The creation of our transportation system has long been linked to inequity in the Bay Area. The construction of highways razed predominantly Black, Brown, and immigrant communities and supported an exodus to the suburbs. Infrastructure focused on car-centric travel has made transportation the second highest expense after housing, contributes to inequity, and is fueling the climate crisis.
For several months in 2020, the Bay Area got to experience freeways with fewer cars. Traffic, climate emissions and air pollution went down, but traffic is back with a vengeance. Traffic slows down buses and vanpools, leading even more people to abandon those sustainable modes. Now, the regional transportation agency MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) is studying putting tolls on congested highways where transit alternatives exist.
This month, MTC will be hosting two identical webinars on November 17 and 29, where you will be able to let them know what you think about the different road pricing options. This is also a forum to weigh in on the many strategies that can be used to spend the new revenue on reducing inequities and making it easier to take the no-car, low-emission, affordable trip when possible.
The Bay Area is already a really expensive place to live, so concern over a new charge is absolutely fair and valid. However, our transportation system is not sustainable or equitable and this could be a part of the solution. In January 2019, TransForm published the report Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity. This report shows how, if done right and with strong public engagement, road pricing and smart investment strategies can lead to more frequent and affordable public transit, safer pedestrian and bicycle routes, improved health, and even financial outcomes for vulnerable communities. Road pricing could also fund, for example, road charge discounts for low-income or middle-income residents, transportation tax rebates, and investments directly focused on those communities that have suffered most from past inequities.
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