Study Suggests US Cities Would Benefit from Congestion Charges

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We all know how it works; supply and demand determine the price of a product. What if that product is our roads? Should it cost more to drive on overcrowded streets? Several cities around the world impose congestion charges. A new report from the National League of Cities suggests more American cities should started planning for them.

  • A congestion charge is a toll charged for using roads in a designated geographical area.
  • A report form the National League of Cities suggests more U.S. should be looking into adopting congestion charge programs.
  • New York will institute its own program in 2021, although public reaction has so far been negative.

Congestion Charge Zone London
London has been using congestion charging for a decade and a half. (Photo: Getty Images)

Less Cars and More Busses

A congestion charge is a toll charged for driving a vehicle in a designated area. The fee is designed to decrease traffic congestion from individual cars and to encourage the use of shared and public transportation.

London, which the report claims is a close analog for New York City, instituted its congestion charge program in February of 2003. The daily fee of roughly $14 is levied on most vehicles entering and traveling through the city center. Since its inception, average travel speeds have increased by 30% and traffic volume has decreased by 10%, even with a 20% population increase. Initial investment for the program was $214 million, but generated $4 billion of revenue in its first 10 years of operation.

New York is scheduled to institute a congestion charge in Manhattan’s central business district beginning in 2021. New York City has had “For Hire Surcharges” for taxis and limos since 2018, but this new program will apply to almost all vehicles. Those traveling straight through the district via the expressway will be able to do so without incurring a fee, as long as they don’t exit onto city streets.


Proponents of the system claim that is what these systems are for funding better infrastructure so individual cars aren’t needed. The report states that smaller cities with explosive growth, like areas in Washington State currently seeing as much as 60% population expansion, should be planning congestion charge programs now, which includes making sure the infrastructure exists, before encouraging people to leave their cars at home so that the burden of relieving congestion doesn’t fall to those who can’t afford it and have no alternative.

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