San Francisco investigates congestion pricing with new online game


The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is looking at how congestion pricing could help keep traffic moving in the city, and has devised a new online game to drive public engagement

The Authority is exploring how a fee to drive downtown during busy hours could get traffic moving and achieve goals around street safety, clean air and equity when the economy recovers.

“The congestion pricing idea has been included in a number of different plans and policies of the city, including our Climate Action Strategy and our Vision Zero Action Strategy,” says Colin Dentel-Post, a senior transportation planner at the San Francisco Country Transportation Authority. “Fees for the program could be reinvested in safer streets and better and more transit service for example. So, in order to make a lot of the changes that we would want to see, we expect we would need to reduce the number of car trips downtown by at least 15% from 2019 levels so that’s the target for a congestion pricing program.

“We expect that that would allow us to meet four key goals for our project potential programme. And those are number one, to get traffic moving. Number two, increase safety. Number three, clean the air. And number four, to advance equity.”

In order to ensure any congestion pricing programme meets the needs of the community San Francisco County Transportation Authority is engaged in ongoing outreach, the latest pillar of which is an online game Unclog Fog City, which will encourage residents to design their own congestion pricing scheme, thereby gathering data on their opinions. Anyone playing the game will be eligible to win one of 10 x $100 Visa gift cards

“Community outreach and input will be critical to helping guide how we developed specific programme ideas to best meet these study goals,” says Dentel-Post. “And so we’re presenting to community groups
throughout the study process and we welcome certainly any questions or feedback.”

The congestion pricing zone under consideration is in northeastern San Francisco, including the Downtown and SoMa neighbourhoods. One of the best-performing options defined so far would include a fee exemption for very low-income drivers, a 50% discount for low-income drivers, and a fee of $10-$12 to drive into the congestion pricing zone during rush hours. Under this scenario, vehicles would not be charged when drivers exit the congestion pricing zone. This option would include a 20-25% increase in bus service to downtown.

The study team continues to look at other options that include a lower fee that would apply both when entering and leaving the congestion pricing zone as well as further discounts, such as for people with disabilities, zone residents, bridge toll payers, and a daily fee cap. Public input will continue to help shape those other scenarios.


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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).