COVID-19 Lessons for Congestion Pricing

COVID-19 Lessons for Congestion Pricing

March 27, 2020  | Brianne Eby and Robert Puentes

Travel within major U.S. metropolitan areas has all but stopped with at least 20 percent of the population under virtual lockdown. Various anecdotes and new analyses show that with so little movement, once-ubiquitous traffic congestion is all but eliminated.

It may thus seem like the wrong time for cities and regions to continue to pursue congestion pricing strategies. Prior to the current public health crisis, serious proposals and studies were underway in places like San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. New York is set to roll out the first congestion pricing program in the U.S. next year. Decongesting Manhattan is the primary goal with the revenue being allocated toward the beleaguered Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in the anticipation that better service will attract more riders. We know traffic will come back to New York post-coronavirus, especially if commuters adopt new fears of shared transportation modes. Possible shifts toward driving would only compound the beating transit agencies are taking during the shutdown due to lost revenues.

Given the unprecedented economic crisis, it is natural to assume there is no appetite for additional taxes, fees, or charges. People are already hurting and policymakers are frantic to provide relief. However, the reasons those places were pursuing pricing will not disappear once the crisis abates. Cleaner air, better access, and a more efficient network will remain top priorities in these and other places. These things may even be higher priorities if traffic congestion surpasses levels seen prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For its part, the federal government should get out of the way and allow New York’s congestion pricing plan to move forward. Progress is currently stalled due to federal delays in approving the use of tolling on federally-supported roads, like some of those in and around Manhattan. The COVID-19 pandemic will surely slow down progress as all parties shift focus to disaster relief. But the nation’s largest metropolitan economy should not miss the opportunity to maintain economic competitiveness due to obstructions from Washington.

This public health crisis has altered life in the United States in the immediate term. Among its myriad indirect effects, it has shown is how fixing metropolitan traffic congestion could have a profound influence on critical national priorities like increased safety, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and better local air quality. New data clearly shows eye-popping drops in nitrogen dioxide from vehicles. Car crashes and roadway fatalities are plummeting as well.

Of course, these effects are present now due to the cessation of travel and it is dubious to refer to these trends as a “silver lining” given the severity of the virus. But they do demonstrate the kind of change that can happen with bold action.

The positive effects cities are now witnessing with respect urban mobility are the same trends that manifest in places with congestion pricing. Pricing policies have been replicated in cities around the world because they work. COVID-19 should not derail plans for it in the U.S. and should, in fact, strengthen the reasons for doing it.

Share

Related Articles

Webinar Recap: Transportation Spending and Planning in the Time of COVID

Webinar Recap: Transportation Spending and Planning in the Time of COVID

The coronavirus pandemic has hammered state and municipal budgets across the United States. A recent analysis from the National League of...

Webinar: A Century of Fighting Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles

Webinar: A Century of Fighting Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) is studying congestion pricing to manage the region’s heavy traffic and...

Recap of Eno Webinar on Equity in Congestion Pricing

Recap of Eno Webinar on Equity in Congestion Pricing

In August, Eno hosted a webinar titled Congestion Pricing’s Role in Building More Equitable Transportation Systems. The webinar was a...

Road to Recovery Webinar: Rebalancing the Load: How Road User Charging Can Influence Traveler Behavior

Road to Recovery Webinar: Rebalancing the Load: How Road User Charging Can Influence Traveler Behavior

Congestion pricing can be a valuable tool for regions to address congestion and meet goals for sustainability and equity. Intelligent...

Webinar: Congestion Pricing’s Role in Building More Equitable Transportation Systems

Webinar: Congestion Pricing’s Role in Building More Equitable Transportation Systems

Congestion pricing is an idea that has broad support from transportation practitioners. However, many elected officials and members of the...

House INVEST Act Includes Congestion Pricing Provisions

House INVEST Act Includes Congestion Pricing Provisions

The House's surface transportation reauthorization bill, titled the INVEST in America Act, was introduced last week by the chairman of the...

Road to Recovery Webinar: Jennifer Aument

Road to Recovery Webinar: Jennifer Aument

Jennifer Aument leads the development and operations of major toll roads in North America on behalf of Transurban – one of the largest...

Op-Ed: Now is The Right Moment to Address Transportation-Related Air Quality Concerns

Op-Ed: Now is The Right Moment to Address Transportation-Related Air Quality Concerns

Vehicle miles traveled have plummeted across the country with many pre-COVID drivers now working from home (see FHWA’s April 2020 Traffic...

Congestion Pricing Can Be Built For Equity

Congestion Pricing Can Be Built For Equity

Streetsblog reports on Eno's Congestion Pricing report, authored by Brianne Eby, Robert Puentes, and Martha Roskowski.

10 congestion pricing principles for cities to consider: report

10 congestion pricing principles for cities to consider: report

Streetsblog reports on Eno's Congestion Pricing report, authored by Brianne Eby, Robert Puentes, and Martha Roskowski.

Eno Releases New Report on Congestion Pricing Principles for US Cities

Eno Releases New Report on Congestion Pricing Principles for US Cities

In the United States, cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC are exploring congestion pricing as one policy...

Congestion Pricing in the United States

Congestion Pricing in the United States

There is no silver bullet to fix the woes of urban mobility and access, but congestion pricing is a proven, viable, and effective tool....

Be Part of the Conversation
Sign up to receive news, events, publications, and course notifications.
No thanks