Streetsblog has an interesting article on whether the secret to world-class transit systems is congestion pricing. London, Singapore and Stockholm all have variations of congestion pricing and all are investing heavily in their public transportation systems. The gist of the article is that the incredibly robust transit ridership in these cities is the result of pricing of road space, something no U.S. city has done so far.
If congestion pricing effectively raises the cost of driving to a point where drivers look for other modes of travel, are public transport systems the main beneficiary?
Before we get into this, let’s take a step back to understand what congestion pricing is and is not. What congestion pricing is: a system to charge users of a transportation network during periods of peak demand. In it’s most robust form, congestion pricing uses variable pricing, that is, pricing that varies by time of day or by levels of peak demand. Thus, congestion pricing can regulate demand without needing to add capacity to the transportation network. The main objectives of congestion pricing is congestion management and transportation system financing.
Four types of congestion pricing systems are currently in use: a cordon area around a city center, with charges for passing the cordon line; area wide congestion pricing, which charges for being inside an area; a city center toll ring, with toll collection surrounding the city; and corridor or single facility congestion pricing, where access to a lane or a facility is priced.
London, Singapore and Stockholm all employ a variant of the cordon method of congestion pricing.
The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute (VTPI) has found that pricing roads that would otherwise be free can shift vehicle travel to free routes, alternative modes and closer destinations, and reduce vehicle trip frequency. Thus, depending on how congestion pricing is designed, it may push vehicle travel to other times and routes. But it also may reduce trip frequency. Also, if pricing is used to fund roadway capacity expansion that would not otherwise occur, it may increase total vehicle travel. In Stockholm, it appears that congestion pricing is used to fund roadway improvements.
However, VTPI has also found that the better the travel alternatives (transit, ridesharing and cycling), the more that congestion pricing will cause mode shifts. In London, much of the congestion pricing revenues were poured into its bus system,with notable ridership impacts, as noted in Streetsblog.
And yet, there is something else that supports increased public transportation use. That’s land uses supportive of transit (TOD) and higher fuel prices. Both of these are also present in all three cities. So while I believe congestion pricing is important, it is one of many tools to lower congestion and increase public transportation use.