LA Inches Closer to Tax on Uber, Lyft to Solve Traffic Woes

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Los Angeles County transit officials voted unanimously Thursday to explore a tax on ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft, and advanced plans to study the impact of charging drivers a congestion fee to access certain roadways.

In this Nov. 15, 2016 photo morning rush hour traffic makes it’s way along US 101 near downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

L.A. Councilman Paul Krekorian, who endorsed the idea of a ride-hail fee, said Thursday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board that the concept of ride-hails came from Silicon Valley billionaires who wanted to get rich off of urban congestion and remove people from public transit.

“We can’t move fast enough in dealing with achieving some revenues from industry,” said Krekorian, who is also a Metro board member. “If we don’t put in a fee, we are subsidizing automobile transit at the expense of public transit.”

Inglewood mayor and Metro board member James Butts said he is concerned that a tax on ride-hail companies could impede visitors trying to reach his city’s new stadium and entertainment district, adding the fee could usurp the concept of local control of city streets.

“Uber is proud to increase mobility options throughout Los Angeles,” an Uber spokesman said in a statement Thursday. “While we support evidence-based solutions designed to reduce congestion, we would caution against singling out specific services in ways that could limit choice and raise transportation costs.”

Lyft spokeswoman Kaelan Richards said in a statement that her company supports efforts to reduce congestion.

“We believe that comprehensive congestion pricing is a powerful and effective way to reduce congestion in many of our busiest cities and have long supported the effort as a way to reduce traffic,” Richards said. “But it is critical that all vehicles, including commercial and personal vehicles, and our investment in Shared Rides, are included in any approach to truly addressing congestion.”

The studies launched Thursday are part Re-Imagining of L.A. County, a wide-ranging transit development initiative approved by Metro’s board that includes congestion pricing to manage traffic flow, especially during peak hours. Congestion pricing could bring in between $1 to $10 billion in annual revenue, according to a county report.

Metro CEO Phillip Washington has advertised the plan in recent months as a way to curb the county’s notorious traffic jams with the added bonus of helping the county reach its targets for cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who expressed concern in recent weeks that a congestion fee would disproportionately impact people who use their car for work, said Thursday that the agency should talk to employers about how a fee would impact employee commute times.

“If we’re asking people to drive at different times, I want to make sure we talk to employers about flexible schedules,” Hahn said.

Washington said the feasibility study would explore the impact any plan would have on low-income residents who have less flexible transit options and who already spend a large portion of their incomes on transit.

The board is expected to choose a congestion pricing pilot location after the feasibility study is completed in one to two years.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that they also endorse congestion pricing – and a marijuana tax – as methods for solving the Big Apple’s subway crisis.

Metro also voted Thursday to continue working on the Twenty-Eight by ’28 Initiative, an infrastructure plan that includes extending a major LA subway line, building an airport transit connector station and developing an LA River bike path.

Metro officials have said the projects – most of which will be built before the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles – are needed to address demand from an expected population increase from 10 million county residents to 11 million by 2035.

“It’s easy for us to say ‘Fix traffic!’ but it’s going to take serious imagination and out-of-the-box thinking to actually do it,” LA County Supervisor and Metro board chair Sheila Kuehl said in a statement after the vote. “We are ready to explore a whole panoply of ideas that can help reduce traffic, encourage shared trips, and get more people on public transit.”

A May 2014 study by the county’s Department of Public Health found that an increase in public transit usage would decrease residents’ risks of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The county’s transit development plan for 2035 meanwhile found 71 percent of trips in the county are currently made by a driver alone in a car and only 12 percent are taken on public transit.

The projects are expected to cost Metro at least $43 billion.

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