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Will Congestion Pricing Clear L.A.’s Clogged Arteries?

Los Angeles Metro is considering four congestion-pricing scenarios in the hopes of choosing one by next year. If all goes well, the congestion management pilot could be in play by 2025.

congestion on L.A. highway
Shutterstock/Ali _Cobanoglu
The Los Angeles region is exploring several congestion-pricing strategies to combat the notoriously clogged highways in one of the most car-centric parts of the country. 

Los Angeles Metro is looking at four possible proposals to enact a traffic management plan that would use some form of pricing-per-user as a means of discouraging car use for transit use. Metro officials plan to have their selection process winnowed down to one proposal by this summer, with plans to begin implementing the project in early 2022. The congestion-pricing pilot would then be operational by 2025. 

“We’ve been talking about what would we do if we had the chance to create a new city from the ground up,” said L.A. Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington in a Tuesday press briefing. “And that is kind of how we’re thinking about this. How can we transform a car-centric L.A. County? And this is one of the ways to do this. How can we alleviate traffic congestion, and what new mobility innovations and technologies would we use?” 

The agency is exploring two types of congestion-pricing strategies. One would address high-volume corridors for traffic traveling on freeways. Another approach would be to price traffic traveling into a district like downtown Los Angeles, an approach used in cities like London and Stockholm. In any scenario, Metro aims to form partnerships — probably with one of the many cities in L.A. County, or even with a regional player like the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).  

The four congestion-pricing alternatives are all served well by existing transit options ranging from L.A. Metro rail, Metrolink rail or bus systems. The goal is to create even more transit options for the area, prior to rolling out the congestion-pricing plan, say officials. 

“We have a choice, as a society,” Joshua Schank, chief innovation officer with the Office of Extraordinary Innovation at Metro, told the reporters on the call. “We can either continue to sit in traffic because we’re letting one person in a single-occupancy vehicle have the same level of priority as 50 people on a bus, and there’s no effective means of mitigating who gets to go when, or we can try something new.”  

Having transit take the lead on a congestion-pricing project is not out of the ordinary, said Schank, pointing to transit agencies in cities like New York and London, which have taken on similar projects. 

“We’ve seen transit agencies be a big part of this in other places as well,” he said, disputing the idea of Metro being only a “transit agency.”

“We’re also the planner and funder for all transportation in L.A. County. So we play a much larger mobility role,” said Schank.

And indeed, Metro is in the midst of developing what is the largest transportation capital project in the nation with four major rail projects under construction as well as highway projects. Metro is also redesigning its bus system as it launches a new on-demand micro-transit project.   

Projects like these, along with the new congestion-pricing initiative are all part of Metro’s aim to transition the Los Angeles region from one of the most car-centric metropolitans in the nation to one of the most transit-centric, said Washington.  

“We’re moving forward,” he added. “We’re leaning forward in the foxhole, if you will, and looking to transform this region.” 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.