregon is also an American city-- one where 8% of trips are made by bicycle.

At 7:36 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

I knew you'd take my bait mikesonn. does seem like you are trolling a lot over here on this open minded blog..shouldn't you be elsewhere?

Your comments are always predictable..and boring.

At 8:45 AM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

"Your comments are always predictable..and boring"?

Why? I just stated that A LOT of people come from SFO to downtown via BART, taxi, or super shuttle.

The links Rob provided give ZERO data for the mode in which tourists arrive downtown. So my hypothesis is no less relevant then Rob's.

Maybe I'm boring because I'm trying to say something you just don't want to hear. *fingers inserted firmly in ears*

At 11:23 AM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Well, I most definitely don't want to hear what YOU have to say. Heard it before many times and you make no sense.

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

Rocky's dad - what doesn't make sense? You just got done saying this is an open blog, then let's chat.

I see things from a different perspective, maybe you can shed light as to the perspective that you see.

Fill me in.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

It's not my blog, but it's far more open minded to OTHER OPINIONS than that sludge-heap of a group think blog that you seem to hang out on.

Am I being too harsh? I don't think so. Just expressing my opinion.

Gotta run. Have to run over to the gas station on Fell to fill up my beemer. great gas prices. have a good evening.

At 12:49 AM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

Really Rocky's dad? You are going to leave it at that? With Fox News group think? Just say it's fair and balanced and it will become fair and balanced?

Streetsblog isn't trying to hit some middle road, just as Rob isn't trying to hit a middle road either. Agendas are obvious on either side.

Ok, Rob doesn't moderate as hard as Streetsblog, but he also doesn't have nearly the same amount or kind of traffic. But that doesn't matter.

I'm talking to you. We are talking. Not talking to Streetsblog or Rob or SFBC or C.A.R. I'll give you my email if you want to take a discussion offline.

You seem to think that I'm giving tired old arguments but you aren't backing that up with anything. Why are my points not valid? Do tourists not also take BART, taxis or super shuttles to downtown from SFO? How is that so far off base? If it is, I'd love to hear it because I'd rather change up what I say then continue to repeat something completely out of left field.

And I'm most definitely not trolling here. I'm trying to talk point for point with some of the things you have said. However, I raise an argument and you fall back on hyperbole and baiting. Talk to me dude. Let's have a conversation. I'd love to run into you on the street so we can have a real conversation about the state of our streets and how to improve them. I'm sure you have thought of ideas that haven't even crossed my mind.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Your argument originally was in support of congestion pricing, that many---if not most---people visiting the city use means other than the automobile to get here. I linked the Visitors Bureau, which did a poll of hotel guests in 2004 that showed that more than 25% of more than 4 million of that number rented cars. That site also tells us that most tourists arrive by airplane, which is where they probably rent the cars. Then there are millions more (4.46 millon in 2008)who come to the city from the Bay Area on "day trips" to shop and/or dine. There's no available data on how many tourists drive their own cars into the city, but that number is probably also large.

Of the 16.39 million visitors to SF in 2008 there's no evidence that any but a small minority take taxis, BART, or airport shuttles to the city. You want to believe otherwise, because then the congestion pricing wouldn't punish tourists with an extra fee when they visit our city where tourism is our largest industry.

Congestion pricing is not only politically unpopular but it would be a particularly dumb and destructive policy for our economy.

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

I also said that there are more then several rental car stations in and around downtown (Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf). I have used them on more then one occasion. So it is conceivable that tourists don't rent only from SFO, but also from downtown.

Your using data that does not exist to support your own preconceptions. "There's no available data on how many tourists drive their own cars into the city, but that number is probably also large." Sure, why not. Who can argue that logic?

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

How else do tourists get here? Greyhound? Bikes? There were 16.39 million visitors to SF in 2008. We already know from the Vistors Bureau that more than one million people rent cars, though their survey didn't tell us exactly where they rented them, whether at the airport or downtown. They also tell us that the city has 4.46 million visitors it calls "Bay Area residents on day trips." Again, how else do all these people get here? In the absence of any plausible contrary information, the burden of proof is on you to show that they arrive here by some othe means.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous mikesonn said...

I'm not arguing that tourists don't drive, this isn't a black and white argument. The word multi-model comes to mind. And there you go with the bikes again. You shrill that bike people only talk about bikes, but you can't have a conversation without bringing it up. However, you did forget ferries, plenty of people on those as well.

And I guess with you it is first to the BS wins. Can't come up with numbers? Eh, make the other guy prove his point.

I'll look into though. It is a question that should at least have ballpark figures attached.

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the burden of proof is on you..."

The appeal is over. If you want to change policy regarding the bike lanes going in to "screw up traffic" - it's on you.

Bummer, dude.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, we have 60 days to appeal Judge Busch's decision. It's not over until it's over, as a great American once said. Regardless of the outcome in court, I of course will continue to light my candle in the darkness here on D5 Diary.


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