LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles County transit officials on Wednesday endorsed a plan to charge drivers a congestion fee to access certain roads despite concerns about the plan’s impact on low-income drivers.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, has proposed congestion pricing on county highways to curb traffic – with the added bonus that it could help the county reach its targets for cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
At Wednesday’s committee meeting, agency CEO Phillip Washington sought to allay the board’s concerns about the impact on low-income residents by promising to incorporate community input at every turn of the process.
“Everything we do and all of the projects we implement we look at through that lens of equity,” Washington said, adding that the agency will form an advisory council to help it shape its equity policy on any future congestion pricing.
Washington also said the agency would explore increasing the number of transit options in any congestion pricing pilot areas.
At a Jan. 24 meeting, Metro board members motioned to consider 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.
“A congestion pricing pilot may improve traffic but could exacerbate problems for our poorest communities by forcing them to spend even more on transportation,” the motion said. “It may also have effects on small and family-owned businesses in fields such as construction and landscaping which rely on vehicles for work.”
A report released by the agency on Wednesday specified which communities the congestion pricing study will target, such as people with disabilities, residents without cars, women and seniors.
Washington walked back an earlier proposal to use revenue from congestion fees to accelerate completion of 28 projects the agency wants built before the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The projects, along with the congestion pricing proposal, are part of Metro’s “Re-Imagining of LA County” initiative, which includes proposals to extend a major LA subway line, widen certain highways and build an airport transit connector station.
The projects, which carry a $42.9 billion price tag, are in limbo until Metro can fill a $26.2 billion funding gap.
A congestion pricing model that charges drivers when they cross a boundary around LA’s central district could bring in $1.2 billion in annual revenue for the county. Another model, which charges a fee based on number of miles driven during peak times on critical traffic arteries, could raise more than $10 billion annually, according to a Metro report.
But Washington said Wednesday that he will present a plan to “decouple” congestion pricing revenue from the Olympics projects.
“I support congestion pricing but I don't think it should be a revenue-generating tool,” Glendale official and committee member Ara Najarian said. “The point of it is to put a cost on the limited access to our freeways.”
Najarian said Metro should not rush its congestion pricing study, which could take one-to-two years.
“It’s important that we not force this too early,” he said. “We want to properly introduce [congestion pricing] so that residents understand why they should support it.”
Committee Chair Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker asked Washington how the agency would ensure that equity infused the entire process, especially with influential agency staff leaving for other jobs this year.
Washington said the agency plans to hire an equity officer who would report directly to him to oversee Metro’s equity plans.
The committee sent the Reimagining LA plan back to the full board for consideration.
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