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SF traffic survey tests the waters for congestion pricing

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Only a small number of voters back the idea of congestion pricing despite rising traffic woes

Cars backed up on a freeway, with a series of tall buildings on the horizon. Via Shutterstock

The San Francisco County Transit Authority (SFCTA) is asking SF drivers how they feel about traffic, as the city considers whether or not to implement congestion pricing (tolls meant to drive down traffic on busy streets) on busy streets downtown.

The 16-question survey posted on the SFCTA site asks drivers, transit riders, and pedestrians some basic questions about getting around SF, including “Where do you most frequently experience traffic?” and how often they travel to or in every SF district.

The questions put a particular focus on SoMa and downtown—including the East Cut, South Beach, the Financial District, and the Tenderloin—zeroing in specifically on how often and why people travel to these busy neighborhoods and how difficult driving there seems to be.

The survey specifically says that the intent of the study is “to understand whether congestion pricing could be an effective and fair tool to reduce congestion,” noting also that such a plan would also include discounts, subsidies, and incentives.

Streetsblog suggests the plan may not currently have the popular support that it needs at the ballot box and cites analyst David Latterman’s opinion that such a proposal would “get whooped” in a vote today.

The survey does mention the possibility that the city may “charge fees to travel during peak times” and use the money to fund transit options; however, it also asks how survey respondents feel about other options such as closing busy streets or making public transit faster and more reliable.

Proposals for traffic-mitigating tolls go back at least to 2010 in San Francisco but have picked up speed in recent years, as congestion (largely driven by the popularity of ride-hailing apps) becomes more dense and other cities implement similar schemes.

San Francisco-based State Sen. Scott Wiener previously backed a pilot program in SF and LA and may take up the matter again in the future.

Precedents in other cities suggest that such a plan probably would mitigate traffic on some of SF’s busiest streets.

However, in January a Chamber of Commerce-commissioned phone survey of 500 voters found that 51 percent “strongly opposed” the idea, and another 14 percent said they are “somewhat opposed.”

During that same time, the city’s annual “mobility trends” report found that although vehicle use per capita is down three percent since 2010, the increase in population means that traffic in the city as a whole is up 27 percent in that time.