S.F.’s busiest streets may charge toll 

San Francisco’s congestion wastes hours of drivers’ time while costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in gas annually and forces Muni buses to creep along at speeds less than eight miles an hour, according to a report by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

On Tuesday, the authority will present its report on the city’s congestion woes to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni. It will also update the MTA on its study of congestion pricing, which the authority believes could reduce car trips and boost Muni ridership as well as speed up the buses.

Congestion pricing — a charge on drivers using certain busy roads — is a controversial idea being explored by a number of cities and has been implemented in London.

On a daily basis, 1 million trips are taken tothe downtown and South of Market area, 50 percent of them by car. About 300,000 of the trips are made by public transit, according to the report.

"A lot of our streets are at capacity," said Zabe Bent, a planner with the authority. "If we don’t turn this around, it will be very difficult to have our system running smoothly."

The authority is hoping to showcase the effectiveness of congestion pricing by implementing it along Doyle Drive, the heavily trafficked roadway connecting San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge. A $1 to $2 toll on Doyle Drive — collected electronically with no toll booth — would remove 10 to 12 percent of the traffic trips during peak hours by causing people to take public transit or drive during off-peak hours, according to the report. The authority hopes to install the toll, which must be approved by the Board of Supervisors, by early 2009.

The authority is also studying congestion pricing for downtown San Francisco, looking at such ideas as charging drivers a toll for use of the Embarcadero, Harrison, Van Ness and Broadway streets or entryways into The City from the Bay Bridge. Recommendations are due out next summer, and the authority will begin holding community meetings on downtown congestion pricing beginning in October.

Congestion pricing for the downtown is expected to be a hotly debated issue. Nathan Nayman, director of San Francisco’s Committee on Jobs, an advocacy group for large downtown companies, said congestion pricing in the downtown area would cause people to shop elsewhere. The real problem is The City’s lack of enforcement of existing laws, which allows rampant illegal double parking in the downtown area, Nayman said.

San Francisco’s congestion

1 million: Total daily trips

532,000: Daily car trips to downtown

304,000: Daily transit tripsto 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

jsabatini@examiner.com

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