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Officials Push Pause on San Francisco Congestion Pricing Plan

While momentum has gathered behind plans to charge drivers entering certain areas of Manhattan, a similar plan in San Francisco is being put on hold until pre-pandemic traffic levels return, officials say.

(TNS) — While New York careens toward a congestion pricing plan that would charge a toll to enter its busiest business district, San Francisco has temporarily hit the brakes on a similar plan.

With stated goals of easing gridlock, improving safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, reducing air pollution and raising money to help improve transit, San Francisco was studying a plan to charge drivers entering a downtown zone $6.50 — with discounts based on income.

That was in 2019, when traffic came to a standstill downtown during the morning and evening commutes. When the pandemic hit, traffic vanished during the shelter-in-place orders, dipped again with last winter's surges, then slowly started returning.

Commuter traffic has increased — particularly across the Bay Bridge — but as any regular visitor to downtown can attest, it's not what it used to be.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the agency preparing a congestion pricing plan, halted its research until traffic congestion returns, said Eric Young, a spokesperson for the agency. But the idea, first raised in San Francisco in 2004, hasn't been dropped.

"It's been paused," he said. "That's how we refer to it."

New York's plan would charge riders between $9 and $23 a day to enter part of Manhattan most of the day. Release of the environmental study for the project, which said it would reduce congestion of air pollution, sparked intense complaint, including from the governor of New Jersey. New York's governor is pressing forward with the plan, which would raise funds to modernize and improve New York City's transit network.

If the Board of Supervisors, which sits as the Transportation Authority board, chooses to move ahead with congestion pricing, it would take five years before the plan would be implemented, Young said. The plan would require extensive planning, state legislation, installation of electronic toll collection equipment and alterations to some city streets.

When the study slowed to a stop, planners were considering implementing congestion pricing in two downtown zones — one including the Financial District, Chinatown, the Tenderloin and South of Market. The other zone would be larger, including North Beach, Russian Hill, Fisherman's Wharf and Marina Bay.

The plan proposed electronically charging drivers entering the zone between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. a toll of $6.50 with a discounted cost of $4.33 for moderate-income people, $2.17 for low-income people and no charge for those with very low incomes.

Drivers with disabilities would pay $3.25. Drivers for ride-hailing service like Uber and Lyft would pay the full charge for each ride, and would likely pass the fee on to passengers. Other drivers would be charged for a maximum of two rides.

Discounts were also being contemplated for residents of the congestion zone and drivers who've already paid tolls to cross the Bay Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge.

Revenues would be directed to improve Muni service — particularly to improve equity by offering more transit service in underserved areas, free fares for very low income riders, bike and pedestrian safety improvements, street repaving, better paratransit service, school buses and transit ambassadors.

©2022 the San Francisco Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.