Road Pricing can Fix Traffic and Inequities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Contacts: Edie Irons, [email protected], 510-334-1344
                Kari Birdseye, [email protected], 415-875-8243

(Oakland, CA) — As worsening traffic congestion, rising climate emissions, and growth in urban areas confound communities across the country, city leaders are turning to congestion pricing as a powerful and proven solution. As the conversation in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York has advanced, it’s clear that congestion pricing will only be successful when it puts social equity at the center of any program. A new report gives cities a roadmap for how to cut congestion while increasing fairness for our cities’ most vulnerable residents — changing the debate from “why should I pay?” to “how should we invest?” in our community’s mobility and infrastructure.

Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity, a new report and toolkit from TransForm and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows how pricing roads can make our transportation system more fair and equitable. The report includes case studies from cities around the world, implementation strategies, and a detailed toolkit that equity advocates, decision-makers and planners can use to design equitable pricing proposals.

“What used to sound radical now sounds like common sense — road pricing is urgently needed to address climate change, traffic, and inequity in the transportation system,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm and a co-author of the report. “We believe road pricing can be a transportation equity solution. It can speed buses and carpools while providing revenue to make mass transit more affordable.”

Just last week, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors voted to study the equity implications of congestion pricing before further policy development on the matter. This report should make that task much easier.

Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity explains how pricing revenue could fund transit passes for vulnerable populations like youth, seniors, and people with disabilities; discounted car share and bike share memberships; rebates and subsidies on regressive vehicle licensing fees; or exemptions and discounts to the congestion price itself.

“The transportation status quo is far from equitable,” said Amanda Eaken, NRDC’s Director of Transportation and Climate. “Free roads hide the real costs of driving — traffic congestion and pollution that disproportionately harm vulnerable communities.”

In addition to the congestion pricing being considered in car-clogged downtowns, the report shows how the growing and widespread use of express lanes, where solo drivers can pay a toll to get into the fast lane, can also be a climate and equity solution. In places including Los Angeles, express lane revenue is already being targeted to help low-income commuters with discounts and more frequent transit service. The report also finds that, in the long run, converting general purpose lanes into express lanes — if paired with new public transit and other equity provisions — can help avoid the need for new and wider highways.

“California has nearly $70 billion of new roads and highway widening in the works, which flies in the face of our climate goals,” said Cohen. “Our transportation dollars should be expanding transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects that improve access and safety for vulnerable communities. This report provides tools and strategies to change tactics and address some of our biggest crises, rather than doubling down on what got us into this mess.”

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TransForm is a nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes walkable communities with excellent transportation choices to connect people of all incomes to opportunity, keep California affordable, and help solve our climate crisis. Follow us on Twitter @TransForm_alert

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter  @NRDC.

This report was made possible by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, The San Francisco Foundation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.