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Can Congestion Pricing Save Cities from Their Worst Possible Future?

New York is getting ready to introduce the country’s first congestion pricing plan, which would charge drivers a fee of up to $10 to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan. Congestion charging can also be a vital piece of the puzzle when considering the risks of gridlock from increased AV availability [1].

London pioneered congestion pricing with the introduction 16 years ago. Since then many European cities have followed, including Stockholm, in the pursuit to ease congestion and reduce pollution while simultaneously promoting and funding shared- and public transportation options.

In New York, critics say congestion pricing would put an unfair burden on working-class drivers who don’t have access to public transit. But supporters point out that most low-income commuters cannot afford to drive anyway, and that extra money for public transport improvements will instead help to improve access. Advocates also argue that now is the time to tackle the increase in car traffic before the expected wave of robot taxis arrive. Already now, ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft have changed how people travel in cities. When cheap autonomous rides become available to the masses, they could potentially make things even worse in terms of road congestion. As electric and autonomous vehicles are introduced, cities might be just swapping one form of congestion with another. Scott Goldstein, policy director of Transportation for America, calls this “clean congestion,” and that “Congestion pricing can be an incentive to ensure that those [clean congestion] scenarios don’t happen.” He says that “Pricing isn’t a silver bullet, and it may not be appropriate for every community, but it’s something that absolutely needs to be part of the conversation.”


Personal comments

The term “clean congestion” highlights that even if we manage to solve many of current traffic’s pollution issues (through electrification etc.) and safety issues (using autonomous vehicles etc.) there will still be great external costs linked to congestion and gridlock. If we agree that allocating the true cost of each mode of transportation and trip is fair, then we need to look at more sophisticated ways to collect a mileage-based tax, ideally also taking vehicle occupancy into account.


Written by Victor Malmsten Lundgren, RISE Viktoria.



1. 2019-03-29. Why congestion pricing can save cities from their worst possible future