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Metro directors question fairness of congestion pricing

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Some members of Metro’s board say the policy “seems punitive”

Los Angeles traffic
In a congestion pricing system, drivers would be charged when using busy roads in peak traffic hours.
Barteverett/Shutterstock

Metro’s Board of Directors gently tapped the brakes Thursday on a proposal to explore a congestion pricing system in which drivers would be charged for using busy roads during peak traffic periods.

The board considered a report from agency staffers that recommended road pricing, along with a host of other financing measures that could be used to accelerate construction of 28 projects that Metro aims to complete in time for the 2028 Olympics.

But board members remained laser-focused on congestion pricing during two hours of discussion Thursday, and eventually voted to revisit the report next month.

That will give Metro staffers more time to address questions about the equity of a congestion pricing system, as drivers who can easily afford to pay tolls would be less affected than those who cannot.

“It seems punitive,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, arguing that LA’s transit infrastructure is not extensive enough to give all residents a meaningful alternative to driving.

At a Metro committee meeting last week, UCLA urban planning professor Michael Manville suggested that using revenue collected in a pricing system to assist low-income drivers would help address these concerns, but members of the board asked for more details Thursday.

“I am deeply concerned about how congestion pricing could be implemented in Los Angeles County,” wrote Supervisor Hilda Solis in a statement Thursday. “Before Metro moves further down this path, I feel it is critical to ensure that the benefits of congestion pricing are felt by all of our communities.”

The board approved a motion authored by Solis requesting that Metro develop an “equity strategy” and consult with academics, community groups, and local officials on ways to lessen impact on low-income drivers before crafting a congestion pricing policy.

“I drive the 110 almost every day,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “And for so many people on the 110, their car is their job—the landscapers, the pest control... it’s not a luxury for them to be driving.”

Some members of the board appeared more receptive to the idea of road pricing.

Board chair Sheila Kuehl pointed out that a transportation system in which many people feel compelled to drive comes with its own equity concerns.

“If we want to think about equity, we ought to consider the cost of driving,” Kuehl said. “It would be better for people’s budgets if they could have the option of public transit.”