The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously voted to launch feasibility studies of congestion relief pricing and New Mobility fees on Uber, Lyft and devices such as scooters as part of Metro’s “Re-Imagining of LA County: Mobility, Equity and the Environment” plan. The initiative seeks to greatly reduce traffic, improve transit and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases.
Spurred by a motion by four Board Members, the Board also asked Metro staff to continue developing a funding plan to build as many as 28 major transportation projects before the Olympics arrive. Twenty projects are scheduled to be completed by then but a considerable additional amount in accelerated funding is needed to complete the other eight prior to 2028.
The motion asked for this effort to be “decoupled” from congestion relief pricing and for Metro to prioritize four of the eight projects for acceleration: the Gold Line Eastside Extension, the Green Line Extension to Torrance, a rail project spanning the Sepulveda Pass between the Westside and the San Fernando Valley and light rail between Artesia and Los Angeles.
The Re-Imagining plan grew from several other efforts: the 28 x 2028 plan, the Measure M sales tax funding $120 billion worth of mobility projects in the next 40 years and the Vision 2028 Plan adopted by the Board last year. The idea, in short, is that now is the time to take greater action to seriously reduce traffic and pollution in our region. Another way of saying it: Metro and the Board determined now is the time to stop kicking the can down the road.
One part of the Re-Imagining Plan has understandably received a ton of attention from the public and media: congestion relief pricing (CRP), which uses tolls to more effectively manage traffic flow at peak times. CRP is a tool to manage supply-and-demand and, by most accounts, is the best way to actually reduce the number of vehicles on the road and get traffic moving again.
Why is Metro looking at CRP? A number of reasons, says staff. Because it can improve equity by reinvesting toll revenues to improve transit services and providing more frequent and reliable trips for those whose livelihood depend on it. And, it can ultimately improve air quality by promoting free-flow conditions on the highways and streets. Finally, because traffic in Los Angeles keeps getting worse and it is Metro’s mission to address it.
Metro will next launch a 12- to 24-month feasibility study to determine where to test CRP. The study will also look at three different ways CRP might be used: a fee on the number of miles driven by a vehicle (called VMT), a fee for entering a certain area (cordon pricing) and fees for traveling in congested corridors (corridor pricing). The Board also directed Metro to develop a panel of experts to oversee the study to determine that CRP is developed in a way that is fair and equitable to people of all income levels.
Metro staff estimate that CRP has the potential to allow the Board to consider free transit for all and to greatly expanded transit options, according to staff.
It’s important to note that the Board will have to vote again to actually launch a CRP program. The intent is to not launch CRP everywhere in L.A. County. Rather, the plan is to target CRP during peak times in a part of the county with chronically bad traffic.
As part of the Re-Imagining of LA County plan, the Metro Board approved Metro going forward with a study of fees on New Mobility devices (i.e. electric scooters) and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs – Uber and Lyft are the big ones) that profit from use of public streets and sidewalks and — in the case of TNCs — contribute to traffic and pollution. A recent study in San Francisco found that ride-sharing vehicles comprise 15 percent of overall traffic in the city and, at peak times on Friday afternoons, 6,500 ride-share vehicles are on the road.
Several cities have imposed fees on Uber and Lyft, including New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago. San Francisco is in the process of doing so. Uber and Lyft told the L.A. Times this week that they support fees to reduce congestion but do not believe any certain type of vehicle should be singled out.
As part of this effort, Metro plans to first build regional support for this initiative and, together with our regional partners, study the impact of TNCs and other private providers on mobility, equity and the environment. If the study determines it would be helpful, Metro would then pursue legislative authority from the state to regulate TNCs in LA County, and potentially impose fees as well. The amount of the fees per ride is to be determined and, as with C.P, the Metro Board would have to later approve actually imposing fees. The goal is to introduce the new regulatory structure and any fees in late 2020 in tandem with CRP.
As you are probably aware, a lot has been written about CRP in the past couple of months. Our three cents on three items:
•I’ve read some folks saying that all day laborers and workers would hate CRP. Maybe not. I imagine some would not like the extra costs of driving whereas others would appreciate the time savings that could lead to more work and more business. The same goes with the general population.
•Some folks are saying CRP is a regressive policy. If looked at strictly as a fee, then yes. But it’s a fee with associated progressive benefits: improved and free transit, less pollution, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and time savings for many people. In other words, there are pros and cons, like most things in life.
•It’s probably safe to say that some commuters who want to avoid tolls would move to transit. But we doubt everyone would. CRP may also persuade some folks to take discretionary trips at other times of the day and it could result in some employers shifting hours or tolerating telecommuting more than they do (about five percent of workers in L.A. County work at home, according to the Census Bureau).
For those interested in learning more, here are Metro staff documents with more info: