Supe: New York-style traffic toll could help S.F. 

A proposal announced this week by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to implement a downtown toll in Manhattan underscores the benefits of the idea, said San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who has championed bringing congestion pricing to The City’s downtown area.

Implemented in London in 2003, congestion pricing — requiring payment to drive into heavily trafficked areas — is a controversial idea that is being studied by numerous municipalities.

Last year, the San Francisco Transportation Authority, which McGoldrick chairs, secured $1 million from the Federal Highway Administration to study the feasibility of charging a user fee to drive on some San Francisco streets.

In his announcement Sunday, Bloomberg echoed promises that supporters of congestion pricing say it provides: reduced traffic congestion, an incentive for people to take public transportation, a cut in greenhouse gas emissions and funds to invest in mass transit options.

Under Bloomberg’s plan, New York would levy an $8 charge on all cars and a $21 charge on all commercial trucks entering Manhattan below 86th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The proposal has already prompted protests from elected officials outside of New York City, who say it will be a heavy tax on middle-class residents who travel into the city and small businesses.

Congestion pricing "changes behavior," McGoldrick said, who added that any revenue generated in The City would go to Muni.

"I’m glad Bloomberg is taking initiative on this," McGoldrick said, adding later in the conversation that he wishes Mayor Gavin Newsom would "spend some of his popularity" to support congestion pricing for San Francisco.

Newsom’s spokesperson, Nathan Ballard, said the mayor was waiting on the results of San Francisco’s study before making a ruling.

The study is exploring such questions as what rates should be charged and how the charge might be collected. Preliminary findings will be available this summer and recommendations by the end of the year, said Tilly Chang, the Transportation Authority’s deputy director for planning.

Traffic not only affects drivers, but public transportation vehicles that get caught in the congestion and end up running behind schedule, Transportation Authority head Jose Luis Moscovich said.

San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jim Lazarus expressed concerns that a toll would discourage people from patronizing downtown businesses, services, stores and restaurants.

"What’s the problem we need to fix? If it’s merely a mechanism for raising money for Muni, we may be doing that at the expense of jobs and other city revenues," Lazarus said, adding that San Francisco’s traffic problems were considerably less pressing than New York’s.

beslinger@examiner.com

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