City ‘gateway toll’ considered 

Running late for her job at the Westfield Centre, Sunset district resident Lisa Ellen admits to sometimes ditching her long journey on Muni in favor of navigating the crowded downtown streets by car.

But under a controversial plan being studied by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the 21-year-old retail worker would pay a toll for bringing her vehicle into the congested area during peak drive times.

"I’d be annoyed, but it would be worth it if it relieved some of the congestion," Ellen said. "I guess it would depend on the details — how much I was paying and how the money would be used."

Today, motorists and pedestrians alike will hear new details about the congestion pricing plan, including possible designs, transportation improvements, and discount and exemption policies under consideration.

In terms of geographic area, there are two basic plans, SFCTA deputy director Tilly Chang said. One idea is to charge a "gateway toll" to anyone entering San Francisco when congestion is at its worst. The fee would be in addition to bridge tolls — although drivers coming in from the Peninsula would also be required to pay it, even though they don’t cross a bridge. A lower congestion toll may be proposed for commuters driving in over bridges from the north and east.

The other proposal would have motorists pay a toll only for entering the busiest parts of The City during peak congestion times. The area would include the Civic Center, Financial District and South of Market and be enforced either in the morning, night or both, Chang said. Bordering the area would be Van Ness Avenue, Harrison Street, the Embarcadero and Broadway Street. Those who live in the neighborhood could be offered an 80 percent discount and the SFCTA is considering discounts for low-income drivers as well.

There is also the possibility of combining both plans, so that drivers would face double rings of tolls, Chang said. Revenue from the fees would fund transportation projects such as pedestrian improvements,rapid regional bus service and better signal coordination.

The plan already faces a storm of criticism and would need state legislative approval to go forward.

Marc Intermaggio, executive vice president of the San Francisco chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association, said the plan would hurt business.

"With The City’s budget problems, slowing down the rate of commerce, which will slow down tax revenue, is folly," he said.

The first of several outreach meetings to discuss congestion pricing takes place today at 5:30 p.m. at San Francisco’s Main Library.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

San Francisco traffic congestion

1 million Total daily trips

532,000 Daily car trips to downtown

304,000 Daily transit trips to downtown

$80 million Cost of excess fuel in 2005 due to congestion

$150 million Projected cost of excess fuel in 2030 due to congestion

32 minutes Average Bay Area trip

17 minutes Time spent in traffic during average Bay Area trip

Source: San Francisco County Transportation Authority

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