Charging drivers $4 to enter parts of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles could reduce traffic by 19 percent during peak hours, according to a new study.
The Southern California Association of Governments released a report on March 28 discussing a potential fee for the Westside region as a means of reducing traffic and funding a variety of mobility-related programs.
Establishing a fee to enter the proposed zone would have several benefits according to the study including decreased car use during peak hours, increased use of public transit (9%), walking (7%), and biking (7%) and more carpooling. Money raised from the fee would pay for enhanced pedestrian infrastructure, local bus circulator routes, express commuter buses, bike share and other enhanced active transportation services.
In addition to reducing pollution, the program would provide “a self-financing mobility program to offer additional funding sources with an annual average net revenue of $69.2 million to support transportation investments, pedestrian amenities, economic development, and offer additional revenue sources for local reinvestment.”
The study selected a portion of Los Angeles/Santa Monica that stretches from Montana to the 10 Freeway and 20th Street to the 405. The area was chosen because the study author’s said changes to this area would have the greatest impact on traffic.
“The Westside area, located in the Cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, has very high jobs-to-housing ratio, multiple major employment centers served by two of the most congested highways in Southern California, and an appetite for pioneering change and innovative technologies,” said the report. “Within the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the Westside area of Los Angeles experiences some of the most severe traffic congestion daily with speeds on major arterials as low as 5 miles per hour (mph) during the PM peak period approaching regional highways.”
The $4 would be collected via existing the existing FasTrak system and a network of license plate readers would be necessary to track and bill cars without a FasTrak transponder.
“For the analyzed proof-of-concept program, vehicles crossing into the designated boundaries would be charged a decongestion fee during the AM and PM peak periods for in-bound traffic only,” said the report. “Trips originating within the designated area would not be charged, regardless of whether they terminate inside or outside the program area boundaries.”
The report acknowledges the impact fees would have on commuters of different income levels but said low-income individuals are most likely to carpool or take public transit making them the group most likely to benefit from the improvements funded by a new fee.
“Within the study area, the median household income is roughly $80,000, but has a very large range,” said the report. “Approximately 18% of households within the Mobility Go Zone report household incomes of less than $25,000 and 8.2% of households do not have access to a private vehicle, including 3% of owner-occupied households and 10% of renter-occupied households in large part due to the student and elderly population residing in the area.”
The report said low-income travelers make up about 8 percent of total trips but are up to 30 percent of public transit trips during commute hours.
“Of the number of people driving alone, only 2.2% are low-income,” said the report. “These travelers would directly benefit from investments in new transit service to and from areas currently underserved by transit, and by circulator routes serving travel within the Mobility Go Zone and surrounding areas.”
Potential financial hurdles for low-income individuals could be overcome with discounts according to the study.
No local agency has officially proposed congestion fees and the SCAG study was funded by the Federal Highway Administration to study if a congestion charge is technically possible.
However, the study comes as regional transit agencies and officials debate how to handle traffic and price-bases solutions are one of the tools available. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) voted to commission its own study on congestion charging earlier this year.
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) responsible for developing integrated land use, housing, employment, and transportation programs and strategies for the region to help improve air quality, mobility, and quality of life.