[entire article is about our report]
A new report from San Francisco-based transportation advocates TransForm makes the case that congestion pricing can be be implemented not only without hurting low-income populations, but can actually improve equity. Released today, Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity surveys existing congestion pricing and other road-tolling programs to come up with a model that might work for Seattle and other cities.
“If we can match real benefits for vulnerable communities at the same time we’re able to make more efficient use of our road space, we think there’s a real win-win there,” said TransForm Executive Director Stuart Cohen.
Critics have long deemed congestion pricing a regressive policy that charges car-dependent people more to drive. A well-timed new report—Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity—out today by TransForm and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), explains how congestion pricing can be employed as a tool to right engrained injustices in the U.S.’s current transportation system.
“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 the report’s co-author Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm. “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.”
In cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Portland, where congestion pricing is being discussed, local politicians instinctively question the new tolling policy as a tax on lower-income drivers. In fact, the majority of rush-hour commuters who drive into the central business district of major cities — especially in New York — are wealthier than their transit-bound neighbors. Transportation is inequitable in myriad ways both invisible and visible, thanks to the dominance of the automobile, the starving of public transit and the lack of affordable housing in our gentrifying city centers.
That’s why it’s crucial to design a truly progressive congestion pricing program, says TransForm.
“When implemented without a clear focus on social and racial equity, road pricing programs can burden low-income drivers with new costs and deepen existing inequities,” the group writes. “But when equity concerns and deep community engagement help shape road pricing programs and their reinvestment strategies, they can lead to more frequent and affordable public transit, safer pedestrian and bicycle routes, and improved health outcomes for vulnerable communities — all important components of an equitable transportation system.”
City bans auto-oriented uses such as fast-food and auto repair establishments
For most cities, emerging technology is squarely in the mobility realm, presenting new opportunities to develop shared frameworks and best practices—and incorporate the complex needs of low-income communities, says Clarrissa Cabansagan, the new mobility policy director at TransForm, a local trans-portation advocacy organization. But in many cases, the go-to planners’ goal of transforming drivers into cyclists or pedestrians ignores a reality exemplified in the Bay Area’s demographic shifts: As rising rents displace people and families from the transit-rich urban core and shifts them into areas built with auto dependency in mind, the gaps in transit alternatives pose a crucial concern.
“We assume that all folks have 9-to-5 jobs. We’re planning for peak levels of service. But what about the woman with kids and multiple jobs who has no other alternative to [using] her car?” Cabansagan says. “I want technology to highlight [those needs]. If we don’t highlight those trips as important, if we treat them as the CEO of Lyft getting from meeting to meeting, we lose that opportunity.”
...“The backlog of need isn’t just public investment; it’s public and private investment that contributed to the inequities we see today,” Cabansagan says.
An added draw for future residents is that three AC Transit bus lines have stops near the property, according to Edie Irons of Transform California, an organization that promotes transportation sustainability and which consulted on the project.
“There is a growing demand for homes in walkable, transit-rich places like this for the many people who don’t want to use a car for their daily needs,” Irons said. “This project meets that demand, and it’s specifically designed to attract those residents. Though not all residents will choose to be car-free, they will be able to walk, bike or take transit for more of their trips.”
“We needed to do something, and this compromise has winners, and the obvious losers are the ones with permits from before 2017,” Cohen said. “But by doing that, it is allowing Caltrans to keep the program going and allowing new cars into the system.”
“While there are still details in the bill to be worked out, such as affordability requirements, it looks like a tremendous improvement over SB 827. One of the biggest improvements is in the area of tenant protections; sites wouldn’t be eligible if they had been occupied by tenants within seven years preceding the date of the application. While this will reduce the number of eligible sites, it negates the potential for the loss of significant rental stock upon signing of the bill,” wrote Stuart Cohen of TransForm, an organization that did not support SB 827, in an email to Streetsblog. “The last thing we need is a new round of displacement.”
“The bill also now applies to job-rich areas even if they don’t have qualifying transit access,” continued Cohen. “In these areas, as well as near high-quality bus-corridors, there would be no density restrictions and minimum parking would be capped at 0.5 spaces per unit. Building heights would not change from existing codes. What this does is allow more units but without changing the character of communities.”
El planificador urbano Chris Lepe asegura que el desarrollo es muy relevante para San José porque se estarían generando empleos a un área que ya cuenta con mucho transporte público y zonas comerciales.
The measure’s passage was even more significant because it lacked the kinds of flashy expansion projects that often draw voter’s attention and focused instead on ensuring there is adequate funding to support bus and Caltrain services that already exist, said Edie Irons, a spokeswoman for TransForm, a transportation advocacy nonprofit. That support for existing services will be important if regional transportation leaders decide to come to voters with a proposed “mega-measure” to pay for large expansion projects, she said, such as a new transbay tube for BART.
“We’re going to be advocating for big, bold projects,” Irons said, “that really move the needle on equity, mobility, and sustainability.”
With the board and the California Transportation Commission scheduled to discuss the report in December, Joshua Stark of the public transit advocacy group TransForm hopes the regulators will “look forward” when it comes to allocating transportation funding.
“The Legislature and state agency leaders need to focus more of the state’s transportation dollars on meeting our climate goals,” Stark said.
“If Prop. 6 passes it will set our movement back tremendously, possibly by many decades! Yes, we would we lose the direct annual funding — $100 million for active transportation, $750 million for transit and $1.5 billion (with a B) for local road maintenance that is fixing our cracked roads and bringing us so many complete streets with it,” wrote Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm. “But we would also have a MUCH harder time winning these funds again.”
Chris Lepe, a transportation advocate with TransForm, a nonprofit that seeks to promote public transportation and social equity, said gas taxes are also regressive.
“Sometimes we have to support sales taxes in order to enhance the greater good and in order to advance equity,” he said. “Even though [Measure W] is a regressive taxation approach, the spending is going to be progressive and that’s why we support it and what the folks on the other side are not taking into account.”
He said SamTrans may face service cuts up to 30 percent if Measure W fails. “If you’re trying to make an equity argument and trying to advance the needs of low-income folks in this county, why would you oppose something that’s going to avoid cutting the very service they rely on to get to a job or to services. To me, that’s playing with fire,” Lepe said.
Of course, many of these ideas are cost-prohibitive–at least for now. However, “you might really be able to take some of these more visionary ideas and, even if they don’t make it as a full-scale, regionwide project, you can ignite people’s interests and get some pilot projects going,” said Stuart Cohen, co-founder and Executive Director of TransForm, and one of the judges of the competition, in a phone interview with Streetsblog.
“We absolutely need to start transitioning the fleet to electric buses, but there is certainly a learning curve and a transition cost,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, an advocacy group in Oakland. “Put on the right routes, e-buses can be a huge win-win.
“They are quieter and smoother to ride, they reduce local air pollution and street noise, and when focused on low-income communities of color most impacted by pollution, they can be a way to reduce the tremendous health disparities in our society.”