The timeline for the Downtown Congestion Pricing Study. Photo by SFCTA.

Congestion pricing plan would reduce vehicles downtown by 15 percent

San Franciscans have a wide range of opinions on shelling out more money to drive through high-traffic parts of town.

That’s the upshot of a study from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). The study found enthusiastic support for the environmental and livability benefits that would come with a congestion-pricing plan that officials estimate would mean 15 percent fewer vehicles on downtown streets. Others were concerned that the proposed income-based discounts didn’t go far enough, and that congestion pricing could hurt local businesses.

The findings will be presented, along with a discussion of three proposed plans, at a Nov. 12 Policy Advisory Committee Meeting, which is open to the public.

Those of you who have traded your morning commutes for Zoom meetings may ask why congestion pricing plans are relevant now. 

While congestion evaporated at the beginning of the pandemic, traffic is already nearly back to pre-Covid-19 levels. Once the economy recovers, it could rise even more. 

The aim of the Downtown Congestion Pricing study, which began in July 2019 and will conclude in spring 2021, is to determine if a fee to drive downtown could successfully counter congestion in San Francisco.

The timeline for the Downtown Congestion Pricing Study. Image courtesy SFCTA.

The city’s benchmark for a successful congestion pricing program is to reduce downtown car trips by 15 percent to get traffic moving, increase safety, clean the air, and advance equity. The absolute earliest that San Francisco could implement a program would be in two years. 

Ask a transportation expert about the rationale for congestion pricing, and you will likely receive an enthusiastic mini-lecture from a microeconomic perspective.

“Congestion is simply what happens when the demand for mobility reaches the supply. Congestion is only solvable with economic tools,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in a recent interview with Mission Local.

“The way we do it now, we let people use the streets for free and charge them to take the bus, so people do the free thing and drive, which makes sense, but it imposes a cost on society,” explained Nick Josefowitz, Director of Policy at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).

Congestion pricing is a way to internalize those costs – such as traffic, pollution, potential accidents, and disproportionate burdens on underserved communities – by changing people’s incentives with a small fee. 

“We grossly mismanage our roads because we believe pricing roads is an affront to our personal liberty,” Tumlin said. “If we actually want to solve congestion, we need to charge the lowest price for our roads that eliminates the queues.”

The main objective of the fee is to incentivize drivers to shift to other modes of travel. But the revenue raised from the fee from those who still drive – estimated at $3 million to $60 million depending on the chosen scenario – would also be used to fund improvements in public transit.

SFTCA’s recommended congestion pricing boundary for further study. Image courtesy SFCTA.

Cities with existing, successful congestion pricing programs include Stockholm, Oslo, London, Gothenburg (Sweden), and Singapore. New York City will soon become the first city in the U.S. with such a system.

“If congestion pricing is implemented in some U.S. cities, it may help the conversation for other cities in the U.S. and begin to catch on as people become more familiar,” said Colin Dentel-Post, Senior Transportation Planner at SFCTA and manager of the study.

The table below shows the three scenarios that will be explored at the Nov. 12 meeting.

SFCTA’s three recommended scenarios to further explore. Image courtesy SFCTA.

Send your feedback on the Downtown Congestion Pricing Program to

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  1. I Totally Agree with all the comments here Except Justin and Joaquin Cunanan’s 1st sentence . I want to commend MPRHoward Sam Ray Mullen Howard Epstein Edgar and Jack Reno for the common sense good writing and informative words. As well as saying everything i was thinking and wanting to say and more! Thank you!!! Justin you should take the time to read these comments they are very informative. Maybe you can learn something and open your mind more. This will hurt a lot of people and won’t get you the result you are thinking. Don’t be in a bubble and think how it just works for you… think of others!. That’s a complete problem nowadays courtesy and common sense has gone by the wayside! I am I small mom and pop and i need to go to every area of SF and as I am doing business I also support local businesses across SF buy lunch or dinner coffee juice snack while out there or shop when see an item I need or like for myself or someone I go out of my way to get it and supports others trying make it in SF and be a part of a community of SF helpful great welcoming city which is what SF actually was all about! I cannot afford $1 multiple times a day and can’t imagine $5. CEOs city government workers and Techys NP! Anyone who supports this is just dividing the city further as well as giving these entities more money line their pockets and to waste!!!! as always! and not fixing anything you think.

  2. Well San Francisco, you have now shown the world that you embrace total stupidity and communism. You obviously hate tourist and any free capitalism. You have grown to love homelessness and drug addicts, you welcome anarchy and chaos. What happened to you? Your 60s style free spirited love of humanity has now festered into Far Left / Dictaor Style Fascism….you obviously can not manage any money that you raise and are left with ” Oh Well, we will just raise taxes and fees MORE!” …You guys are so f*#!ing blind and can not see why people are leaving in Uhaul trucks faster than a speeding bullet. In 5 years, you guys will be the next Detroit, a once beautiful jewel that was abused, beaten and left to rot….you brought this on yourselves

  3. Ride electric bikes or electric skates and boycott paying MTA, DMV and the life of those pencil pushers that work in those shitholes.

  4. Uber and lyft lost their appeal in court today. If Prop 22 fails to pass, they will relocate their HQ to another state and cease all operations in California.

  5. look like drs/nurses that work @ sf gen have ot pay more but drs/nurses that work @ sutter, ucsf, etc where pay is higher dont

  6. I think we’re all pretty much agreed that climate change is real and we all need to reduce our carbon footprint. Car and truck usage is San Francisco’s largest contributor of carbon and we have not done nearly enough to reduce it.

    We need more sticks (congestion pricing, expensive parking) and more carrots (better, safer public transportation options) to get people out of their cars. The majority of people don’t *need* a car to shop, to get to appointments, etc. They just chose that option because it’s easy and that’s what they’ve always done. Using a car should be the exception, not the rule. And yes we need to get rid of Uber and Lyft – transportation on public streets should not be overrun by private corporations.

    Come on citizens, we have to do better. We need to use cars only when we really *have* to, not just when we want to. Choosing convenience now comes with a cost that’s going to be paid by future generations that will have to live with the environmental consequences.

    1. Every day I’m thankful I moved out of the SF Bay Area 3 yrs ago to retire in a new state which doesn’t try to dictate how I can get around to shop for groceries or run errands . CA was once truly paradise. That was a long time ago.

    2. No car, no Uber, no lyft? How exactly am I supposed to go get groceries or get my three kids to their different schools? I think you’re being a bit glib about
      people not needing reliable transport in city. And absolutely not reliable, esp in off peak hours.

  7. If you do the congestion pricing “game” on the city website, you’ll see that the pricing will be around $12 per car entering the zone. That seems like a lot to me.. and the zone includes SOMA on-ramps to the Bay Bridge which means everyone in the area will start using the South Van Ness on-ramp which means CRAZY gridlock. good idea? I don’t think so..

  8. This is total bullsh*t. You exactly did they survey? I’m a lifelong SF resident and I don’t know one person who supposedly took this survey. How is this helping disadvantaged communities? This is just a tax increased using politically correct B.S.!

  9. I like the idea of congestion pricing. It works in London and Singapore. However, I wish that the City would put the hammer on anti-social behavior on Muni: litter, playing music, fare evasion, harassment of many kinds, assaults, mask compliance, etc. The drivers won’t enforce because they’ve been attacked. Anything goes on Muni and law enforcement has gone out of fashion. 🙁 I vote for zero tolerance, not “education”. Sure, give de-escalation a chance, but if that doesn’t work, kick them off the bus, cite, arrest, whatever works. Ultimately, I want a transit system where an old, blind lady can ride at 11 pm at night without worries. If that’s not the case, then we have a problem to solve.

    1. Yeah, I agree that something needs to be done. Perhaps they need to go in front of a judge in Tracy for “education”, then we give them $10 to find their way back. Something akin to DMV line without an appointment, perhaps?

  10. Another example of privatization for those that can afford it, in new packaging equity words.

    The streets for YIMBY’s. Yeah, Yeah, Six cheers 4 Jeffrey.

  11. congestion pricing? hahaha…its not about eliminating congestion – its just another money grab by the government. So, hardworking folks get another tax while the streets remain covered in needles and poop, the multi-million dollar Homeless Inc. complex spins in place, and the SFBC that contributed to restricted streets continues to cause headaches to commerce.

  12. This is a great way to cause more damage to the businesses downtown. Why not just tell the businesses to relocate somewhere out of San Francisco. Jeffrey Tumlin is an anti-car pro-bike and bus extremist and should not have the position he now has.

    1. Lmao now that’s a uninformed take. More foot traffic equals more businesses for those stores! That’s a proven fact. Plus having someone that is pro bus and anti cars sounds great! I wish he was even more pro public transportation because that’s the real solution! There is no other.

  13. Myth: “The way we do it now, we let people use the streets for free and charge them to take the bus, so people do the free thing and drive which makes sense, but it imposes a cost on society,”….

    This is debatable comment that’s made over and over. Car registration, gasoline taxes, and paying parking on city streets (25 cents for 7 1/2 minutes = $2/hr). Having a car isn’t free and yes, it’s a necessity for the majority of people that need to get groceries, to appointments, etc. Even people that have to go to Federal Buildings (which would be in the proposed zone) to sort out all sorts of problems.

    Besides (and I’ve voted YES on all SPUR recommended SFMTA Bonds) we’ve all seen how Muni is so unreliable in the pandemic. Hell last time I was on Muni I’m sitting across a a guy playing with his switchblade… perhaps he’s afraid of people assaulted on Muni and needs protection.

    Do I think we want a congested city – hell no! But we’re not in similar situations to London or NY.

    We’ve made this a very bike friendly city but occasionally people need cars to shuttle the kids or elders around. This is just another tax on us which is couched as an end to congestion.

    Unfortunately SFMTA runs like a dictatorship my voice won’t be heard. They’ll ramrod this through, then sometime in the near future you’ll get the $5 bill for running over to North Beach for dinner or anyplace over that quadrant of the City. And where’s the money go? Because it is doesn’t go to anything benefiting most of us.

    Anyway. Be safe folks.

    1. Well said…especially the last part.
      The money will go into the General Fund to fund whatever…but not to make traffic flow better.

    2. You just made a circular argument. We shouldn’t should try to improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and improve reliability of Muni because “Muni is so unreliable in the pandemic”. LOL.

  14. I’m totally against this proposal. For me, it will discourage shopping or business in the downtown area.

    If you want to reduce the congestion in San Francisco then demand UBER and LIFT to reduce their out of town employees to keep them from flooding our streets. This can be done by charging a fee for all these out of towners working for them.

    Stop punishing residents and employees in this City for the abuse by these companies.

    1. What about the people from sunset that cause congestions in soma? Car is a car is car. Why should we cherrypick whether the human lives Oakland, SOMA, or San Jose. Why should people who drive their OWN car get a benefit while those who gave up their car, get punished?

      The system allowed London to expand bike lanes and transit lanes along with money for upgrades, while at the same protecting those who live inside the zone from fees or low income residents.