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Congestion Pricing: 3 Lessons We Can Learn from Europe

By December 5, 2019January 13th, 2022No Comments

As congestion pricing continues to gain steam in the United States, leaders can look to successful (and not successful) congestion pricing rollout in Europe to see what will resonate with the public.

With congestion pricing, drivers are charged an extra fee to travel on roads and business districts during peak hours. It’s a pricing system based on the economic theory that by raising prices, it will help reduce demand.

How to sell it to the public isn’t always the easiest decision. “Raising revenue” isn’t an easy sell to the public, for example. However, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting down on jammed roads in metro areas are more popular ideas with the commuters.

Large metros like San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and others have started debating congestion pricing measures. In New York a congestion pricing system is planned to be implemented next year.

Read more: How Commuter Benefits Can Help With Congestion Pricing

The mere mention of congestion pricing can pit car commuters against public transit riders in a serious debate. Here are some lessons that worked in getting congestion pricing passed in European cities.

Invest in public transit, and bicycle and pedestrian networks

You want to have people feel they have alternatives to congestion pricing plans and that they are getting value in exchange for higher transportation costs. European cities have had an easier time implementing surcharges on car travel in cities with strong public transit.

Improve the roads for commuters

When governments start rolling out pricing pilot programs, they should make sure drivers are driving on improved roads, or make road improvements quickly. Tolls are considered a tax on cars by many drivers, not as a means to maintain roads and build better transit. Drivers could accept the changes with better roads to travel.

Link pricing increases to commuting goals

In Europe, transportation officials set their congestion pricing policies in line with commuting goals and to improve the environment. The fact they were raising revenue was a secondary consideration.

Some examples include:

  • London was able to reduce traffic with a successful congestion pricing initiative and was able to reduce traffic by 39 percent.
  • Stockholm pushed for reduced greenhouse gas emissions as air pollution was increasing, and reduced emissions by 16 percent.
  • The Swedish city of Gothenburg failed with its congestion pricing proposal. It wanted to build a suburban rail tunnel and marketed congestion pricing as a way to raise revenue.

One thing to keep in mind is how congestion pricing can go hand-in-hand with commuter benefits.

How commuter benefits can help

Commuters who opt to take public transportation can receive commuter benefits to help pay for the commute. Commuter benefits allow commuters to save up to 40 percent in commuting costs each month.

The money can be spent on subways, buses, ferries, rideshares (Uber and Lyft), among other ways to get to work. The maximum a commuter can set side is $265 per month, and the money saved is not taxed.

Want to learn more about commuter benefits? Download the 101 Guide below:

Download the Commuter Benefits 101 Guide